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What does Reflective Practice look like?

How do we feel about Reflective Practice?

When one considers reflective practice as an abstract concept it might be hard not to view it as an exercise in self-pitying navel gazing. We probably remember from our own childhood the admonishment “sit there and think about what you have done”.  Even as small children we knew that this didn’t mean you were going to get extra pocket money! We learned quickly that this wasn’t a good thing - it definitely didn’t mean ‘sit and think about how good you have been.’ As educators, we might carry this understanding forward into our professional lives: ‘reflecting on what you have done’ is probably negative and an opportunity for self-criticism, to beat yourself up about an ever-increasing list of things you haven't done, things you cannot do, things you can't find time for … a seemingly endless collection of tasks that you're not doing to improve outcomes for children. This is an unhelpful outlook and does nothing to encourage us to grow and flourish in our work.

Such negativity surrounding reflective practice needs to be addressed. Of course we should think about the things that have not gone as well as we would have hoped and work out how to do things differently in future. On the other hand, we should also recognise what we have achieved, what we have done well and celebrate our successes, identifying what we did that had a positive impact. We need to embrace reflective practice as a dynamic tool to help us improve, not another initiative put in place to make us feel bad about ourselves.


We’re already doing it.

Good teachers have always reflected on their practice. They always think about how to ‘get their point across’ in the most interesting and creative way. Good teachers remember to collect conkers and pinecones in the woods at the weekend so that the maths activity on Monday motivates and interests the outdoorsy children. Good teachers make the wise decision not to do ‘whole group painting’ on a windy, rainy afternoon when the children haven’t been outside all day. Good teachers share their knowledge and experience with their colleagues.  This is reflection, this is action research, this is learning from ourselves to enable us to be better at what we do.


Mirrors, Still Pools, Ripples

Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who is the fairest of them all? [Little Snow-White. Grimm. 1812]Rebecca Reflections 1.jpg

Generally, we view reflections as being things personally ‘reflected’ back to us: when we check our ‘look’ in a mirror ready for a night out or when something bad happens and we see it as being ‘our fault’. In these circumstances we look for the negatives – rarely do we celebrate the successes. To reflect is to consider, not to compete. Unless educators reflect with honesty and integrity, they will not fully understand what they are doing and what they have done. To reflect ‘well’ one needs to feel confident that one will be supported, not judged, by one’s peers. Therefore, a team built on mutual trust and respect is vital.

When thinking about reflection it might be helpful to think about the different ways that the actual word reflection can be understood. From a grammatical point of view, if we look at ‘a reflection’ as a noun and view it as a completed picture, ‘done’, ‘finished’ and unchangeable, we necessarily encourage negativity. However, if we look at ‘a reflection’ as a verb and view it as something with flow and flux we are led, as educators, towards active thoughts, ideas for change and positive opportunities for improvement.


Reflecting on your setting

With the new Education Inspection Framework coming in September 2019, and since the requirement for EY settings to submit an online SEF, we need to consider not only the journey each of our children is on, but also the journey of the staff, the management and the setting as a whole. We need to work collaboratively with each other, with the children and their families and with other agencies to ensure that we are constantly reviewing and adapting, ‘reflecting’, as we strive to be the best we can be for the benefit of the children in our care.

Ofsted’s key message is Intention, Implementation, Impact. This asks us to know what we are going to do and why, and then to reflect on whether we could do it better/differently/more effectively next time.

As a nursery owner and manager my days are filled with ‘busy-ness’, hustle and bustle and the literal and metaphorical noise that small children and their teachers bring to the workplace. Sometimes I need to find a moment to step back, to look at the bigger picture and reflect on what is happening across my setting. Looking at my current development plan (2019) I can see that the following ‘themes’ are continually being addressed:

  • Enabling environments: The outdoor space: Plan and develop meaningful and accessible outdoor learning environments. React to and consider Ofsted rec (September 2015) for development of outdoor learning.

Within this there are budget implications, staff CPD priorities to consider, time and space allocations to take into account, amongst a myriad of other things.

  • Appearance and presentation of nursery: Interior: Ensure that the nursery is presented in the best possible way at all times.

Here again there are budget implications to consider and priorities to juggle!

These are just a couple of themes that I revisit half-termly. Other headings include (in no particular order): appearance and presentation (exterior); staff CPD and implementation of taught learning; use of ICT across nursery (something I’d identified from my peer observations last year); engagement with music (following release of the musical Development Matters document); ongoing policy and procedure review; improvements and maintenance to building. And, of course, the list gets added to as the year progresses! We revisit each area every school holiday and update, remind ourselves of our priorities, add things and remove things that we have changed our minds about. In my role it is all about the ‘bigger picture’.

However, regardless of how big the picture is or how often we review and refocus, the important part of our work is the children in our care. Without the children none of the rest of ‘it’ is important. So, the reflective process should begin with the children.


Let’s look at some examples of reflective practice:

1.Reflecting on the children

Here are some observations about two children at a nursery, written by their Key People:







You can see how the two key people might have a conversation about their key children and their similar interests yet differing needs. If this conversation was recorded in some way it would enable the dialogue to be ongoing, even if the key people weren’t in the same physical space.

Here is the conversation, recorded as a reflection, that the two key people might have:




Here you can see the observations and one other reflection have been linked to this reflection, and a timeline or journey is being created (the 'eye' and 'cloud' icons). Recorded in this way, setting managers could share their expertise and assist in the support and development of both the children and their key people. At appraisal/supervision time the dialogue could be used to identify areas of support and CPD or as an opportunity to commend the key people for their diligence and integrity in showing their knowledge and understanding of the children in their care. In this way, the reflective discussion supports both the child and the staff who care for and educate them.


2.Reflecting on the organisation of the day

As a manager I am keen for staff to reflect on their practice and consider carefully not only where they might improve themselves as staff members but also where our provision might improve as a result of being looked at through different pairs of eyes. An example of this might be when a junior manager is deputising in the manager’s absence:




You can see through this exchange how the manager is supporting her deputy in her role and her reflections on a moment in the day, adding comments back and forth, creating a reflective conversation. This honest exchange of ideas is working to benefit the children who attend.


3.Reflecting on your own, personal practice

We all know that to grow in our practice we need to observe others, attend courses, collect ideas, ask questions, find inspiration, laugh and learn from our mistakes and quietly listen to ourselves and the children and families we work with. Here is one example of personal reflection:




These are just some of the ways you might be reflecting on the everyday teaching and learning experiences in your settings or schools. Whether a manager or staff member, whether reflecting on your key children, on the setting or on your own teaching, reflective practice promotes curiosity, a willingness to improve and to become part of a community of learners.

FSF Rebecca
Rebecca's family hail from Liverpool but she was born and bred in the south of England. She gained a PGCE from Cambridge and an MA in Education researching school improvement. Rebecca taught in the primary sector for several years before setting up her own nursery, gaining EYPS and later working in nurseries and other early years settings helping identify areas for improvement. For some years she was the FSF Education Adviser and Web Content Editor and she is now an Education Consultant for the FSF and Tapestry.

Edited by Jules

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