We encourage our children to learn through experience, trial and error, discussion and then re-application. Yet, when it comes to our learnings, we place unreasonable pressure to get all interactions and deliverance of activities spot-on the first time. If we follow the teachings of Dewey, Piaget, and Vygotsky, who champion the learning methods of trying and reflecting (constructivism)- we remain the teacher but become the learner simultaneously. Think of a child who has made the most progress this year, chances are they are the one who is most engaged, enthusiastic, and always willing to try again.
The Early Years are a unique setting, for a special type of person. It can be a working life full of adventures, firsts, and one of the only professions where your ‘clients’ love you back. The field of childcare is fast-paced. There are always new methods of working on the horizon, with more external pressures and expectations for all nursery team members. It can be hard to stay at the top of your game. Adaptive change or reflective practice is an ethos that underpins all decision making in outstanding settings.
In this article, we explore reflective practice, identify the key benefits of the process, and set up your next staff meeting perfectly with 3 common scenarios to spark discussion.
What to find on this article:
What is Reflective Practice in Early Years?
Reflective practice is a concept that encompasses theory, practice, and personal skills. It is a process that can be developed and built upon, which is good news for us! Some people may adapt naturally to reflective practice whereas others may need more practice in honing their positive reflective skills. Reflective practice is advocated by countless theorists, celebrating the positive impact the process can have on the continuing improvement of individual and team progress. Using Kolb as inspiration, there are 4 key components to reflective practice (we have used parent interaction as an example):
Why is Reflective Practice important in the Early Years?
To meet the needs of the children
The first 5 years of development cannot be undervalued, as this is the time when children’s brains build connections faster than in any other stage of their lives. They are continually learning and growing, as well as holistically acquiring language, social and emotional skills at a rapid pace. No two children learn at the same rate therefore adaptive and reflective practice is essential to ensure every child is supported and challenged to build strong foundations for lifelong learning.
For personal and professional development
Reflective practice is known as the bridge between theory and practice: the application of the additional reading and studying. Knowledge is always a work in progress. Whether you have worked in childcare for 12 months or 12 years, there are always new learning opportunities available- it’s why we love it so much!
Outstanding nursery practice requires the cycle of reflection to underpin all interactions with children, parents, and other team members. In a career where you give your all, it can be difficult to not take feedback personally. Feedback could be in the form of an irate parent, areas for development following observation, and feedback from a child about an activity you have planned. Building the confidence to ask for additional advice or explanation from other team members is a skill essential for personal and professional progression.
For the support of families
Communication with families can range from routine to unexpected. When working with a child, you also take on board the parent’s goals and needs, which can be complex to manage. Occasionally, when speaking from a place of heightened emotion, parents can challenge staff’s decision making and management of situations- occasionally forgetting their own reflective practice skills. The need for effective communication paired with reflective interactions with parents can lead to harmonious working relationships.
Building a positive reputation
Reflective practice is an invaluable tool to adopt when tackling events in personal and professional life. It is often thought of as a solitary process. The development of reflective practice skills can be practised in isolation with great success; however, it is a beneficial skill to practise with others as well. Purposeful discussion (parts 2 and 3 of the above cycle) is an excellent method of making sense of events. This team approach to striving always for the best possible progress across all scenarios will not go unnoticed. It is a professional stamp of quality and reliability; traits parents will appreciate and provide positive feedback to potential new families and even employees.
It isn’t always possible to make everyone happy, but you can make everyone heard and valued.
Common scenarios for staff development and supporting questions
Often, reflective opportunities can present themselves intertwined with a stressful situation (a confrontational parent, a child’s behaviour about an activity, or even feedback on your practice). Reviewing and, importantly, discussing common scenarios with your staff team can help to set a setting-wide consensus on how to deal with these challenging situations. Being mindful there may be apprentices within your nursery team, with potentially limited reflective process skills, these are worthwhile discussions to have.
A case study for reflective practice: a confrontational parent
During an outdoor exploration activity yesterday, Bobby was playing with a small group of children. He fell and banged his knee. The appropriate first aid was delivered, and parents were informed. On the next morning, Bobby’s parent demands to speak to you as his key worker, complaining that this is bullying and has happened several times. The parent becomes verbally confrontational and will only speak with the manager, saying you are incompetent and can’t manage the children. You are aware there is potential disruption at home due to a relationship breakdown.
A case study for reflective practice: a poor observation
You have prepared activities for an observation by the nursery manager and owner. Halfway through the observation you notice the children aren’t as engaged as you hoped. One of your usual team members is off today and you have a new team member in with you. You feel it wasn’t a true reflection of your abilities and are frustrated knowing the feedback will mirror this. They explained during the feedback that the children weren’t engaged and when questioned about Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) you weren’t able to respond appropriately demonstrating a lack of understanding of the children’s needs.
A case study for reflective practice: limited progress for a child
You are new to working with a different group of children. You are told there is a child with undiagnosed SEND and the parents strongly disagree with any concerns raised. The child struggles to concentrate, communicate and engage in activities with other peers. After working with the child for a few weeks you find the use of sensory play and activities engages them. You feel this is a real breakthrough and want to apply this positive experience further. When you mention this to the child’s parent on collection, they are dismissive of any sensory needs.