Using reflective practice to drive improvement in your service
Reflective practice is an important tool for services and is essential when engaging in continuous improvement and promoting a positive and healthy work environment.
18 May 2023
Service providers and leaders should engage in reflective practice to best find out how they can support staff, implement changes effectively and adjust procedures and tactics that aren’t working.
The Approved Learning Frameworks state: “Reflective practice is a form of ongoing learning that involves engaging with questions of philosophy, ethics and practice. Its intention is to gather information and gain insights that support, inform and enrich decision-making.”
A key aspect of reflective practice is employing critical reflection. Critical reflection is commonly mistaken as criticising practice or finding fault in actions. The true reality of critical reflection entails reflection on experiences, asking questions, sharing ideas, problem solving and considering situations from different perspectives. When undertaking critical reflection, it’s important to question what you are doing and why to spark new ideas and ways of thinking. Stepping back and reflecting also enables you to challenge assumptions and allows you to see things from a new perspective.
Service leaders and educators can also use research or guidance from recognised peak bodies to inform their critical reflection.
Critical reflection is a continuous process and although the underlying methodology and the cycle of reflection will be the same principle for all service contexts it will look different in every service as each is operating in its own unique context.
Reflective practice and its fundamental models and theories were established in the work of Dewey and Schön. Dewey described the 3 attitudes that form the basis of reflective practice:
Open-mindedness – a willingness to consider new evidence as it occurs and to admit the possibility of error. It involves being open to other points of view, appreciating that there are many ways of looking at a particular situation or event and staying open to changing one’s own viewpoint. Part of open-mindedness is being able to be flexible, collaborative and focused on the outcome.
Responsibility – the careful consideration of the consequences of one’s actions, especially as they affect children and their families. It is the willingness to acknowledge that whatever one chooses to do will impact the lives of children and families in both foreseen and unforeseen ways.
Wholeheartedness – a commitment to seek every opportunity to learn and a belief that one can always learn something new.
Critical reflection involves self-reflection as well as collaborative reflection across a team. As a service leader it is important to role model the behaviours you want to see reflected. When implementing the new NQF requirements, service leaders might like to initially engage in self-reflection and ask themselves:
What networking systems can I use to support my own understanding of the change required?
How can I empower my team to embrace and implement the change?
What has worked well when navigating change in the past?
What can I do to improve our navigation of change?
What resources would my team/employees value or benefit from?
How can I ensure this change is anchored in our everyday practice?
An important aspect of reflective practice in ECEC, is setting aside time to undertake reflective practice and critical reflection with staff. Undertaking critical reflection as a team will ensure multiple perspectives and ideas are considered when determining how to support the team. Staff can help inform what resources should be employed and the most effective way to implement new or improved practices within the service. Ongoing reflection will also help to develop and streamline this process for the future improvements.
When meeting to discuss the upcoming NQF changes, staff might like to discuss:
What methods of implementing change have or haven’t worked in the past?
How can we build from these experiences to create a more effective implementation of the change?
How do our beliefs, values and service philosophy align with the change?
What theories help inform best practice in the implementation of the change?
For these conversations to occur there needs to be a safe and positive workplace culture that allows for educators to be honest, open and vulnerable when unpacking reflections on practice or feedback. Teams will all have their own learning and communication styles and bringing these together to support an inclusive process will enable a collaborative approach to critical reflection.
It is important for service leaders to set time aside for educators to unpack the changes to the NQF and reflect on their practice to be able to implement the changes effectively.
There are a number of ways that services and individuals can document their reflective practice. There is no preset template for how to record reflection, as it should be recorded in a way that is meaningful and useful to the individual or service. For individuals this may involve keeping a journal in which to jot down notes and reflections. For groups documentation may involve simply taking a photo of a brainstorm on a whiteboard. It could also be documented in meeting notes or a shared staff document.
The most important aspect of reflective practice is what groups and individuals are able to get out of the process and use this to inform continuous improvement. It’s important to use your knowledge from research when considering your reflections to ensure what comes next is well informed.
If you would like to discuss your service context and seek guidance on engaging your team in reflective practice contact the Continuous Improvement Team at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1800 619 113.
You can also find out more about the CIT team in this month’s profile article. Information and resources on reflective practice are also available on the ACECQA website.