Exploring reflective practice - a comprehensive guide
The Sector > Quality > In The Field > Exploring reflective practice – a comprehensive guide

Exploring reflective practice – a comprehensive guide

by Freya Lucas

April 04, 2023
2 small girls are shown walking away from the camera in a forest setting

Early childhood education and care (ECEC) professionals encounter innumerable challenges, opportunities, moments of magic and chances for change throughout the course of their working day. 


From the way resources are presented to the way in which ideological differences are confronted, there are many opportunities each day for educators, leaders and practitioners to take a step back and critically examine these experiences from a different perspective and point of view. 


The revised versions of the approved learning frameworks remind ECEC professionals that reflection involves “thinking intentionally about their own and others’ practices, with certain aims or goals in mind”.


When educators reflect they take a moment to distance themselves from a situation, resource, moment, perspective or other provocation and ask not only “what’s happening/happened here?” but also “why?”


What is reflective practice? 


In essence, reflective practice is a process of critically examining an experience, situation or decision to learn from it, and to improve it in future. When educators engage in reflective practice they are actively seeking out information from a variety of perspectives and sources, which they then analyse and interpret, and use to guide decision making and improve outcomes. 


ECEC professionals can apply reflective practice to multiple aspects of their work such as planning, teaching, assessing and communicating with children and with families. When educators are reflective, they also examine situations, experiences and practice against their beliefs, values and core philosophies, as well as those of the service in which they work. 


Different models of reflective practice in ECEC


There are three different types of of reflective practice which ECEC professionals can use in their work:


  • Reflection in action 
  • Reflection on action 
  • Reflection for action. 


Reflection in action occurs spontaneously when decisions are made in response to what is happening in any given moment. 


Reflection on action involves thinking about the experience/event/resource/situation after the fact, and questioning how and why it happened, how it contributed to (or detracted from) a child’s learning, or relationships with families, or some other facet. 


Reflection for action is forward thinking exercise, which involves considering different approaches, and how refining inclusive practices and communication strategies might improve outcomes.


How to undertake reflective practice 


In an ECEC context, professionals engage in reflective practice by taking time to observe children closely, foster relationships and gain insights into their thinking and learning.


Some ways of achieving this include: 


  • Expand the pool of knowledge: services who engage with multiple different perspectives beyond the own walls of their setting are often more reflective because they are exposed to a variety of experiences, voices, resources and ways of viewing the world. 


  • Make space for reflection: services who give their professionals time and space for reflection are obviously more likely to have critically reflective educators. This might include offering educators blocks of time to interact with small groups of children to grow and strengthen their relationships and get deeper insight into children’s thinking and learning. 


  • Routines with space for reflection: setting aside time during programming blocks or at the end of the day can be a way to build in space for reflection. Other options include setting aside a small amount of time during a regularly scheduled meeting to reflect on practice across the service. These meetings can also provide a forum for team members to talk about their personal experiences.


  • Work with mentors and critical friends: for those who are newer to the ECEC sector having the opportunity to work closely with more experienced mentors, colleagues and critical friends can offer opportunities to observe, critique, and learn from each other. For example, more experienced professionals might be able to describe what they noticed about a child’s response to an experience and ask questions about why their colleague used a particular strategy.


The importance of reflective practice in an ECEC context


A number of studies have shown that high-quality early childhood settings positively affect children’s development, and reflective practice is a feature of such environments. 


Reflective practice also helps ECEC professionals to create real opportunities for children to express their own thoughts and feelings and actively influence what happens in their lives. In addition, reflective practice helps professionals to develop a deeper awareness of their own prejudices, beliefs, and values, and advance learning for vulnerable children. 


“Critical reflection is a meaning-making process that involves a deeper level of thinking and evaluation,” the Early Years Learning Framework notes. 


“It requires engagement with diverse perspectives such as philosophy, theory, ethics and practice and then evaluating these in context, leading to pedagogical decisions and actions that are transformative. As professionals, educators collaboratively explore, identify and evaluate diverse perspectives with respect to their own settings and contexts. In this way, critical reflection informs future practice in ways that demonstrate an understanding of each child’s learning, development and wellbeing, and have implications for equity and social justice.”


To learn more about reflective practice in an ECEC setting, please see here

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