One of the keys to achieving high quality education and care is reflective practice. Reflective practice is about acknowledging, questioning and identifying opportunities for self-development and personal learning. It is about critically examining our personal style and approach as a professional; it is about reflecting on and acknowledging personal strengths as well as limitations.
Since the beginning of the 21st century there has been steadily increasing interest from outside the sector in what can be achieved through high quality early years education and care. This is an exciting time to be working in early years, but it is also a challenging one for educators across the sector. With more attention, comes increased expectation and accountability. In a lively setting with many competing demands from staff, parents, children and administration, it’s not always easy to find the time to think and reflect.
Building reflective practice
One way of building thinking time into a busy working day is by starting a reflective journal. Buy yourself a notebook that you are going to enjoy writing in and for collecting thoughts and bits of information. Some people have compared their journals to the portfolios and learning journeys we create for children. You can record your thoughts, ask yourself questions, note interesting pieces of information and doodle. You can also stick in interesting articles and notes – for example a letter from a parent thanking you for something special.
A useful place to start is by jotting down what’s been really important to you in your career to date. Think about the high points; what made you feel happy or proud? Think about the points where you felt demotivated or anxious. What was happening then? You may also want to include some reference to other important life events outside the sphere of work but which have had a significant impact on your life – for example, having children or doing a language course.
You may find it useful to complete a ‘lifeline’ like the one below to start building reflective practice skills.
Caro’s lifeline example
Your own reflection
Looking at your own lifeline – what strikes you most about your career to date? What were the high points? Do you know why? What were the low points? What was happening for you to describe it as low? Who else was involved? What were they doing? Are there any patterns that you notice?
Now sit back and reflect. What has been really important to you that you can use in your development? Is there anything that you need to let go of – a worry or anxiety that is holding you back? For Caro, one of her learning points was the realisation that she was worried about being assertive sometimes, especially with authority figures.
Caro had a mentor that she could talk to. Do you have a mentor, either formal or informal? If not, who do you go to for your most important professional discussions? Use your reflective journal to list the names of people in your professional network. They could be other leaders and managers you have worked with in the past, colleagues in other settings or someone from school you’ve kept in touch with.
If you are finding it difficult to choose the right person, your local authority or regional office might be able to suggest someone.
Acknowledgement: The above text is adapted from Leadership and Management in the Early Years by Jane Cook and Liz Rouse.
To read more about key elements of professional practice in the early childhood context see The five functionings of an ECEC professional by Andrea Nolan.