Learn about Reflection

Reflection refers to our ability to think critically about the quality of our practice, recognizing wins—and missed opportunities. We do this by paying close attention to how our actions have an impact on the people and processes around us.

During and after a CQI cycle, directors and teachers should reflect on all they’ve done to improve their practices and the quality of the early learning program. Each CQI cycle can provide new information about the strengths and weaknesses of the program or of a specific classroom. Importantly, reflection on CQI cycles can also tell you more about the needs of children, families, or staff to support future improvement efforts.

Reflection is the process of bringing all this new information to light by asking yourself questions such as, “What about this is working well? What isn’t working well? How do I know?”

Practicing Reflection

Reflection can be difficult. So researchers have broken it down into four key steps:

Step 1: Be Present

Let’s back up a moment. Setting yourself up for reflection actually happens before you reflect on something specific. In order to be reflective, you have to be very present in your work. In other words, you have to put energy toward paying close attention to what’s happening at your program. Presence allows you to pick up on all the little cues that shed light on how your program is affecting children, families, and teachers. 

Here are three tips for being present: 

    1. Minimize all the little distractions in your head, like planning for traffic or thinking about what to eat for dinner. Clear some mental space for you to really focus on your work. 
    2. Prepare for the day as much as you can. It’s difficult to be present when you feel disorganized and unprepared.
    3. Be curious about how your day will go. The more you are curious about the day, the more you will be present. But don’t try to guess what will happen—you might just look for information that confirms your expectations. Instead, we want to feel curious so that we learn something new.
Step 2: Practice Describing

Often if we see something not going well, we jump to conclusions about why. This is normal, but it can send us down the wrong path. However, by slowing down and describing exactly what happened, without making any kind of judgment or interpretation, we can open the door to other possibilities. 

For example, consider this statement from a director: “The parent isn’t interested in partnering with us to improve his child’s behavior.” 

This is an interpretation, not a description, and it can lead to negative outcomes, like giving up on partnering with the parent. Describing something means going back to the specific things we see and/or hear.

For example: “After we talked for 10 minutes about what happened at lunch, I asked the parent how he addresses challenging behaviors at home. He checked his phone and then said we could talk about it at another time.” This is a description of that moment. From here, we can think of multiple reasons for why this might have happened. Which leads us to the next step…

Step 3: Explore Alternative Explanations

After you have a clear description of what happened, explore multiple explanations for why it might have happened. Don’t stop after just one or two explanations, push yourself to think from different perspectives—other staff members’, families’, and even children’s. What might they have been thinking or feeling at that moment?

For example, our parent who supposedly isn’t interested in his child’s behavior might be checking his phone because he’s dealing with a challenging family situation, on a tight timeline to get a chore done, or feeling unwell. Or he might be checking the time because he’s simply hungry or tired and needs a break. None of these reasons means he doesn’t care about his child’s behavior–he might just need some flexibility in when he can discuss it further with the director.

That brings us to…

Step 4: Test Your Theory

Once you’ve landed on the most likely explanation, test it out. After some reflection, maybe the director realized she kept the parent too long and should have offered a follow-up chat or phone call to discuss the child’s behavior more. The next time the director connects with the parent, dad is very willing to make a plan together.

Sample Reflection Questions

Stopping to reflect throughout your workday is a powerful way to improve the management of your program or classroom. But it’s especially important to reflect on the specific quality improvement activities included in your CQIP. 

After you create a CQIP, you will have action items to complete. These are often things like engaging in professional development, putting new skills into practice, and/or completing a specific requirement. What follows are some questions that you can ask yourself after completing each type of action item. The more you practice asking these types of questions, the better you will get at reflection!

After engaging in professional development

    • In what ways does my program or my own practice align with what I just learned about? In what ways does it not align? How do I know?
    • What are some small tweaks I can make to my program now to better align to what I just learned about? What bigger changes are needed over time?
    • When and how can I start practicing the new skills I just learned about?
    • How can I share what I just learned with others at my program?

After putting a new skill into practice

    • What about that went well? What didn’t go well? How did they respond to me? 
    • What happened afterward? Was that what I wanted to happen? What could I do differently next time?
    • How much practice do I still need to get this right? 
    • How can I remind myself to make sure I use this new skill regularly?

After completing a specific requirement

    • How has having this requirement in place benefitted my program? How do I know? 
    • How could I make the most of having this requirement in place?
    • How can I remind myself to keep this requirement in place?