During June/July, We Hear You will be featuring a special three-part series exploring critical reflection – ‘Uncovering the layers of reflective practice’.
In the final instalment, we wrap up the series by considering the way self-reflection informs continuous improvement and the practical strategies for creating a service culture that supports it.
Part 3: Reflection to inform continuous improvement
Effective and authentic quality improvement is informed by critical reflection on practice, shaped by meaningful engagement with families and communities, and is embedded across the service. The National Quality Standard (NQS) identifies “ongoing self-review that results in informed judgment about performance is fundamental to an effective cycle of improvement” (Guide to the National Quality Standard, p. 178).
Essential to this self-review is the Quality Improvement Plan (QIP), which should be a living document, leading up to assessment and rating and beyond. The QIP provides an opportunity to share how a service engages in deep-level reflection as part of a quality assurance process that supports the realisation of its vision as well as the objectives of the National Quality Framework.
Creating a culture of continuous improvement involves developing and sharing reflective practice, gaining different perspectives, creating a respectful culture and seeking educators, families and children’s ideas. This culture is reflected in regular engagement with quality improvement to support accountability and to communicate what services are achieving and why.
Catherine Lee, the Director and Nominated Supervisor at The Point Preschool, shares her thoughts on critical reflection.
Standard 7.2 of the NQS requires services to make a commitment to continuous improvement. When we consider what this looks like in practice, it means creating regular touch points with the QIP, opportunities to regularly critically reflect on progress, and outcomes and opportunities for deeper collaboration. This level of reflective practice ensures the planning process informs decision making and provides accountability and direction, while being equitable and reflective of the diverse perspectives of all stakeholders. It also provides a springboard to celebrate achievements and communicate to all stakeholders the reasoning and purpose behind what is happening at the service.
A meaningful quality improvement planning process involves services reflecting on and assessing their performance against the NQS, as well as drawing on data or evidence gathering as a trigger for reflection. Examples might include:
- Australian Early Development Census data to inform curriculum decision-making and resourcing priorities
- maintenance registers – replacement of or upgrading resources
- attendance trends and fluctuations to inform staffing
- frequency and nature of incidents and accidents
- workflow or staff scheduling challenges
- regular surveys or questionnaires for families and staff about the service.
The NQS promotes an outcomes focused approach. As such, many of the elements and standards require education and care professionals to critically reflect on the decisions being made at a service level. This is an opportunity to consider questions of social justice, fairness and equity, cultural competence, acceptance and honouring diversity and inclusion, and to think through whether the ideals expressed in the service philosophy are being realised in day–to-day experiences.
A great question to prompt some deep reflective discussions at a service level is found in the approved learning frameworks (Early Years Learning Framework, p. 13; Framework for School Age Care, p. 11):
Who is advantaged when I work in this way? Who is disadvantaged?
Self-assessment and reflection are most worthwhile when they lead to action and it is important to record or reference progress towards the goal or even a change in focus of the original goal. Key pieces of evidence to identify decision making leading to action include:
- linking the areas identified for improvement and the strategies to address them
- demonstrated action reflecting the identified improvements
- amendments to the philosophy of the service and the resultant change to policies and procedures
- evident change in practice leading to improved outcomes for children
- documented outcomes of the service’s self-assessment. Examples of this might include:
* meeting agenda noting the proposed discussion
* staff meeting minutes where practice is discussed
* minutes of a committee or parent meeting indicating topics discussed and outcomes proposed
* collated survey results from children, parents or staff
* notes or drawings detailing children’s ideas, suggestions and feedback.
Education and care services should consider a holistic approach when planning for quality improvement, creating cohesion and direction by connecting all service plans together, including performance, inclusion and reconciliation, strategic and business plans. Opportunities arise here for adopting a more shared or distributed approach to leadership. For example, consider the role the educational leader plays in developing individual development plans that are in place to support performance reviews.
Questions for further reflection:
- How is continuous improvement included in the induction process?
- How and when is quality improvement discussed and documented?
- How does the self-assessment process work and who contributes to the strengths of service practice?
- How is the leadership and responsibility for QIP goals distributed?
We hope that we have challenged your thinking, broadened your practice and helped you to develop greater confidence in making professional judgements and articulating the reasons behind those decisions. It is important to recognise confidence emerges from drawing on professional standards, best practice, contemporary thinking and research.
Wherever you are at with your reflective practice journey, we challenge you to go deeper and consider the way critical reflection fits in with the professional learning community within your service context.
Further reading and resources
Early Childhood Australia – Critical reflection as a tool for change: Stories about quality improvement
Early Childhood Australia – Talking about practice: Self-assessment, reflective practice and quality improvement processes
Early Childhood Resource Hub – Talking about practice: Self-assessment, reflective practice and quality improvement processes
Read the complete series: