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Opinion: for reflective practice, fly high like an eagle

One of the key practice principles outlined in the Victorian Early Years Learning and Development Framework is reflective practice. It’s a term that’s bandied about a lot in professional practice circles currently, but what does it mean? And what might it look like in our everyday work with young children?

I recently asked similar questions of a group of early-ears professionals in Darwin, and felt goosebumps when an Indigenous woman replied, “It’s like the eagle.” She then went on to explain what she meant by saying, “The eagle flies way up in the sky and he looks down with his sharp eyes and sees what’s going on.”

Just think about it. Isn’t that exactly what reflective practice should be about – taking ourselves metaphorically up and away from the busyness and emotional entanglement of our everyday work with children to soar in quiet stillness so that, from a loftier vantage point, we can take another look at what’s been happening, and wonder about its meaning?

The eagle analogy gives us much more to work with than bland definitions of reflective practice as ‘gathering information’, ‘developing knowledge’, ‘using evidence to inform practice’ and ‘challenging and changing some practices’.

It is also a potent reminder that there is always more than one way to look at anything, and that when we are members of the dominant culture we are in danger of missing some important information, because our cultural beliefs, values and ways of thinking blinker our view of other ways of being.

Children clearly benefit when the adults who care for them take time out to be reflective. In fact, reflective adults are less likely to harm children. When we pause to wonder about why we do what we do, and whether our interactions with children truly meet their needs, then we are well positioned to make changes if and when needed.

In early-childhood settings then, it is important that professionals be given ample opportunity and support for reflection. Ideally, this would include the provision of regular reflective supervision.

Many different styles of reflective supervision are practised, and perhaps the style best suited to any individual would be that which he or she believes to be the most important style. For instance, if you think reflective practice should involve more than just revisiting and evaluating what you have done with the children, then you will value reflective supervision that invites you to express your feelings about what’s happened, and that provides space for you to wonder about the meaning of what happened for the child and for yourself.

Theories and definitions of reflective supervision abound, but, to quote Tracey Simpson and Melissa Smith, “It is in the doing, reflecting and doing again (differently), that we make progress.”

Regardless of your reflective style, in order to re-focus our thinking on the status quo and then generate new ideas and knowledge in the workplace, we need to feel safe and well supported. What sort of qualities would you want in your ideal reflective supervisor?

May your reflective practice include making space and time to wonder about broader ways of seeing and understanding your work with young children. May you fly high like the eagle!

Jeanette Miller is a senior consultant at the Australian Childhood Foundation.

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