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Shake up! Refresh! How to reflect and move your setting on...

Sometimes we realise we need a shake up and to refresh our setting; maybe we don’t realise it consciously but sense it is time to reflect, review and develop. For this to be successful and to achieve its aim there are certain key factors to take into consideration.

For the process to be as effective as possible, everyone needs to be involved. A joint approach supports team work and a collective responsibility and commitment to continuous improvement can act as a motivator. Even before any practical strategies have been put in place, there needs to be a clear understanding and awareness of effective reflective practice.

Reflective practice is never going to be truly effective unless we are 100% honest with ourselves about what we do, remembering there is a distinct difference between what we might say or think we do and what we actually do.  Reflection is like putting a mirror up to your work and seeing from the reverse viewpoint what you are doing. It is the honesty that is critical as it means we are truly delving into our practice and provision and scrutinising what we do. That might sound painful and awkward but it doesn’t need to be; it is really about attitude and approach and demonstrating a clear commitment. shutterstock_129088694.jpg

So what tools can we use to implement this reflection and review of our practice and provision? It can be helpful to put in place a focused review and reflection month. Introduce the idea at a staff meeting, explain the methods that are to be used and assign key responsibilities and tasks. Once the month is up you should come together to review and discuss, the conclusions can then be put into your Quality Improvement Plan. With everyone involved, the drive for that improvement is more likely to be successful. By including everyone you are drawing on multiple viewpoints, which gives a more rounded perspective. Having gone through an in depth process, you will find that certain strategies and approaches become embedded as party of every day practice.

So what are some of the strategies that can be used?

Looking at the resources you have and identifying what is used and how it is used. Time sample observations can be particularly effective, focus on an area or particular resource and note down every 5-10 minutes who is using that resource/area and what they are doing. Over the period of a month one could be completed on all areas/resources and this would give a clear indication of what is popular, how something is used, by whom and what this tells you about that aspect of your provision.
During an after work meeting, ask practitioners to use post it notes  and write on them which area/s of the EYFS they think a resource/area of provision best supports and stick it on that resource/area. This can then give an indication if any areas of learning and development are provided for more than others, if there are any gaps or if there is too much emphasis on a particular area of learning and development. It can also be helpful to do this exercise reflecting on child development areas instead of the EYFS. It is essential this is completed both inside and outside.
These prompts from Learning through Landscapes Cymru First steps outdoors provides some differing ideas for reflecting on provision outside, but equally most could be considered for inside. 

Where can children:

•    Be excited, energetic, adventurous, noisy?
•    Have responsibility, be independent?
•    Imagine, dream, invent?
•    Hide, relax, find calm, reflect?
•    Investigate, discover, explore, experiment?
•    Run, climb, pedal, throw?
•    Talk, collaborate, make friends?
•    Create, construct, make music, express?
•    Dig, grow, nurture?
•    Tell stories, make marks, find patterns?

Can you identify these opportunities within your learning environment? I feel this approach is particularly effective, as it is more rounded focusing on experiences and opportunities; a refreshing change from the EYFS.

Asking the children what they enjoy and what they would like to be different can elicit some interesting and valuable responses. We want to encourage curiosity and enable children to see endless possibilities.

Having completed the resource and provision monitoring, it is then time to maybe declutter, look at which resources need replacing, removing or presented in a different way.
Considering the use of provocations; provocations are designed to stimulate thought, ideas, discussion, questions, creativity and possibilities. They should be presented with no fanfare or introduction, just simply be there for the children to be curious about and want to explore. An effective provocation is an example of effective teaching, as you have tapped into the children’s natural curiosity and made them want to explore further. As the explorations occur, you may ponder with the children, perhaps with the use of statements or further thoughts. I remember a setting telling me finding items to provoke curiosity became something of a competition between staff, one of the best sourced items was an old wall mounted pay telephone, found in a charity shop. shutterstock_573948481.jpg

Carrying out review audits can support incisive reflection. If they are completed by different teams and individuals they can enable a deeper reflection as there will be different viewpoints, particularly about the effectiveness of elements of practice and provision. There are many audit tools available online, focusing on a variety of aspects of practice and provision. The Characteristics of Effective Learning are also useful audit tools, considering how something is implemented and how it could be developed and improved.

An effective leader/manager needs to know exactly what is going on in their setting and this requires focused observations. It isn’t about walking through the rooms or around the setting or being in numbers, it means sitting and observing in a room as your sole purpose. These observations could be on an individual or on a whole room, this will help you to identify key strengths to build on and areas for development either for an individual or a team. This can help to see how the routine and flow of the room works, identify the fine details that support or hinder good practice and provision.
It can be helpful simply to do this with a blank piece of paper so you write down key observations of what is happening or you may choose to focus on a specific aspect of practice e.g. extension of learning, interactions, key carer relationships.
An alternative approach can be for two members of staff to observe a room together and then discuss what they see and their views. Do they agree or is the interpretation different? What can be learnt from that difference?
You then need to decide how to use the information and insight gleaned from these observations. They might highlight points for discussion and reflection with the team. Several together might identify a trend or an issue, perhaps surrounding consistency which may have a knock on effect on children’s behaviour which previously had not been identified. You may spot a strength in someone you hadn’t previously seen which can be utilised to support others.

Often there is a reluctance to visit other settings simply for the purposes of seeing their practice and approach. This though is one of the best ways to expand our thoughts and to see what we could do differently and equally what we are doing well. It is an opportunity too for professional discussion. It is all too easy to get cocooned in our setting and not look properly beyond it. Perhaps another setting is doing something you are thinking of implementing, it can be a great way to see how they do it, e.g. rolling snack, a greater emphasis on outdoor learning. Obviously it requires time and organisation to release staff, but I know settings who do engage in this process find it extremely useful and beneficial.

It is important to keep up to date on new trends and research within early years, as well as revisiting familiar theorists. Refreshing and reviewing your setting, can provide a valuable opportunity to reflect on the ideas of others and see how their philosophy is reflected in your practice. This could be set as a task for an individual or a team, as well as researching new thoughts and ideas. This could all then be presented in a staff meeting and then discussed in relation to how it could support development and improvement.
Fredrich Froebel is a good starting point, reflecting on his quotes on play and how they are reflected in your setting, or Margaret Macmillian, a great exponent of outdoor provision, thinking about this quote and is it true of your setting, “The best classroom and the richest cupboard is roofed only by the sky”.
These are just a few ideas for attempting to look at everything with fresh eyes. Once this month long review has been undertaken, what happens next? There needs to be a collective discussion, involving everyone who has participated (hopefully the whole team) and the following points need to be discussed and reflected on:

  • Which approaches worked well and which ones were particularly enjoyable?
  • What each approach revealed and what this told you about your practice and provision?
  • What are the areas of practice and provision that have been highlighted for development and improvement, in what way and how would that be best achieved?
  • What do you think  the impact of these improvements/developments will be?
  • What are the key strengths identified which can be built on?
  • Are there any training needs identified, which can be followed up and once the training has been completed those who attended cascade to the rest of the team?

Once this review and discussion is completed and targets for improvement highlighted, they all need to be put into a Quality Improvement Plan. This QIP will identify the targets, the process to achieve, who will be responsible for taking the lead, when it is to be completed by and the expected impact.
So, looking at your setting through fresh eyes, is really looking to see what the mirror tells you about your practice and provision, looking at the detail and putting it under close scrutiny. In essence effective, realistic and honest reflection.

Jenny Barber
Jenny is passionate about child care and early years and has worked in the field since leaving school. She has been working freelance since 2002, delivering bespoke training for local authorities around the country, for educational organsiations, in a variety of early years settings and schools. She has experience working with Montessori settings and Independent schools. She also regularly contributes to various Early Years publications and has published 5 books.

Edited by Rebecca

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