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Reflective Practice Needn’t Be A Stressful Experience

It's a crucial part of every practitioner’s job description, so let's make it a bit easier

  • Reflective Practice Needn’t Be A Stressful Experience

You are probably already familiar with the term ‘reflective practice’. It has been well established in teaching at all levels for many years. It is the process of thinking critically about what you are doing, and then, as a result of this, making improvements in your practice with the children.

It is a core element of professionalism, without which the same mistakes may be repeated and, more importantly, good practice may not be recognised and increased. Critically, it is only a useful technique if positive action is taken as a result of your reflection.

Reflective practice includes being reflective about every part of your job role. For example, reflecting on specific activities you may have carried out with the children, the learning environment, on the ethos or values of the setting and your own working environment.

You may not have to reflect on all these aspects every day, but maybe when new strategies or improvements are needed in the classroom. There are a multitude of theories about the most effective methods for being reflective, but the best model to use is the one that works for you and your team.

1. When to reflect

Reflection about an activity can occur either during the activity (reflection in action) or afterwards, looking back (reflection on action). You will almost certainly be reflecting during any activity, thinking about how you can support the children with you, making adjustments accordingly, even without knowing it. It is very useful to reflect back on activities as well. Most activities will benefit from your full attention; so good reflection may only be possible once you are free. This is most likely to be at the end of the day, when you are thinking back about your achievements for the day.

2. Peer support

Sharing your reflections with a peer or critical friend can be very beneficial because it can help you to really think through the situation. Having to put those thoughts into words can help you to understand how to improve your practice, or why you were particularly successful. A critical friend is someone who encourages you to think beyond the obvious, offering support, but also challenging and offering alternatives. This may be someone who you work with, which means they understand the context, or you may prefer someone who is a little removed, so they can see the bigger picture.

3. Know your mind

When reflecting, you need to be aware of your own assumptions, preconceptions and biases. These could affect your own interpretations and understanding of the situation. For example, you may assume that all boys like football, and so set up a football-themed activity. On reflection, you realise that the activity was not very popular because the cohort of boys that you have prefer computer games.

4. Extending reflection

The types of things that you reflect on are likely to vary from day to day, but you may find that it can get repetitive after a while. You can extend your reflective practice by asking yourself questions such as: What have I learnt about the children/myself/others today? How can I use these insights to improve my practice? What are the implications for the ethos of the setting?

5. How to record

Recording your reflections is a personal choice. The most important consideration is whether the method will be effective for you. You can keep a personal reflective log or diary, where you can record all of your thoughts and the resultant actions. You may prefer to have a professional reflective diary, which is kept in the classroom for everyone to use, read and share together. Alternatively, you could mind map your reflections, using different coloured lines to illustrate different lines of thought.

6. Taking action

As noted earlier, reflective practice is a process by which to improve outcomes for children or yourself. Therefore, it is vital that action is then taken as a result of your reflections. This action is sometimes called ‘praxis’, meaning the enactment of an idea. You could either draw up an action plan, to be worked on over time, or action ideas as they occur. Large actions, such as rearranging a room layout, may need to be planned in advance, whereas smaller actions may be done immediately. It is worth recording the actions with the reflections, so you can see the benefits of your reflective practice.

7. Find the positives

There are many benefits to being reflective. However, sometimes it can be an emotional experience, especially if it is necessary to reflect on a negative experience. You may need to think carefully about how and when it would be the most constructive for you to reflect. For example, you may wish to talk out a negative experience with a supportive friend before writing about it.

Overcoming problems

Reflective practice can pose challenges regarding the amount of time it takes to record your reflections; uncertainty about your methods; and a subsequent lack of confidence in your skills. These are very real concerns, but it is worth persevering because the benefits can far outweigh the challenges.

Try reflecting as a team for five minutes at the end of each day, briefly noting your thoughts in a diary. Alternatively, work with a more experienced practitioner (from your own setting or elsewhere) to support you until you are confident with the techniques and outcomes of reflective practice.

Kathy has worked in both nurseries and schools, and today specialises in the Early Years Foundation Stage and special educational needs. For more information, visit kathybrodie.com

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