Bringing reflective practice to life in your service
Reflective practice is something of a mantra for early childhood educators. But how to go about it in an intentional and productive way without being overwhelmed by the task?
Early childhood education consultant Kelly Goodsir tackled the topic in an Educa webinar titled “Reflective Practice: Actionable Tips to Foster Quality Practice in ECE” on 15 February. She’s also an author and pedagogical leader with experience across both Australian and New Zealand contexts.
Being self-aware of our practice as early childhood educators and thinking in greater depth and breadth about how we make decisions is “in practice actually quite hard”, she says.
“Reflecting helps you to understand more about the positive impacts of high quality teaching pedagogies in children’s learning as well as in your own professional practice as an educator. We must put ourselves inside the learning in order to make real meaning of it. It’s a real process, and it takes time” she says.
Reflective practice in a nutshell
Reflective practice is a form of ongoing learning as educators examine what happens in their settings and reflect on what they might change or develop.
Our sector’s national standards guide educators on how to go about this. Such as by speaking briefly to co-workers each day about aspects of our practice that have changed and need to change. It’s about seeking out a trusted co-worker or mentor for reflective dialogue so you guard against the isolation that teaching in early childhood can sometimes create. You could be inspired by many things: a dilemma or positive experience that prompts further action, questions, or just your curiosity. This starts the process of reflection.
Reflecting in and after the moment
Goodsir shares a useful theory she engages in her approach to supporting educators to be reflective. It’s actually two of the three prongs that Donald Schon suggests:
1) Reflection in action – thinking about what we’re doing while we’re doing it – and 2) reflection on action – thinking about the event after it has occurred in order to improve your strategies and approach in the future.
This model offers a continuous learning cycle which is important for educators because otherwise the experience “just comes and goes.”
Putting the theory in motion
For Goodsir, this theory came to life when she used it with a group of four educators. They were interested in exploring and developing their approach to guiding children’s behaviour.
“We agreed they’d document a few scenarios every time they were in a situation that caused them to think. They had to identify what happened, the strategy they engaged and that didn’t work or resulted in an outcome they had not anticipated or they simply just didn’t know what to do.
“Every month, for half an hour we’d meet and discuss these scenarios, how it made them feel, what they thought about it, what made it so difficult, what was the desired outcome as well as reflecting on the action and reading up on relevant research.”
The educators first listed possible strategies they could try in the future. Then they would return to their classrooms and continue engaging in new strategies. They did this while also recognising new scenarios that were challenging for them. The cycle of reflecting ‘in-action and on-action’ was engaged.
“In the six months this continued, I found educators started to resource themselves with a wider range of teaching strategies resulting in better outcomes for children. The educators involved in this also had engaged a cycle of reflection which they continued to do in practice.”
Making children part of your learning
Goodsir says she also finds reflecting with children important. Initially that means finding out what each child’s learning goals are and documenting this through anecdotal narrative and images. When an opportunity arises to reflect on-action with the child that’s where the documentation acts as a provocation.
Jot it down
Sketching out a mind map of observations, ideas and issues is a strategy Goodsir uses and often suggests in her role as a consultant. She finds it works well for educators who find it difficult to “grapple with the documentation stage of assessment.” A good way to kick off the process is to chat with a co-worker with pen and paper in hand.
The pressure to record every day
Goodsir’s a fan of allowing reflection to occur over time.
“Learning doesn’t happen in a straight line – it’s not rainbows and unicorns and sunshine. It’s a cognitive conflict where we’re really challenged. It’s often messy, but with reflective practice central to the learning process it offers an opportunity to have a ‘light bulb’ moment and make sense of our learning. In this way we pop in and out of the chaos of learning and recognise the moments that are transformative.”
“Practical experiences, tasks and problem solving account for 70% of our learning,” says Goodsir as she reflected on Rodd’s work described in her book, Leading Change in the Early Years. This offers an important nudge in the value associated with reflective practice. Because when it comes to on-the-job learning this is often the case within the early childhood workforce.
Her top tips:
• Guard against creating unnecessary rules
• Refrain from always giving answers (to children or other educators)
• Don’t over simplify pedagogy
• Sit with tension, debate and new ideas opposite to your own
• Share your thinking with trusted others to explore not solve
• Wonder and be curious (explore the see-think-wonder routine)