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Core reflection and Multi-Level Learning (MLL)

Core reflection provides a framework for an approach to teaching and learning that helps to bring out the best in people. A practical approach for supporting this process in teachers and student is called Core reflection. It focuses on nurturing the relation between a person’s inner qualities, or core (the diamond within), and experiences in the outer world.

The Core reflection approach, as it is being used in education, provides a tool for overcoming internal obstacles and limitations that can block our ability to see the many possibilities within ourselves and our circumstances. Core reflection emphasizes the importance of seeing oneself positively, which in Core reflection is elaborated in the notion of people’s core qualities as the center for growth.

Core reflection connects the cognitive, emotional, and motivational aspects in human beings. Hence, it provides a means to integrate, rather than separate, the multiple dimensions of our wholeness as humans – our thoughts, our feelings, our desires, and ideals – and to bring the full power and potential of that wholeness to bear upon the experiences of teaching and learning.

Theoretical framework

Fundamental to Core reflection is the notion that in a person (for example a teacher or a student) several layers play a role that influence their behavior. They are summarized in the onion model (Korthagen, 2004), showing the following levels: (1) environment, (2) behavior (performance), (3) competencies, (4) beliefs, (5) identity, and (6) mission, as well as the basic questions related to these layers.

A harmonious alignment between the layers is the key to effective functioning. Once the connection with the inner layers has been established, personal core qualities in the practitioner are triggered, such as enthusiasm, curiosity, courage, steadfastness, decisiveness, openness, flexibility, and so forth. This concept concurs with the notion of ‘character strengths’ in positive psychology (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000).

Core reflection is aimed at promoting awareness of these core qualities as well as personal reflection on the relation between the various layers within oneself. In particular, it focuses the attention on the question of what internal obstacles limit the enactment of one’s inner potential, and provides a method for dealing with these obstacles. Instead of fighting with them, the person learns to be mindful about their effects, feeling the damaging effects of them, and connecting with the will to make a different choice in life.

Courses and workshops on Core reflection

Face-to-face and online courses and workshops on Core reflection have been given all over the world. We also give half-day online workshops aimed at an introduction to reflection and Core reflection. If you are interested in a workshop or course for your team of teacher educators or mentor teachers, please contact Fred Korthagen.

Workshop description

Learn from this video what the participants took from a five-day course in Ashland, Oregon:

Keynote speech in Germany on Core reflection

Video of Fred Korthagen giving a keynote lecture at the University of Cologne, Germany in 2015.


“Core reflection is truly an inside-out approach to change. It is only when our deepest values are viewed within a positive frame that we can hope to have an education that is truly inspiring and life affirming. Core reflection and the work described in this book gives us reason to make that hope a reality.”

John (Jack) P. Miller, University of Toronto, Canada, from the Foreword of the book Teaching and Learning from Within.

Publications on Core reflection

Korthagen, F.A.J., Kim, Y.M., & Greene, W.L. (Eds.) (2013). Teaching and Learning from Within: A Core Reflection Approach to Quality and Inspiration in Education. New York/London: Routledge.

Chapter 2: Introduction to Core reflection - A Focus on the Human Potential (pdf)

Evelein, F. G. & Korthagen, F. A. J. (2015). Practicing core reflection: Activities and lessons for teaching and learning from within. New York/London: Routledge.


Book chapter Nurturing the human potential in students and teachers (pdf) from the International Handbook of Holistic Education.

Book chapter Promoting core reflection (pdf) from an international book on teacher education (2014).

A paper, Working with core qualities in coaching, which will become Chapter 2 of a new book, entitled Core reflection coaching

German article Core Reflection - Ein Coachingsansatz (pdf)