Congratulations! Your group has taken the first step in planning a service event. You’ve had (or will have) a meaty, complex experience together. You should be proud of your hard work. But you’re not done yet. Don’t forget about REFLECTION.

Reflection invites volunteers to:

  • Think critically about their experience.
  • Understand the complexity of the experience and put it in a larger context.
  • Challenge their own attitudes, beliefs, assumptions, privileges, prejudices and stereotypes.
  • Transform a single project into further involvement and/or broader issue awareness.
  • Ask “Why?”

Reflection lets us learn from our experiences in a way that is much more deep and meaningful. But that doesn’t mean reflection has to be intimidating or difficult to facilitate.

Click the headings below for more information.

Two Models of Reflection

What, So What, Now What?

With this model, participants discuss/reflect on their experience with questions moving from specific to general. 

In the WHAT phase, participants answer questions like: What happened? What did you see? Who did you interact with? What emotions came up today? When did you feel happy/frustrated/confused? This phase affirms the participant’s experience as legitimate knowledge.

In SO WHAT, we ask participants to interpret the meaning of their experience. He/she should move toward identifying what they are learning and how their perspective is changing. The facilitator can ask questions like “Have you ever seen something similar?” “How does this relate to the larger world?”  or “What difference does this make for you?” “What ways did you see the mission of this organization being served and not being served?” This phase is often the core of reflection. Eventually, the participant should be able to articulate what they now understand differently.

The phase, NOW WHAT, looks toward the future. Armed with their new knowledge and perspective, participants consider the implications of their service and decide how it will influence them. It is valuable for the participant to outline concrete steps to take to implement their new understanding. You might feel inspired to make drastic change or feel overwhelmed by the work to be done — in either case, you can find realistic and meaningful steps to take. Sometimes it is helpful to ask “What do we need to learn about if we’re to understand this issue better?” or simply, “Now what?” 

Social Change

Through reflection we can increase our sensitivity to community issues thus increasing our capacity to more effectively serve. Reflection is also a way to  monitor service experiences, because through the discussion and interaction  participants can feel both challenged and supported. It is especially beneficial to bridge the reflection back to the preparation.

The Social Change Model of Leadership can be useful in reflection activities. The model views all students as potential leaders and holds that service is an effective way to develop leadership skills in students. The model focuses on three main bodies that are affected by the service experience: the individual, the group and community/society. When utilizing the Social Change Model in reflection activities, reflective questions center around seven critical values:

  • Consciousness of self: awareness of values, emotions, attitudes and beliefs that motivate one to take action and how that person understands others
  • Congruency: thinking, feeling and behaving with consistency, genuineness, and authenticity toward others
  • Commitment: intensity and duration; requires significant involvement and investment of one’s self in the activity and its intended outcomes. It is the energy that drives the effort.
  • Collaboration: the primary means of empowering others and self through trust
  • Collaboration can occur when one has trust in the diversity of multiple talents and perspectives of the group.
  • Common purpose: to work with shared aims and values. It implies the ability to engage in collective analysis of the issues at hand and the tasks to be undertaken.
  • Controversy with civility: recognizes that there are two realities of any group effort; that differences in viewpoint are inevitable and valuable; and that such differences must be aired openly but with civility.
  • Citizenship: the process whereby the self is responsibly connected to the environment and the community. It acknowledges the interdependence of all involved in the leadership or service effort.

Reflection Basics

Setting the Stage

When you reflect, you are asking participants to be completely open and honest, sharing emotions/thoughts that might be embarrassing or new. The best reflection occurs when groups feel comfortable and share a sense of trust. As a facilitator, how can you build trust in preparation for reflection?

Remember that everyone processes and communicates differently. Some members of your group may have a response for every question, while others are more introspective. Someone may be hesitant to share if their opinion is different than the rest of the group. Be sure to create space for everyone to participate, if they choose.  You can say things like “Can anyone present a different point of view?” or “Let's hear from someone who hasn’t spoken.” You can also try a “Think-Pair-Share” activity, in which participants answer a question individually, then share with a partner, and finally report out to the entire group.

Remind your group to practice active listening. Sometimes we get distracted by mentally composing our next thought. However, it is important to truly understand what our peers are expressing.


Don’t save reflection for after your service. It is important to prepare your group so that they have a more meaningful experience. Some ideas for pre-reflection:

  • Discuss why you are choosing to serve. Why are you working with this particular issue/group?
  • Research the agency you are serving with. What issues do they address? Why do those issues exist in our community?
  • What do you expect to see/do during your service? (Later, you can compare your expectations with what actually happened.)

Encourage your group to pay attention to what’s going on around them, ask questions of the people they encounter, and gain as much as possible from their experience.

Reflection Circle/Discussion

Often, reflection takes place in a Reflection Circle, which simply involves a designated time in which the group gathers to discuss their experience. It is helpful to have one or two people designated to facilitate, although good reflection flows easily from one topic to another. As a facilitator, prepare yourself with some questions to ask. (See below.)