The 5 step guide to self-reflection for educators blog header

The 5 step guide to self-reflection for educators

In a recent webinar on using reflective practice in childcare, we were joined by Ron Grady, Early Childhood Educator and Founder of Childology! Ron shared the first steps for starting a habit of reflection and how journaling significantly benefits our work with children. During this webinar, we were given the opportunity to think about what we want to reflect on (Is it relationship development? Literacy development? Childhood in general?) and how to gain valuable insights from these reflections. Ron concluded with strategies for finding the right time, place, and method to reflect and how to use these reflections in our documentation and classroom planning.

5 steps for building self-reflective habits

In the process of reflection, it is important that we begin with a few orienting questions. You can start by thinking about your goals. Every educator is going to have something different motivating them. Knowing what that is for you is a game-changer as you can orient everything back to that main purpose.  Once you have your goals, you are ready to work through the five steps of self-reflection. 

Step 1: Journaling or “getting your thoughts down” 

Journaling is a wonderful way to begin reflecting on your work, whether you use a pen on paper, your phone, tablet, or PC. Firstly, find the right medium! It might sound silly, but having the right journal is the best place to start. This is going to look different for everyone. Depending on your age group, the temperament of your classroom, the things you are curious about, and the way you like to journal. For example, I’ve had years where I’ve used a sheet of paper attached to a clipboard and that’s worked wonderfully for me. In other years, especially recently, I’ve transitioned to a traditional bound journal.

As with any habit, it’s a good idea to make it attractive. Don’t spend too much time picking out a journal (after all it may not turn out to be the one you want!), but do so with a degree of intention.

If you like to jot down quick notes, maybe a simple memo pad that fits in your palm and in your pocket/fanny pack is best. If you have a group of children that’s generally of a disposition that allows you to do things calmly, you might be able to do something larger. For me, a 5.5’ x 8’ journal works well, and I prefer something with a textured cover that doesn’t slide out of my hands.

Also, don’t be afraid to switch it up! I had a lovely intention of bringing in more modes of journaling (watercolor, etc.) and purchased a journal with a bit of a larger footprint and thicker paper–but it was too big. It didn’t fit in my fanny pack, felt unwieldy, and so I didn’t want to use it–a week later I was back to my usual! Find something you’ll want to use that makes you happy.

Everyone will approach journaling, writing, and note-taking differently. Be honest with yourself about what journaling looks like for you!

Everyone has a different style of journaling, and what your journal looks like inside will vary depending on your mood, the day, the topic, etc.

Step 2: Decide on a focus 

When you think about reflection, it’s often helpful to decide on a particular focus, something you choose to consider over the course of a specific amount of time. You could also choose to focus on something on an ongoing basis, like classroom etiquette or learning through play. 

Women on computer

Ask yourself: What is my current curiosity? Everybody is curious about something. For example, you might be intrigued by the way that the children’s play is evolving and/or need to observe the children at play as part of a particular benchmark. As another layer, you might be curious about what this play is looking like over the course of a week–and then, over the course of a month–or you might be curious about play as a whole and choose to have it as part of your reflection over the course of the year. 

Another important thing to consider as you choose your focus for reflection is where you want to grow and/or challenge yourself. Your reflection may include an invitation to yourself to think or learn more. Once you have a focus, you can ask yourself: What do I see?

Finally, decide on how long and in what way you want to focus. Depending on the goal for your self-reflection, your focus timeline will vary.

Step 3: Finding the time and choosing a place 

The ideal time and place for self-reflection depends on a few important factors that vary for everyone.

  • Processing styles: The way you tend/prefer to think through information/situations.
    • External processing involves talking out loud, thinking on the fly, etc. It is an essential feature for in-the-moment reflection and collaboration.
    • Internal processing involves gathering and mulling over thoughts in one’s mind before sharing them with others.
  • Time constraints: When do you have time, and how much? It’s perfectly okay to table something for another time. This is about finding a way to continually inquire into your own practice, rather than checking another box.
  • Personal preferences: Do you prefer to reflect outside of work–in a coffee shop or at the park–or at work, during the day? This will vary based on your personal commitments, the availability of time, and the way you work best. 
  • Goals: What are your goals for the reflective process?

Finding time to reflect is one of the most difficult aspects of cultivating a habit of reflection. If there’s one thing that none of us have more of, it’s time–there are countless constraints on it.

I want to caution against the idea that deepening practice means doing something more frequently or at a higher level each time. While we can have goals, we need to recognize both the intensity of our work and the continued dynamism of our lives. In other words, accept that things happen, plans and practices change, pause, and are re-tooled in accordance with what works for us now

Step 4: Sharing your reflections 

The act of reflection is a commitment to a process. We may not be able to directly trace the value of the notes we are taking, but I can assure you that you will notice a more refined and nuanced eye towards your children and the particularities of your interest in childhood. Once you get there, the next step is to share your reflections with other educators. 

  • Formal and in-formal sharing: Concrete stories, examples, and illustrations of our process can inspire others.
  • Documentation and holistic portraiture: Helps us to construct a well-rounded view of children.
  • Development of new perspectives: Invites us to critically appraise our own practice.

Step 5: Using reflections to plan and grow

Reflection is a tool that invites you to action! Ideally, it shouldn’t end with a few spoken words or some jotted notes. That’s just the beginning! Reflection can lead to the realization of strengths, areas of growth, patterns, insights on education in general or specific children, and your image of yourself.

Reflection, or meaningful reflection, shares many qualities with genuine play: it’s freely chosen, directed by our own goals, and guided by flexible frameworks. Use your reflections as a springboard for learning more!

To learn more about the origin of early childhood education and the many influences that make the field what it is today, check out our post about the history of early childhood education

Ron Grady

Ron is a preschool educator and researcher by trade who founded Childology to provide resources, and help to parents, caregivers, families, and teachers seeking to develop their practice with young children. He is passionate about the value of play, the importance and beauty of nature, and is a strong proponent of the belief that children are active co-constructors of their own (and communal) knowledge.