Making observations and adapting practice as a result is key to the effective delivery of the Early Years Foundation Stage, whether practitioners are observing the children or scrutinising themselves.
Although the early years workforce is becoming adept at the process of observing children, there can be a marked reluctance among staff to engage fully in observing and evaluating their own practice.
Until recently there has not been much demand for specific courses on reflective practice. In turn, this has meant that there have not been many courses available.
However, the renowned Pen Green Research Base leads a list of organisations that have identified a gap in EYFS training provision and have developed reflective practice courses to be launched this year.
At Acorn Childcare, managing director Anna Hanks, says, 'We have only recently been asked about providing training on reflective practice. It is interesting, because reflective practice is not a brand new concept but it has perhaps been covered in more general training around the EYFS.
'Now that people are getting to grips with the EYFS, I think they are seeing that reflective practice is an area in which they need additional help and support. It is key to the EYFS. If you don't get this element right, then it makes the rest of it tricky.'
Focusing on the unique child is a central feature of the EYFS and staff should expand that core approach to include themselves, according to Tina Jefferies, managing director the Red Space Company, who has developed a reflective practice coaching programme.
She says, 'The EYFS focuses on the unique child and we have to create the opportunities to help the child develop and grow in their own uniqueness. The same is true of our own professional practice.
'If we are going to be observing children and evaluating what they are doing, we have to do that for ourselves too. Sometimes you almost have people cloning one another, when we should be encouraging them to reflect on their own uniqueness and develop their own practice.
'Reflective practice is a specific skill that comes into your own personal development as well as your professional development.'
While practitioners often take the first step towards reflective practice in identifying areas in the setting that need addressing, they do not always go further and analyse how to develop from that point, according to Sheona de Quincey, childcare training and development officer at FMC Training.
'People all too often know the issues that need to be addressed in their settings. They will have a moan, but they do not put their heads together and reflect on things.
'I think people often will discuss things that didn't go well, but the bit they are missing is thinking about how they can learn from the experience. Reflective practice should be a structured process. I think people are a little bit frightened about that, as reflective practice challenges your existing practices.'
Ms Jefferies agrees. 'It is a generalisation, but very often people feel they have done something a certain way, that is the way they were taught, that is the way they work, and they wouldn't consider reflecting,' she says.
'Reflective practice is a phrase people have heard, but they do not always know how it fits into their working. One of the issues I look at in my programme is how managers can develop support mechanisms so that within their team they can help people reflect on their practice without becoming overtly critical.'
She suggests that the way to embed it into everyday working is to adopt a 'plan, do, review and adapt' approach.
'People need to consider: "this is what we set out to do, this is what happened, now how can we adapt? How can we learn from this?"'
Part 3, Observation, will be published in Nursery World on 11 March
THE EXPERT'S VIEW
Kathy Brodie, Early Years Professional and trainer, says, 'The importance of reflective practice has been recognised for 30 to 40 years, but it has only become a requirement in the early years with the advent of the Early Years Foundation Stage. On the back of the EYFS Principles into Practice cards there is a very useful section on reflective practice with searching questions.
'Reflective practice, as highlighted by the EYFS, is all about raising the quality of the practice and the quality of the practitioners. It is not a one-stop shop activity. It is constant. It is something you should be doing all the time.
'It is often covered as a feature of more generalised courses, but practitioners can really benefit from going on a specific reflective practice course where they can learn about the different methods of reflecting on practice, through logs and diaries to taking photographs and videos.
'I think sometimes people have not looked for specific training because it is seen as a bit airy-fairy and people do not see that there are tangible benefits. But practitioners do benefit enormously.'
An effective course would empower nursery mangers, not just to reflect on their own practice but to be able to create the environment in which their staff can become reflective too.
'People learn that reflective practice is constructive and positive. It involves learning how to encourage critical friendships through which practitioners can turn to people they know well and reflect on each other's practice.
'Reflective practice is about everything that happens in the setting - the processes, policies, procedures, the environments that you create, the routines as well as practice.'
COURSES IN REFLECTIVE PRACTICE
Ongoing internet-based courses
'Observing to Inform Practice and Effective Self Evaluation', developed by National Day Nurseries Association.
- Ongoing Reflective Practitioner coaching
Led by Tina Jefferies of the Red Space Company, delivered at clients' venue. Half-day, full-day and two-day sessions can be arranged.
www.redspacecompany.com, tel 0845 226 5528
- Ongoing Reflective Practice
Two-hour workshop/training session led by Sheona de Quincey, organised by FMC Training, based in Carlisle but can be delivered anywhere nationwide.
www.fmctrainingservices.co.uk, tel 01228 538016
- Ongoing The Reflective Practitioner
Led by Chris Blanchard and Lizzie Chittleboro of Hand on Heart Training. Courses delivered at clients' venues.
www.handonheart.co.uk, tel 01243 537943
- March 2010 onwards
Acorn Childcare Training launches a new course on Reflective Practitioner Techniques, a full or half-day for up to 20 people.
www.childcaretraining.co.uk, tel 0845 371 0953
- 27 April
The Reflective Practitioner - Mentoring, Supervision and Professional Development, led by Kate Hayward, organised by the Pen Green Research Base and held at their centre on Rockingham Road, Corby, Northamptonshire NN17 1A.
www.pengreen.org, tel 01536 443435
The above courses are all aimed at early years practitioners. Early Excellence has a course on reflective practice for early years consultants:
- 25 February
Developing the Role of the Early Years Consultant - supporting practitioners to monitor, self-evaluate and challenge their own practice, led by Margaret Edgington, held at Early Excellence, The Old School, Outane, Huddersfield.
www.earlyexcellence.com, tel 01422 311314