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Reflective practice: engaging with your thinking at a deeper level requires practise, patience and courage! Here are three first steps…

If you’re a busy individual interested in extending your own personal development, or a professional interacting with 3-7-year olds (who doesn’t really know where to start when it comes to reflective-awareness skills) then this Simple Steps to Reflective Practice series of blog-posts is just for you!

These three first steps will:

Help you to understand what reflective-practice actually is

Help you to appreciate why it is so beneficial to your own personal and social development, and

They will guide you through the ‘how’ of achieving successful and effective reflective-practice

a group of diverse children holding hands and dancing and singing in a circle

What is ‘reflective practice’?

In very simple terms, reflective practice is taking the time to consciously think about something you’ve done and you then attempt to learn from that experience.

It means ‘unpicking’ the various elements that went into, and were present during, the experience that you are thinking of, and then assessing them objectively (as far as is possible) to determine whether you would (i) act in exactly the same way at some point in the future, or (ii) might change some aspect, or aspects, of that experience.

In other words, you think about what you did, what then happened at the point of that experience, and you decide (or at least think about) what you might do differently should that same experience happen again.

Engaging with your thinking at a deeper level takes practise, patience, and a certain amount of courage. Sometimes it is much easier not to think too hard about something that has just happened, because it might lead to a range of uncomfortable or negative feelings.

Reflective practice is a bridge that takes us from the past into an improved and more-prepared future

Have you ever thought back to something that happened earlier in your life and remember it as an awkward or embarrassing experience? I know I have.

And the temptation is then to mentally push it to one side, or completely away, and decide you never want to think about it again. (Until the next time it happens, and you wish you’d thought about how you could have acted, behaved or spoken differently).

I have so many personal examples of this, it’s difficult to choose which one to share with you!

One that springs instantly to mind is when I was teaching in a boys’ secondary school one summer (many years ago now), and I was wearing a wrap-over skirt with two buttons at the waistband. All eyes were on me as I was in the middle of delivering a very important sentence when I suddenly sneezed twice in quick succession, and sure-enough, both buttons flew off the waistband and my skirt floated gracefully to the floor. My sense of disbelief, embarrassment and mortification still lives with me now.

Whilst I obviously wish this had never occurred, it does provide a great example to use when it comes to reflective practice. My immediate reaction, once I’d dealt with the situation, was to push it firmly away in my mind and pretend it had never happened. However… How would this denial go on to help me in the future?

Weren’t there valuable lessons I could learn from this incident? Ones that weren’t just related to the action itself, but how I behaved and dealt with it, how I could prevent it from happening again, and how I could better have processed the subsequent reactions both ‘in the actual moment’ of it happening and its immediate aftermath?

Obviously this is a flippant and amusing example, but it is one that demonstrates how the theory of reflective-practice works in the practical setting.

By thinking about these aspects, I was able to consider the things I could have done differently at the different times throughout this ‘event’, for example;

(i) prior to the lesson (such as not wear a wrapover skirt with such flimsy attachments)
(ii) during the lesson (at the very least, I could have perhaps held on to my skirt as I sneezed) and
(iii) after the lesson (not just laughed it off, but reported the incident to my line manager etc. in order to safeguard myself and my pupils from any comeback that may have occurred). And
(iv) onwards into the future, (by engaging emotionally and intellectually with this unhappy event, I could ensure it would never happen again. Or, even if something equally embarrassing did occur, I had some rehearsed strategies to deal with such a scenario!)

If I had just brushed all thoughts and feelings associated with this incident away, who’s to say it might never have happened again?

Realistically, reflective-practice is meant for more serious and ‘worthy’ examples of personal development and learning than this, but I hope my discomfort has managed to shine a light on the definition of reflective practice and has shown how useful it can be to all of us when we engage with our thinking deeply and earnestly.

So now that we know what reflective-practice is – a bridge that takes us from the past into an improved and more-prepared future – we can move on to why it is such an important life-skill to develop.

a group of diverse children holding hands and dancing and singing in a circle

Why is reflective-practice important?

There are so many ways in which reflective-practice is both important and life-enhancing. Having thought about this deeply, I’ve identified four key areas where the importance and value of reflective-practice cannot be overstated. They relate to: Emotional Intelligence, Personal Creativity, Task-Efficiency and Personal Success.

Emotional Intelligence

Emotional Intelligence refers to our ability to understand and manage not just our own emotions, but also those of the people around us. It is characterised by the ways in which we are able to identify emotions, both our own and those of others too.

For starters, when we become more reflective we also become more self-aware.

As a result of our growing skills, we begin to recognise, identify and build strategies to deal with the emotions we are experiencing in different situations. This in turn leads us to become even more skilled and also more speedy at accommodating and/or adapting those feelings if and when we need to.

Once we are more self-aware, we find we are also more able to develop our self-regulations skills. We start to know and recognise in advance those particular situations and circumstances that fill us with anxiety, dread, anger, or other negative emotions. These are the times when we might need to step out for a moment, or to breathe more deeply in order to keep ourselves calm. As these self-regulating actions become more familiar to us, through our reflection, so we can employ them as a strategy to help us from over-reacting in certain circumstances.

Another related and hugely helpful skill we develop almost as a by-product of knowing ourselves better, is that we become far more adept at judging the emotions of others. And a valuable consequence of this skill is that we become better at understanding and relating to others. We can recognise and often identify their emotions too.

Additionally, we become more empathic in the ways in which we can identify with, and relate to, those around us.

All of these reflective attributes result in us being able to ‘read’ situations so much more clearly.
Furthermore, as we become more open, understanding and reflective of ourselves, we become more honest and open to others. Our sense of self becomes more grounded, and the way in which we present ourselves to others becomes much more authentic and believable too.

Personal Creativity

Being truly reflective requires us to take a 360° view of our own behaviours, thoughts and actions as they relate to any specific situation. This means we need to adopt a variety of perspectives in order to consider the situation under review.

By doing this regularly, and in a disciplined manner (- not all the perspectives will favour our initial emotional judgements of the situation, and therefore, we avoid ‘going there’) we start to accept that there will always be a variety of interpretations and understandings of any given event.

Although this may be a challenging and uncomfortable process to undertake, it results in us having a much deeper understanding and approach to problem-solving. We begin to realise there are so many creative ways in which we can respond to anything we’re reflecting on, and this in turn helps us to become more accepting and welcoming of ourselves and others.

The more creatively we engage with the reflective-thinking-process, the more creative and exciting the solution becomes! And another added bonus is that because we are becoming more empathic in our thinking, our problem-solving develops and becomes more successful and inclusive in nature.

Task-Efficiency

It is possible to adopt a reflective-practice for anything and everything you experience in life.

Whether it’s the washing up, or solving the world’s most difficult mathematical conundrum, you will find that it is beneficial to take some time to reflect upon both your approach and performance, so that you can work out how you can achieve the most successful outcome of that particular task.

Research has shown that by adopting a reflective approach, five particularly successful outcomes are noted: the task-focus becomes sharper, both strategic and analytical thinking increase, and work-methods and time-management improve and become more efficient.

Personal Success

Finally, in addition to all the skills already noted above, reflective-practice enhances the ways in which we present ourselves towards others. We become more considerate, thoughtful and respectful in our interactions.

And this in turn feeds our own sense of personal success.

As a result, we become more secure in the ways in which we operate because there are fewer unintended and unpleasant consequences (thanks to the fact that, during our reflections, we have started to ‘rehearse’ our future responses and interpret those of others without attaching undue emotion to every social transaction).

We are better at listening to others. We become active, engaged and responsive listeners. Furthermore, we may well have also started to soften our own body language (as we’re becoming more aware of how our physical presence may appear to others, due to the fact that our emotional defensiveness is manifested in our physical behaviours – for example, folding our arms and appearing tense and unmoved during a confrontation, which might give the appearance of ‘not caring’ or ‘not wanting to listen’…).

So in summary, reflective-practice embraces a hugely valuable set of skills to acquire, use and develop throughout life. It is something we can all benefit from, and continue to use, as we take our steps along life’s rich pathway.

But how do you start on your reflective journey if you’ve never done it before? Read on, and let us help you…

Engaging with your thinking at a deeper level takes practise, patience, and a certain amount of courage. Sometimes it is much easier not to think too hard about something that has just happened, because it might lead to a range of uncomfortable or negative feelings.

a group of diverse children holding hands and dancing and singing in a circle

How can you develop your own reflective-practice?

There are very many models of reflective practice available. However, if you are unconfident or unsure about how to start with reflective practice, I would suggest keeping it simple and straightforward to begin with. Slow and steady wins the race!

We have a simple 5-day email guide to help you get started on developing your very own reflective-practice.

You don’t have to do this alone!

If you would like to take advantage of our FREE 5-daily-tips to reflective-practice, just click on the button below!

Wishing you success and growth through reflection,
a group of diverse children holding hands and dancing and singing in a circle

Dr Clare Seymour
Clare has spent much of her professional career (over 30 years) in international settings. Part of her Doctoral research involved exploring the often hidden aspects of institutional racism. As a result she has a longstanding interest in, and passion for, promoting positive Diversity.

In addition to school music-teaching, Clare also has over 10 years’ experience working as an international music examiner – an understanding and respect for Diversity is so crucially important in every aspect of her practice.

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