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Reflective Practice - How does that happen in Early Years?

Updated: Jun 17, 2020

As I begin a Masters Degree in Education with Early Childhood the first module I embark upon is:

'Critical & Reflective Practice'

I did have to ask myself - What is this? and What do I know and understand about it?

I understand and have come to realise that this is something that we, as Early Years Practitioners, do every day without realising that we are doing it. Yet we have no proof to support these important daily reflections. Johns (2000) shares this opinion and resonates that it has 'become an automatic thought process even when you are in the middle of experiencing an event'. I fully understand the way I reflect and I can set my personal values and beliefs aside, however, not every practitioner is able to. I can be open, honest and can accept criticism when it is delivered in a supportive manner. Essentially, I feel this is a skill that I have practiced, polished and established over time and did not occur naturally to me.

What is Critical & Reflective Practice?

* Broadly speaking it is defined as purposeful, meta-cognitive thinking in which we engage in to improve our practice. In terms of early years it encompasses ‘reflective thinking’, ‘reflective learning’, and ‘reflective practice’.

* The practitioners ability to demonstrate self-direction, self-awareness and be able to reflect and scaffold our unique progress as a learner.

* Understanding and developing new skills to a higher level. Thinking about what you do well, what you need to improve upon and setting yourself some priorities.

'Reflection' means different things to different people and being able to reflect plays a crucial role in your learning and self-development. Being actively aware of, and to develop, and practice the habit of reflection, until it becomes almost second nature is not an easy action within early years. Successful practitioners actively engage in reflective thinking, reflective learning and reflective practice in their everyday activities. Our experiences in life can often act as catalyst for reflection, but how often do you actively engage in reflection for learning and what are the risks versus the benefits?

According to the early work of Dewey (1933) it was suggested that reflection is a cognitive process - 'the active, persistent and careful consideration of any belief or supposed form of knowledge' and this largely underpins current theories on reflection models that have since been challenged in a variety of ways. In contrast, Schon (1983, 1987, 1991) emphasises the complexity of our role and suggested two levels of reflection: (i) reflection-in-action and (ii) reflection-on-action. This is the model I tend to use within my role as a Nursery Owner, although, only after researching more around the subject of reflective practice.

Ongoing reflection of practice allows us to become more skilful in making informed judgements and make professional decisions and is empowering according to Robins et al., (2003). Although, reflection in Early Years is still yet to become fully embedded according to Paige-Smith & Craft (2008). Stenhouse (1980a, 1980b, 1985) highlighted 'teachers as researchers' in considering and reflecting on our practice and I believe this to be true as life never stops teaching us lessons.

Key Theorists in Reflective Practice

Dewey's (1933) initial thoughts regarded reflection as 'an active process and that consideration should be persistent and careful', however, in total contrast, Schön's later model in (1991) separated the reflection that occurs after the 'lesson' has taken place (on action) with the reflection you do whilst you are teaching (in action). On the other hand it omitted to provide us with extensive guidance in order to carry out this 'reflection in action' and 'reflection on action'. Kolb's Reflective Cycle (1984) looked at the idea of a reflective cycle which consists of doing, asking why and how and testing out judgements. Criticism of Kolb's work reconciled that there was no referral to critical thinking or critical analysis. There are lots of other theorists out there who have built upon the work of others but I shall leave you to research those.

Some of the BENEFITS versus the RISKS

The RISKS of Reflective Practice

* One of the biggest risks is failure to reflect

* Inability to challenge your own thoughts, feelings. ideas, values and beliefs

* Making incorrect and inaccurate assumptions

* Reflecting blame onto other practitioners

* Feeling a sense of discomfort about the process as mentioned by Boyd & Fales (1983)

The BENEFITS of Reflective Practice

* Growing in your professional practice

* Using books, journals, magazines, articles to further support your knowledge and understanding

* A 'no-blame' culture in with the focus being on learning from our assumptions or mistakes

* Fosters improvements in professional practice

* Evaluates your approaches to teaching and learning

* Better awareness of the importance of 'quality interactions' and 'quality interventions'

Some misconceptions about 'Reflective Practice in Early Years'

* 'It takes too long'

* 'I do not get the time to do that'

* 'Reflection is a negative process'

Tools to support becoming a 'Reflective Practitioner

* Excellent Time Management Skills

* A Learning Journal or Reflective Diary

* Peer Observations of each other on our Practice

* Regular Supervisions with practitioners


Boyd, E. & Fales, A. (1983) Reflective Learning: Key to Learning from Experience. Journal of Humanistic Psychology 23(2): 99-117

Dewey, J. (1933) How We Think: A Restatement of the Relation of Reflective Thinking to the Educative Process. Boston, MA: DC Heath

Johns, C. (2000). Becoming a Reflective Practitioner. Oxford; Blackwell

Kolb, D. (1984) Experiential Learning. New Jersey

Paige-Smith, A. & Craft, A (2008) Developing Reflective Practice in the Early Years. Open University Press: New York: McGraw-Hill Education

Robins, A., Ashbaker, B., Enriquez, J. and Morgan, J. (2003) Learning to reflect: professional practice for professionals and paraprofessionals. International Journal of Learning, 10: 2555–65.

Schon, D. (1983) The Reflective Practitioner: How Professionals Think in Action. New York: Basic Books

Schon, D. (1987) Educating the Reflective Practitioner. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.

Schon, D. (1991) The Reflective Practitioner: How Professionals Think and Act. Oxford: Avebury.

Stenhouse, L (1980a) Curriculum Research and the art of the teacher, Curriculum, 1: 40-44

Stenhouse, L (1980b) Artistry and Teaching: The Teacher as the focus of research and development. Paper presented at Summer Institute on Teacher Education, Simon Fraser University, Vancouver in D Hopkins and M Wideen (eds) Alternative Perspectives on School Improvement, Lewes: Falmer Press

Stenhouse, L (1985) Curriculum Research, artistry and Teaching in J. Ruddock and D Hopkins (eds) Research as a Basis for Teaching: Readings from the work of Lawrence Stenhouse. London: Heinemann Educational

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