Policies & Practices: Reflection for Program Improvement
Taking time to reflect on your program's practices can be a valuable tool for evaluating and improving your program plans.
Create a Reflection Board
Learning to document and reflect is a life-changing experience. To encourage reflection outside the classroom, try creating a Reflection Board. Use an index card, sticky note, or a picture to capture an observation, conversation, idea, thought, "thing to watch," or question. Place it on your reflection board. Each day, select one item to focus upon during your reflection time. You will be able to see some solutions or modifications immediately. Other alternatives may have to be considered over several weeks, or you may decide to involve a colleague as a sounding board.
You can center your reflection board on one topic or many. For example, as you come to the end of the year, you might place the words "Changes for Next Year" as a headline. Around them, place ideas for improvements and changes you might make next year. Reflection is a great tool for evaluating your strengths and needs. It will then help you focus on what changes you can make to improve different aspects of your program.
In early childhood, reflection is the process of thinking about what has been accomplished and what has yet to be achieved, then using this information to evaluate and improve practices. Reflection is at the heart of continuing professional development. The act of thinking back on or reconsidering practices allows teachers and administrators to notice, examine, and rethink understandings that have developed around familiar routines and approaches. Reflection can lead to major restructuring of professional practice.
Making Reflection a Habit
Reflection is a powerful tool, but it is not always a natural process or one that has necessarily been taught in our professional development courses or training. As with any habit, it must be conscientiously developed and consistently utilized. Here are some strategies you can try to help make reflection time a habit for yourself and for your staff:
Begin by looking at your day. Establish a time that you can spend on reflection. Carving out the initial 15-20 minutes is often the most important part of the early phase of learning to reflect. If this part of the day is not planned, other events will occur and most likely fill the day.
Start with small goals. For example, to help teachers take advantage of the process of reflection, have them identify two activities during the week that they want to reflect upon. Have teachers pay attention to how children engage in the activities, the questions they ask, their responses, and how they use the materials or equipment.
Record a few observations. Once they have finished with the activity, ask teachers to take a moment to jot down a few thoughts about the experience in a journal. If there is no aide in the classroom, have teachers sit where they can still supervise and tell inquisitive children they are writing for just a moment. These notes will trigger thoughts that will later emerge when they reflect back on the activity.
Make time to reflect. Have teachers take time to consider what they have offered children and how it has affected their knowledge of the world around them. Initially, they can expect this to be the hardest part. Just taking a few minutes to look over their notes will give them new ideas and perspective. It is often valuable for them to talk to a colleague who is also trying to improve practice.
Trust your instincts. After you have taken the time to reflect on specific practices and responses, implement any new ideas and strategies. There is no risk in trying something. If it doesn't work, you can always go back to the previous methods. Most often, though, you will find power and energy in the changes you make as a result of your reflections.
Reflection for Evaluation
Reflection is a simple, straightforward way to change and improve the quality of your work and the quality of the child's experiences in the classroom. But how can simply thinking back on a series of activities or observations help us change and improve? I learned very early how reflection could affect the quality of my own instruction.
Early in my teaching experience, I planned a farm theme for a mixed group of 3- and 4-year-olds. For one of the dramatic-play props, I created a cardboard cow with an udder made out of a plastic latex glove. Children could fill it with water and actually "milk" the cow. After introducing the unit, I watched as they began to discover the possibilities around the room. The first two days they simply milked the cow, replaced the water, and repeated the experience. On the third day, one of the boys walked by me and asked if I wanted milk delivered to my house. His question totally surprised me. His extension of the basic dramatic-play scenario was something I never considered. Later when I had time to reflect, his ideas made me think of many more ways I could have provided props, books, and materials to enrich the theme. That one experience, over 20 years ago, still influences my planning today. I know it made me a better teacher.
Reflection is a process of improving classroom practices, developing professionally, and enhancing the quality of children's experiences. Once it is ingrained into daily routine, it becomes an integral part of a professional ritual that points teachers and administrators to a higher level of quality in early childhood practice.
QUESTIONS TO REFLECT ON
Teachers can look back on the year's classroom experiences to improve planning for next year. Here are some important questions teachers can ask themselves:
- Are you happy in your position?
- Are you satisfied with your interactions with each child? Each family?
- How could you be more responsive to individual, group, and family needs?
- Think about yourself in the following roles as a teacher-observer, player, instructor, facilitator, and coach. In which roles are you most comfortable? Least? Choose one or two and, working with a colleague, mentor, or supervisor, develop a plan to improve over the next year.
- Do you and your colleagues have working/teaching styles that complement each other?
- Are you supportive of colleagues, even when there are differences?
- Are tasks divided to utilize each person's strongest skills?
- How can you improve communications?
In the Classroom
- Are all the learning centers in your room used every day?
- Are children engaged during child-- initiated times?
- Do children work or wander around?
- Are children happy and learning in your classroom?
- What changes can you make next year to improve the classroom quality?
- What experiences do children have that you could integrate into your plans?
- What family traditions, cultures, or interests should influence your choices?
- Are there local or community events that should be incorporated?