Reflecting on Reflective practice (and why “breaking up” is good!)

As with many of my blog posts, this is inspired by some very interesting discussions and comments I have been seeing in some of the early childhood networks on Facebook. Reflective practice seems to be getting a bad rap.

These pages are often used by educators to share room setup photographs, ask for advice, share art/craft ideas and to discuss practice in general. Seems like the perfect place for discussion. Except when it’s not.

It has been happening for a long time, but seems to be rapidly getting worse. Each day I see educators posting Easter craft ideas or asking questions like “how do I get the children to sit for a 30 minute group time.” There will inevitably be people who say “that hand-print bunny rabbit is brilliant – off to do that with my kids!” and “make the disruptive ones sit beside you” but then there are those who challenge the practice. Those who ask questions. Those who encourage the original poster to reflect. And those people seem to be quickly labelled as bullies. Bullies?! Really?!

“The Early Years Learning Framework encourages educators to be reflective of their practice, stating:

“Drawing on a range of perspectives and theories can challenge traditional ways of seeing children, teaching and learning, and encourage educators, as individuals and with colleagues, to:
• investigate why they act in the ways that they do
• discuss and debate theories to identify strengths and limitations
• recognise how the theories and beliefs that they use to make sense of their work enable but also limit their actions and thoughts
• consider the consequences of their actions for children’s experiences
find new ways of working fairly and justly. “

And so when these passionate professionals question practice or debate theories or ponder on the appropriateness of saying “hi girls” to a group of professionals made up of both male and female educators, are labelled as bullies – I get pretty annoyed! 

Are they not simply “challenging traditional ways of seeing children, teaching and learning?” 

Today I read a comment along the lines of ‘not every little thing needs to be reflected on or over analysed.’ I couldn’t disagree more, it’s how we learn. Just because we reflect on something, doesn’t mean it was wrong or that we need to change, just that we are open to seeing our practice from another perspective. 

This afternoon I had some time to myself while my husband took our little ones for a swim, so I relaxed by listening to our good friend Jeff A Johnson and Lisa Murphy’s podcast – Child Care Bar and Grill. I had multiple episodes available to catch up on, but an episode titled “breaking up” called to me. For the next half an hour Jeff and Lisa used the metaphor of breaking up with a partner to convey how it is to broach the idea of rethinking practice, with another educator. The general gist was that you as an educator may have done some reading, research and reflecting and realised that making children line up for 10 minutes to wait for lunch, a practice that has been happening in your service for years, was unreasonable. You have been thinking about this for awhile and have given thought to what new practice may replace this and what this would look like. You are prepared to “break up” with this practice (or may have already). Your colleague on the other hand, is none the wiser. As you approach them with the equivalent of the break up speech “we need to talk”, they may feel defensive, in shock, an impending sense of dread even. They may not be so open to change, after all they haven’t done the reading, research and reflection. With this in mind, we need to have a gentle conversation. We aren’t going to just not have the conversation because they “don’t want to” or “aren’t there yet”. Lisa and Jeff made this point so perfectly for me, that it has given me so much more to think about!

I have seen many people becoming defensive of suggestions made by very experienced, knowledgable and passionate professionals, feeling them an “attack” of some sorts. I have seen other educators criticise these professionals for “bullying” less experienced educators, suggesting that they will “drive them out of the profession.” When I was in my early years of early childhood education, I craved the wisdom of those who had been there before me. I longed for them to share advice, insights, links to readings and research. I wanted to be better. I still do. 

So, should we reflect on every little thing? Of course we should – it is how we grow, how we evolve. Just because another educator suggests that our handprint craft may not be considered best practice or that our habit of making all children rest on beds for 1hr may not be respectful of children’s individual needs, it doesn’t mean we should put our tail between our legs, delete our post and go and sulk in the corner. It is an opportunity for us to say “thank you for your feedback. Can you provide me with some more information/links etc to support me to reflect on this further.” It is an opportunity for us to “break up” with our practice and start a new relationship with a new practice. 

I would love to hear your thoughts! 

Nicole Halton

Thanks again Jeff A Johnson and Lisa Murphy for a brilliant podcast that helped me to reflect and for the awesome metaphor of breaking up! Y

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No Comments

  • Cynthia

    I think that reflective practice is really important. That does not mean I want to change everything I do; it means I think carefully about what is working well and how things can be tweaked a little. For me it means I am open to feedback but I can also decide if the feedback fits with my personal philosophy and teaching practice.

    February 22, 2016 at 4:07 pm
  • Trisha

    I absolutely love this post Nic! You’ve hit the mark absolutely perfectly. It is sooooo important for us to reflect. ALL of us. I love nothing better than when somebody challenges my thinking. I crave it. I wish there was MORE of it! We can only but hope now that this post is read by those who need to read it most…… and reflect on it! I think though, that sadly it won’t be…..

    February 22, 2016 at 10:36 pm
    • Nicole (Inspired EC)

      I am the same – I love to be challenged in my thinking. Not just EC stuff either, in everything! I love a good debate/discussion 🙂

      March 7, 2016 at 9:52 am
  • Susan

    Love this, I see the kind of comments and attitudes you refer to in lots of the social media network groups all the time…reflection can only ever be a good thing and as peers with (hopefully) the same goals sharing our reflections openly and in a non judgemental way can only bring positive outcomes. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this Nicole.

    February 23, 2016 at 6:04 pm
  • Alyssa

    I love this post so much! It sums up exactly how I feel. We only offer our suggestions and challenge the practice because we want to lift early childhood education up so it can be seen to be as important as we know it is!

    February 24, 2016 at 10:24 am
  • Simone Lucas

    A culture of debate, discussion, or dissent is often referred to as confrontation. This stifles growth and reflection. Embrace your critical friend they may challenge you to grow.

    February 24, 2016 at 9:03 pm
    • Nicole (Inspired EC)

      You are right Simone. It frustrates me when the educator who asks others “tell me why you are doing it that way” is referred to as confrontational!

      March 7, 2016 at 9:54 am
  • Cheri Overstreet

    Thank you, thank you, thank you!! It fills me with hope and gratitude that there are other ECE professionals who feel this way. Surely I knew there was, however they are few and far in between in the small town I live in. It is the other way around for me- I am the young professional who questions everything and reflects upon our actions in the classroom every day. It is very intimidating to have these conversations with veteran teachers who strongly believe that their repeated practices for the last 20 years are best. And not to say that they aren’t good teachers. Simply many of them don’t stop to think and question whether or not we’re doing what’s best for our students’ individual development. I look forward to more of your posts!!

    February 25, 2016 at 12:37 am
  • Greg

    Thank you for your post. James E. Daws from Flinders University South Australia wrote. “Teachers have the responsibility of guiding children through their learning process and extending and enhancing the curriculum for each student’s progress toward social and cognitive development. To form a sincere relationship with each child and understand his/her specific needs, teachers must listen to students. The teachers ultimately become the researchers and develop professionally by revisiting and reflecting on classroom experiences when creating documentation. To truly benefit from the reciprocal learning process, it is important for teachers to consider themselves active learners as well”. We can all benefit from looking at our practice and finding new paths of learning together.

    February 25, 2016 at 3:52 am
  • Sophie

    Indeed! Teachers should not just teach but also learn from their students. To help their students progress and excel in their fields. And as they teach the children how to become those that they want to be, teachers on the other hand learn how to discover new things along the way and become more infulential in children’s growth and learing. Reflecting on reflective practice is a way more helpful.

    February 25, 2016 at 5:50 pm
  • Eva Maddison

    Reflective practice enables us to develop and extend on children’s learning and build upon their knowledge and skills.

    February 29, 2016 at 8:13 pm
  • Eva Maddison

    Reflective practice is about reflecting not only about what happened but why. It also guides our decision making. It forces us to analyse different aspects of experiences we offer to make judgements in what should be repeated, extended or changed

    February 29, 2016 at 8:17 pm