What is Reflective Practice?

I teach a class called Reflective Practice as Empowerment. In this three-hour workshop, we practice the art of reflective practice through three specific activities, journaling, paired-communication, and critical incident sharing (see articles[on each]).  Reflective practice is a stance of being open to thinking about one’s thinking or metacognition.  The act of thinking about our thinking is not new.  There are many times during the day when we reflect back on something we did, said, or acted on at work, at home, and in our daily lives.  At night---most often in the middle of the night---we also reflect through those little voices that we hear in our heads that have long-winded conversations about what went right, wrong, and what we would have done differently in the moment.

Reflective practice is hard-wired into our thinking. However, the practice of mining our thinking---reflecting on our thinking about our thinking---is not.  The intentional act of reflective practice is a deliberate act.  To reflective individually takes a journal or other note taking devise.  Reflecting in groups takes group agreements around the values of sensitivity to others, confidentiality, and the creation of a safe place for the work.  If these three items are missing from the equation, then individuals cannot be genuine about their experiences and trust cannot be built.

What is the role of reflective practice in our lives?  When we choose to deliberately reflect on our thinking, we accept that we are going to notice both our strengths and weaknesses in our own practice.  Reflective practice supports our slowing down.  When we slow down, we are able to create space---or give ourselves permission---to spend some time with our thoughts.  I prefer pen and paper in my reflective practice.  For me computers, create a sense of urgency that detracts from the act of slowing down. By using a journal and putting pen to paper, I am able to connect my creative side (doodling, creating arrow, boxes, think bubbles, free-writing, and more) with my logical brain (list making, outlines, note taking, etc). The act of writing on paper also connects the two haves of my brain, crossing the central median (between right and left brain) that opens up new ideas in a way that the computer, tablet or phone can’t.

How does reflective practice enhance our work with children and families?  When we engage in reflective practice, we are able to see the connections between children and their work in new ways.  We can detect patterns or create new wonderings about children’s thinking.  Reflective practice creates the space for us, as early childhood educators, to come along side children as co-learners in the classroom. It also supports the same stance with our colleagues in our program. Reflective practice also opens spaces to make visible to parents the depth and breath of their child’s learning, opening them to the endless capabilities of children.

Research on reflective practice tells us that only in reflecting on who we are as educators and how we choose to be intentional in our actions is at the foundation of quality early childhood programs.  Without deep reflective practice, we are adrift in our classrooms, focusing on the what’s next rather than the connections between the everyday events that often pass in a blur within the busyness of the classroom.

Reflective practice is the foundation of critical thinking (not being critical) rather thinking deeply and multi-facetedly about practice in the classroom, the program, and is the foundation for thinking about who we are as early childhood educators into the community and broader society. Reflective practice is fundamental for early childhood educators.

 At it heart, reflective practice helps us shift from feelings of scarcity---the act of not having enough, being enough---in early childhood settings to one of abundance---seeing the richness and depth of early childhood education.  Cultivating an abundance mentality supports our work of early childhood educators to dwell in possibility of the classroom and program.  It marks us as professionals who engage in professional practice,  Reflective practice moves us from our emotional responses to issues what we feel) to a holistic take on what is happening in our classrooms. Reflective practice scaffolds our professional self and creates leadership of self and others.

What will you do today to engage in reflective practice?