Mirror, Mirror: reflecting on our practice

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What do you see?

Raewyn Connell, an eminent sociologist who wrote the seminal work ‘Masculinities’ (2005), described recently  an observation she made when she was engaged in the simple act of making a cup of tea.  She realised that she was inadvertently shaking the carton of milk as she took it from the fridge. There was no reason at all why the milk should be shaken but she reflected that, having grown up shaking the bottle of milk to ensure the cream which settled on the top was evenly distributed, her arm had become ‘socialised’ to this practice. It was a simple description of an assumed behaviour and really got us wondering about how we might too engage in behaviours without reflecting on their necessity or effectiveness.

Certainly, we could think of lots of examples from both our own practice and also practice we have observed in early years settings. Sometimes this was because visitors from other cultures had commented on our practice and made us think about it in a different way.  Two examples of this are when international visitors commented on how much lining up young children have to do in our settings and, on another occasion, how much praise we shower on young children as practitioners. Elsewhere we have read about others’ practice such as grouping children by ability in the early years and reflected on the implications of viewing young children in this way.  See for example this newspaper report about ability groups in nursery classes.

The key word here is ‘reflection’ isn’t it?  As practitioners working with young children we are constantly told to reflect on what we are doing but this isn’t always easy to do well.  ‘Reflection’ can become a throwaway term that we say easily but do with difficulty.  Perhaps we need to reflect on the word reflect. One way to do this is to continually have the ‘What?’ So what? Now what?’ questions at the back of our mind. Some students and practitioners can struggle with asking these question so let’s add some further questions to help us.

What? What can I see happening?

What am I doing?

What are the children/other practitioners doing?

So what? What are the implications of this?

What could it mean?

What could happen as a consequence of this?

Now what? How could I intervene to minimise the negative consequences?

How could I intervene to enhance the positive consequences?

What might be a better way of doing x/y/z?

 

Reflective practice can be transformative if it is taken one step further and involves not just the practitioner but also the children. If practitioners feel confident asking questions about their own practice then they can encourage the children to ask, challenge and enhance practice also.  When this kind of reflection occurs then it is not just the ‘conforming reflection’ we carry out that Caroline Jones argues we do because we know we are supposed to but rather it is ‘transforming reflection’ which ‘suggest[s]fundamental change, and …promote[s] equity (p. 359).

We would love to hear about any examples of when you have reflected with children to transform your practice and question those every day interactions and routines we take for granted when we are working with them.  Don’t be shy!  Share some excellent practice with us in the comments box below.

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