If you have participated in any professional learning with us at Strive, chances are you have participated in a post-session reflective chat or submitted responses to the session’s reflective feedback survey. This is our team’s way of encouraging reflective practice. Reflective Practice is a concept that is fundamental to the work we do as early childhood educators and early years professionals.
Vanassche and Kelchtermans (2015) suggest that reflection is one of the most impactful forms of professional learning an educator can engage in. Research from MacNaughton (2003) claims that professionals who regularly reflect on how and why they do what they do in practice, and how new knowledge can be used to better their practice, achieve the best outcomes for children and families in their care.
It is so important to the work of Early Childhood Educators that the College of Early Childhood Educators (CECE) in Ontario has underlined the importance of reflection through our mandatory Continuous Professional Learning (CPL) program, which started in 2016.
What is Reflective Practice?
Well, what is Reflective Practice exactly? As defined by the Melbourne Graduate School of Education (2010), reflective practice is a continuous process where professionals analyze their practice in order to identify what drives children’s learning and development, as well as the impact of their own values on their understanding of those concepts.
Pollard (2002) has identified seven characteristics of reflective practice that are especially useful in helping early years professionals understand what reflective practice is, and how it can improve outcomes for the children in their care:
1. An active focus on goals, how they might be addressed, and what their potential consequences are
2. A commitment to a continuous cycle of monitoring, evaluating, and re-visiting practice
3. A focus on informed judgements about practice based on evidence
4. Open-minded, responsive, and inclusive attitudes
5. The capacity to re-frame one’s own practice in light of evidence-based reflections and insight based on research
6. Dialogue with other colleagues, both within your setting and in external networks
7. The capacity to mediate and adapt from externally developed frameworks, making informed judgements, and defending or challenging existing practice.
My Reflective Practice
You may be thinking (just as I was as I dove a bit deeper into reflective practice), this all sounds really great, but how do I conduct my own reflective practice? And that’s a fantastic question. Prior to working with Strive, I had always conducted my reflective practice in a very singular manner: I wrote about the work I was doing and the professional learning I engaged with in a journal. It was a habit I had picked up as a university student and I had always stuck with it: my tried and true method of reflection.
Until this year, I really never questioned it because it had been working for me. But as 2021 progressed, I found myself often struggling to engage or disengaging entirely from PL I was participating in. I decided it was time to dig into what was going on. I tried a number of different strategies: moving my at-home workspace around, switching chairs, trying a session while I relaxed in my bed, playing music softly in the background, doodling while I was listening…but nothing seemed to work. I was still walking away from a session feeling like I missing out on all of the learning it had to offer.
Around late July, I realized what the problem really was. My journaling method of reflection was no longer working for me. Therefore, I was not engaging in my post-PL session reflection as I had typically done. I was not retaining information from the session. Nor was I thinking about how this new information could be used to better my practice and the work that I do with the Strive Team and our community. My reflection method had become exhausted, and I along with it. PL began to feel like a chore instead of something I wanted to be doing. That was when I knew it was time for change.
In order for reflection to be meaningful and tangible for early years professionals, it has to be based on their lived experiences and goals…and be reflective of their working realities (Barber et al., 2014; Vanassche & Kelchtermans, 2015). The problem I was having was rooted in a process of reflection that was no longer based on my lived experiences or my working reality.
I am no longer a student and my note-taking habits have changed since. Since August of 2020, I have also been working mostly from home. I am at a computer most of my day and I connect with my colleagues and professionals in our community via Zoom. Since my partner works in child care, we have been especially cautious so my contact with loved ones and friends has also been minimal. Resorting to a reflection process that requires me to sit at my computer and type alone no longer fit my needs as a professional. It no longer fit my needs as a person either. I needed a method that allowed me to connect meaningfully with others instead of working alone.
In October, I had the opportunity to engage in a ton of incredible PL opportunities. Many of them were opportunities I knew would not be offered in the same way, or in the same capacity, again. I was determined to take away as much from them as I could.
In August and September, I was doing research on other ways to reflect on PL so I could make the most of those upcoming October opportunities.
As it turns out, the possibilities are really limitless.
I saw professionals who reflected by writing songs or playing instruments, or creating works of art. Some professionals created storyboards or comics or graphics. Some made mood boards, collages, or crafts. Others recorded videos, conducted interviews, had reflective conversations with their colleagues or loved ones. What I learned was that anything can be made a part of your reflective practice, as long as it fits your professional needs and is done with intention.
Trying New Methods
I’d like to share four of the reflective processes I tried and discuss the aspects of them I enjoyed, and the aspects I didn’t. I hope that my reflective practice journey will help you to start reflecting on your own. Maybe it will even inspire you to try something new!
1. Post-Session Reflective Conversation
The professional shares their learning and reflection orally with someone else, be they a colleague, friend, or family member.
I used this method after participating in a PL that introduced Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and presented some strategies for educators and early years professionals to use to support children with ASD in their care.
I chose a really great conversation partner. My partner, Mac, is particularly passionate about ASD education and acceptance, so the conversation we shared was very thoughtful, engaged, and left us both with a lot more to think about and reflect upon. We both spent the remainder of the evening researching together and exploring ways that we could better support children with ASD and their families in our different roles within the early years sector.
WHAT DID NOT WORK
While the conversation and subsequent brainstorming was very impactful, and I felt I had left the session having reflected on how to best incorporate what I had learned into my professional practice, the time this method required was A LOT. This may, however, be more a reflection of me and my conversation partner (as we can both be chatty and we can both become easily side-tracked, which did happen!).
A mind-map is a tool that allows the professional to “map” the topic, subtopics, and key points of their learning visually.
I tried mind-mapping after a PL opportunity that explored outdoor learning in early years environments, with particular emphasis on place-based learning.
I really enjoyed seeing the connections between what was presented in the session and the work that I do with Strive (particularly with our monthly Community of Practice: Outdoor Play opportunity). I learn well when I have visuals to accompany the verbal presentation of information, so that was a real plus for mind-mapping!
WHAT DID NOT WORK
Overall, it felt so similar to my previous journaling method, and I found that I did not end up taking as much away from this PL opportunity as a wanted to. Thankfully, the opportunity was recorded, so I was able to rewatch the session and reflect on it using a different method (which I will touch on later).
3. Creating Visual Art
The professional reflects on their learning by creating a piece of visual art using a medium of their choosing. I chose to use paper and a black pen.
As a continuation of what we explored in the PL opportunity, I used this method after participating in Strive’s Early Childhood Educator and Child Care Worker Appreciation Day event called “Paint Your Inner Voice”. Participants were guided through an art therapy session, facilitated by Hailey Tallman, Art Therapist and Coach and found of Art Therapy in Action, to reconnect to our inner voice.
I have loved creating art for as long as I can remember so this method was very fun and natural for me. I liked that the PL opportunity lended itself to this method and the process of transitioning from actively learning to reflecting in this manner was seamless.
WHAT DID NOT WORK
I struggle with process-oriented art.
This piece was created very intentionally with the outcome of wanting it to “look nice” in mind (in other words, it is product-oriented piece of art), which directly goes against everything Hailey had shared with us in the session! But in many ways, this actually contributed to my reflection. I learned that I really need to work on letting myself “let go” and just enjoying the process of doing something instead of worrying about the outcome.
The biggest drawback of this method for me, again, was that it is time-consuming. On days when I really want to participate in a PL opportunity, but I don’t really have the capacity to do much else, this method would likely be ineffective for me.
IMAGE DESCRIPTION: Artwork created by Bre Piccolotto. It is a piece of black and white line art that features floral motifs and leaves, paisley patterns, and mandala-like shapes and patterns. The piece is shown again a bright turquoise background.
4. Creating a Padlet
Padlet is a application to create visual boards, however, you are not limited to what you would like to include. On your padlet, you can share images, videos, links, and text. You can also add to it at anytime.
I used Padlet to document and reflect on my learning as I participated in the CYN Family Literacy Conference, which was a four-evening online conference that explored the importance of story-telling and how it impacts our work with children and families.
Overall, this was my favourite method of reflection. It was great to be able to add to it whenever I wanted to. Given that this was a conference that spanned over four evenings over two weeks, being able to leave and pick back up what I was working on worked well. I also liked having the opportunity to include different content. I shared journal entries, images, videos, and additional resources that I wanted to look into on my Padlet.
WHAT DID NOT WORK
I was missing that human connection piece that I really feel like I need for myself at this point in time. Though this was the most convenient method in terms of time, I did work on it entirely alone.
In Reflection About Reflection
By the end of this month-long exploration into my reflective process and my reflective methods, I was left with one overwhelming clear thought: what I needed most of all to get out of my reflection rut was a change.
Though not all of these methods worked well for me (I certainly won’t be using a mind-map again anytime soon), it was exciting try them out! This exploration reinvigorated my love of professional learning and reflective practice. I don’t think I found that magic method that will meet all of my needs. That wasn’t my intention when I set out on this journey. However, I certainly discovered some reflective methods that I will be incorporating into my reflective practice moving forward, and I couldn’t be more thrilled with this outcome.
I think it is important for educators and early years professionals to check in with themselves and their reflective practice every once in a while. Had I not taken a step back and evaluated why I was feeling stuck in my PL, I would likely still be struggling to engage. However, there is no need to wait until something doesn’t feel right to check in with yourself. As we step into another new year, this is an opportune time to celebrate our successes and look towards next steps.
Professional learning is just as much about the professional as it is the learning. Tailor your reflective practice to you and explore what you connect with! I promise you this process, which is essential to our work, will become exponentially more fun if you do!
Written by Bre Piccolotto
Do you have an reflective methods or practices that you use regularly? Are there any that you want to try? Please share them with us at Strive by emailing Bre directly at email@example.com!
Barber, H., Cohrssen, C., & Church, A. (2014). Meeting the Australian National Quality Standards: A Case Study of the Professional Learning Needs of Early Childhood Educators. Australian Journal of Early Childhood, 39 (4). Retrieved from: https://doi.org/10.1177/183693911403900404
MacNaughton, G. (2003). Reflecting on early childhood curriculum. In G. MacNaughton, Shaping Early Childhood (pp. 113-120). England: Open University Press.
Melbourne Graduate School of Education (2010). Victorian Early Years Learning and Development Framework Evidence Paper Practice Principle 8: Reflective Practice. Retrieved from: https://www.education.vic.gov.au/Documents/childhood/providers
Pollard, A., Collins, J., Simco, N., Swaffield, S., Warin, J. & Warwick, P. (2002). Reflective Teaching: Effective and Evidence-Informed Professional Practice. UK: Continuum. Retrived from: http://ecampus.com/book/0826451179
Vanassche, E. & Kelchtermans, G. (2015) The state of the art in Self-Study of Teacher Education Practices: a systematic literature review. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 47(4), 508-528, DOI: 10.1080/00220272.2014.995712
Breanna Piccolotto is Strive’s Project Associate and a Registered Early Childhood Educator. Originally from Guelph, Bre moved to London last year and is loving life in the city. In her spare time, you’ll often find her with her nose buried in a book, tending to her many houseplants, or practicing digital art! You can connect with Bre at firstname.lastname@example.org.