What's all the fuss about reflective practice?

Published on Tuesday, 15 September 2020
Last updated on Wednesday, 21 October 2020

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I often tell the story of how I came to be in the early childhood sector when I am speaking to educators. So many educators tell me that they always knew that they wanted to work with children, that they were drawn to the profession from a young age. Not me. In fact, when I was nearing the end of high-school I wanted to study psychology. As fate would have it, I met my now-husband halfway through year twelve and HSC cramming was slightly impeded by young love! When the HSC results came out and I realised I had missed out on psychology by just a handful of marks, I was disappointed at first. While I procrastinated about where my life would take me, my dad suggested early childhood. My first response was “are you crazy?” But, after a little consideration, I decided I would bite the bullet and enrol in a Certificate III.

On the second day of class, our teacher walked in and began talking about theories of child development and play. I was hooked. I wasn’t drawn in by the idea of finger painting and building with blocks (although I quickly realised that was pretty darn amazing too), but the idea of thinking and reflecting and researching and discovering just had me captivated.

Over the years, reflection has become increasingly important to me in my roles as an educator, a nominated supervisor and even now as a trainer, consultant, and developer of resources. I have seen how the ability to stop, to ask questions, and to wonder, has transformed the practice of educators that I have worked with, as well as my own practice and understandings.

With the arrival of the National Quality Framework all those years ago, came an increased emphasis on the importance of reflective practice. The term is woven through the early years learning framework and is at the centre of many discussions. And yet, many educators still tell me that they do not know where to begin. Many educators feel overwhelmed by the concept and what it “should” look like, that they become paralysed.

So, where do we start?

Just start. Doing something, is better than nothing.

I always recommend that educators who are new to reflective practice start with two simple questions at the end of each week:

  1. What made you wonder this week?
  2. What challenged you this week?

You can write them in a blank notebook or on a scrap of paper to get you going.

What next?

In 2014, we began designing Reflective Journals at Inspired EC. I had not long finished up as a nominated supervisor of a long day care service and for years had been frustrated at not being able to find a diary that also sparked some thinking, something that encouraged me to grow rather than just tick things off on a list (although as a lover of lists, that’s still important for me!). Over the last six years we have evolved our Reflective Journals in response to feedback from educators and in line with our own growth as early childhood professionals.

In my head or on paper – does it matter?

So many educators tell me that they reflect all the time… in their heads. That is a great place to reflect, but when we are hoping to evidence this practice to others (e.g. management, families, or the regulatory authority), that can be a little tricky. The key is to get the balance right – sometimes reflection is just for yourself, while at times it helps others to understand the decisions you have made in your programs, practice, and environment.

The reason that it is called a “practice”

Practice (Definition): the customary, habitual, or expected procedure or way of doing of something.

One of the vital features of the Reflective Journals that we created was the ability for reflection to become a habit, to be something that we do on a regular basis, in a meaningful way. Sometimes that might happen as part of a team, while often it is an individual task each week or month, that prompts us to really think deeply about why we work in the ways that we do. When we build something into our routine as a habit, it suddenly becomes far easier and more enjoyable, and a more meaningful and engaging process.

So, what are you waiting for?

As a reforming procrastinator, allow me to say: stop procrastinating and just do it! If you are not engaged in a reflective practice (you know, a habit of really thinking deeply about your way of working with children), then you need to get started. If you are a blank notebook and pen kind of person, do that. If you like to type into an app or computer program, then do that. And, if you feel like you need some sort of guidance or support, then take a look at the Inspired EC Reflective Journals for 2021.

However you do it, whatever format it takes, you owe it to yourself, your colleagues and the children you care for to get into a practice of reflection.

Written by Nicole Halton

For an opportunity to win one of two Inspired EC Reflective Journals, tell us in 25 words or less why you chose a career in early education.

Email your answer to competition@careforkids.com.au by Friday 18 September and don’t worry if you miss out, Nicole and the team are offering a 10 per cent discount to CareforKids.com.au readers, just enter CFKJournals at the checkout, when purchasing journals for your service

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