Uncovering the layers of reflective practice: Part 1

During the month of June, We Hear You will be featuring a special three-part series exploring critical reflection – ‘Uncovering the layers of reflective practice’.

In the first instalment, we explore meaningful self-reflection, what this looks like in practice and the importance of the process not the product.  

Part 1: Self-reflection – The key to growth

We know being reflective educators allows for greater self-awareness, drives continuous improvement, improved outcomes for children and families, as well as being a feature of high quality education and care. We also acknowledge a culture of learning, reflection and continuous improvement are driven by effective leaders. A culture of learning is fostered in an organisation that empowers educators, promotes openness and trust, and reflects a space where people feel heard and valued.

Catherine Lee, the Director and Nominated Supervisor at The Point Preschool shares her thoughts on critical reflection.

Reflecting

We often hear educators ask ‘What am I supposed to be reflecting on?’ There are a range of professional standards educators can draw on to analyse their practice:

Considering the prompt questions from the approved learning frameworks can be useful tools to prompt more analytical thinking (Early Years Learning Framework, p. 13; Framework for School Age Care, p. 11). A great starting point or points to revisit regularly include:

  • What questions do I have about my work?
  • What am I challenged by?
  • What am I curious about?
  • What am I confronted by?

One way of ensuring meaningful self-reflection could be to discuss issues educators have been considering during performance review processes, opening up professional conversations at team meetings, and facilitating educators to affirm and challenge each other as a ‘critical friend’. Research by the University of Melbourne identifies key factors for supporting educators to critically reflect, allowing for deep reflection of their practice:

  • guidance and structure to allow for critical reflection and change
  • effective mentoring for additional resources and perspectives
  • adequate time and space
  • professional development opportunities.

Documenting

Another common question is ‘what do I need to record or document?’ When it comes to reflective practice, the most important aspect is that it is about ‘process not product’. It is about being able to articulate why and how you made decisions and changes. Documenting key decisions may occur in a variety of ways – in the program, in a reflective journal or diary, or in minutes of team meetings.

Documenting in this way has the potential to promote in educators a sense of responsibility and accountability for their self-reflection and professional development. At this level, you may prefer to keep your reflections private.

Effective communication skills are crucial to creating a positive culture of learning. As part of the self-reflection process, you may identify further learning and professional development is needed. This could be added to your individual development plans. However, not all learning needs to be formal, such as attending a workshop. There may be opportunities to build on people’s strengths through mentoring, sharing professional journals or by accessing learning online.

Questions for further reflection:

  • What opportunities are available for educators to reflect on their practice?
  • What opportunities are created for educators to discuss and identify achievements, issues, challenges?
  • How does self-reflection inform individual development plans?

Uncovering the layers of reflective practice

During the month of June, We Hear You will be featuring a three-part series exploring reflective practice.

The series will address some of the challenges educators face around reflective practice and critical reflection. We explore what it is and how it informs your work, practical strategies and what to record while sharing some quality practice examples.

Uncovering the layers of reflective practice: Introduction

Current data identifies Quality Area 1: Educational program and practice as one of the most challenging quality areas for services to gain a rating of Meeting or Exceeding National Quality Standard (NQS). In particular, Element 1.2.3: Critical reflection on children’s learning and development has been at the top of the ‘not met’ list for some time. When critical reflection is embedded naturally in the practice at a service, educators engage in critical reflection as part of their daily routines.

In this series, the diagram representing the multiple layers of reflective practice will help us think through and visualise the way it connects and impacts all aspects of our work, from self-reflection to reflecting on teaching and learning and, finally, reflection that informs continuous improvement. The approved learning frameworks refer to reflective practice as a ‘form of on-going learning that involves engaging with questions of philosophy, ethics and practice. Its intention is to gather information and gain insights that support, inform and enrich decision making about children’s learning’(Early Years Learning Framework, p. 13; Framework for School Age Care, p. 11).

Throughout the series we use a range of terms interchangeably such as reflective practice and critical reflection. There is a common misconception that critical reflection is about finding fault or criticising an event or the actions of those involved. The reality is critical reflection involves reflecting on experiences, posing questions, sharing ideas and respectfully considering different perspectives. It allows us to develop deeper understandings, explore concerns, improve the program and raise the overall quality of education and care experiences of children. It also supports educators to develop confidence in professional judgement.

All aspects of your work are supported by critical reflection, including engaging with the NQS. The NQS is intentionally not prescriptive to empower educators to draw on their pedagogy and knowledge of child development and the learning frameworks, and to make decisions based on their unique knowledge of the children, families and communities in which the service operates. Remember, there’s no one set way or approach. Your process of critical reflection is unique to you and your service context.

Wherever you are at with your reflective practice journey, we challenge you to go deeper and consider how critical reflection fits in with the professional learning community within your service context.

What you need to begin or strengthen your reflective practice:

  1. A safe respectful, ethical space where everyone’s ideas are valued and heard
  2. A willingness to continue learning, growing and changing
  3. A commitment to improving outcomes for children
  4. A refresh of the approved learning frameworks to support the process and the research
  5. TIME! Set aside some time to meet, think, read and reflect.

Remember the end goal is to improve outcomes for children, families and communities!

Next week, we will begin the series with part one and explore the way self-reflection is the key to growth, continuous improvement and quality outcomes.

Further reading and resources

ACECQA – Information sheet: Developing a culture of learning through reflective practice

Early Childhood Australia – Thinking about Practice: Working with the Early Years Learning Framework

Early Childhood Australia – Reflection as a tool for quality: Working in the National Quality Standard

Children’s Services Central – Reflective Practice

The journey towards critical reflection

ACECQA’s National Education Leader, Rhonda Livingstone provides insight into National Quality Framework topics of interest.

Educators reflect on their actions every day. Reflection is the thinking educators do as they are working with a child, while also observing the environment and planning what they will do next.

Donald Schon, internationally recognised author of The Reflective Practitioner , believes we engage in two types of reflection – reflection in action and reflection on action. Educators reflect while practicing, in action, making decisions about extending children’s learning, about the routines they are engaged in and the What next? for their program. Thinking on our feet and making decisions is part of an educator’s daily practice.

Our daily reflections in action deepen when we become more purposeful in our engagement – Schon’s reflection on action. An educator may think about something that has happened; think about why it happened; and what they might do differently next time. Reflecting on action takes time; it’s purposeful and can be an internal process or shared within teams.

Critical reflection takes Schon’s model a step further. Critical reflection involves exploring multiple perspectives, making clear the links between theory and practice, and making purposeful changes to practice to improve children’s outcomes. Over time, with practice, critical reflection becomes a continuous process where educators embed talking about theory in practice and practicing theory in their work. Sonya Shoptaugh, an expert on early childhood education and creativity, believes that;

To enter into a style of teaching which is based on questioning what we’re doing and why, on listening to children, on thinking about how theory is translated into practice and how practice informs theory, is to enter into a way of working where professional development takes place day after day.

The Early Years Learning Framework (p. 13) and Framework for School Age Care (pp. 11-12) have a set of reflective questions to guide educators and identify ‘ongoing learning and reflective practice’ as a key principle underpinning practice. Both frameworks explain that ‘critical reflection involves closely examining all aspects of events and experiences from different perspectives’.

Here are some resources to support educators as they further develop their critical reflection skills.

Further reading and resources

Belonging, Being and Becoming, The Early Years Learning Framework for Australia
My Time Our Place, Framework for School Age Care in Australia
Victorian Early Years Learning and Development Framework
National Quality Standard, reflecting on practice
Critical Reflection, Paper by Melinda Miller, Lecturer at Queensland University of Technology
National Quality Standard, Professional Learning Program: Self-assessment, reflective practice and quality improvement processes

References
Curtis, D. and Carter, M. (2008). Learning together with young children: A curriculum framework for reflective teachers. St Paul, MN: Redleaf Press