Eight Weeks of Giving and Filling Your Own Christmas Stocking: A Reflective Practitioner

We are eight weeks from celebrating Christmas in many countries this also means the end of the academic year, and in other countries it means the end of the first term. No matter where you are in the world it is a time for reflection, celebration, and most importantly giving, giving to yourself and to those around you. If you are working in the ECD (Early Childhood Development) Sector, chances are very good that you have been giving (of yourself) the whole year, but I am talking about giving yourself something – something that will take you and your setting forward! A gift really deserved (not like shower gel, but like a spa voucher or a holiday voucher) never goes unnoticed and most definitely always leaves a lasting impression.

In order to give you need to know what you need – but is this not exactly the biggest problem during Christmas shopping? What does the person need? If we reflect on what we have, didn’t have or wished for this year, we might just end up giving something to ourselves that will leave a lasting impression and will most definitely not go unnoticed.

What is the definition of reflection? “The throwing back by a body or surface of light, heat, or sound without absorbing it”, or a “serious thought or consideration”. For me if one looks back at what the year has thrown at you and seriously consider what you need to change in order not to absorb everything, will do as a definition! How can we reflect or change?

Reflection for many of us within the Early Childhood Sector must include:

1. Whether the learning environment, i.e. the learning journey of each child within our setting was effective and aligned with our setting’s mission and vision;
2. Communication with our parents – did we connect with our parents? Did they feel part of their child’s learning journey?
3. Time management – were you and your staff effective in the time you spent on various tasks? Did you reach an outcome, or do you feel you wasted time on things like policies and procedures? Speaking of policies and procedures – did we enforce, monitor and review our policies to align our service delivery with best practice models?
4. Staff coaching, mentoring and development – what did we do, did we see our staff develop or did we see them stagnate?

5. Curriculum implementation – are we aligned to best practice models or are we trotting along?
6. Observation and assessment of children – were these effective and a true reflection of what the child could/should do? Did we miss any “wow” moments, did we get to accurately document each child’s development?
7. Resources and management of resources – did we over-spend; did we stick to a budget? Does the setting need new equipment, do the resources support our learning or development?
8. Growth of the business – did your business grow, are you proud of the goals you achieved this year? Did your business leave a lasting impression on children’s lives – good or bad?

If we look again at the definition of reflection, it clearly states that this is something not to be absorbed by you, in other words reflection must be used to move forward not to absorb and blame yourself for something. Honest reflection does tend to cut close to the bone, but it will always, always have a solution.

I have raised the issue of the ECD sector not harnessing software to effectively change how they manage settings in a previous article; today I want to encourage you to use a reflective tool to effectively reflect. In the spirit of Christmas, we must remember that we want to “give” to ourselves the opportunity to move forward or to change in the new year or the new term. You need to be precise in what you need – otherwise your gift to yourself might just end up in the recycle gift cupboard of unused, I-do-not-need-it items.

I like to use the Kolb 1 reflective tool.

Kolb’s reflective model is referred to as “experiential learning”. The basis for this model is our own experience, which is then reviewed, analysed and evaluated systematically in three stages. Once this process has been done completely, the new experiences will form the starting point for another cycle – next time this year you can look in your stocking again, because just as it is with Christmas, we need to reflect regularly in order to change effectively. It’s a continual process, not a step.

1 Kolb’s experiential learning theory is a learning theory developed by David A. Kolb, who published his model in 1984. He was inspired by the work of Kurt Lewin, who was a gestalt psychologist in Berlin.

I would like to challenge you to embark on an eight week of “giving to myself” reflective journey. Take one of the 8 points mentioned above and use the Kolb Cycle to reflect.

Why did I choose the Kolb cycle? Because the key here is the “active” part – in other words it is something that you or I have experienced. If you then recreate or rearrange the points that led you to the negative experience you recall, you give yourself a new look or a gift of change – of doing it better this time around. Your new thoughts will shape new ways of doing something that you thought “must be like this”. Let’s look at how the Kolb Cycle works:

1. Concrete Experience – a new experience or situation is encountered, or a reinterpretation is made of an existing experience. This is the part that makes you feel uncomfortable, as this is part of the unknown – you may not know how this situation had come to pass.

2. Reflective Observation of the New Experience – of particular importance are any inconsistencies between experience and understanding. Here you need to pay attention to how it makes you feel, and how you thought it might make you feel. You need to be brutally honest with yourself to get to the difference between the experience and the understanding. Does it look as good in practice as on paper?

3. Abstract Conceptualization reflection gives rise to a new idea, or a modification of an existing abstract concept (the person has learned from his/her experience). This can be described as the “wow” moment, where you realise you have given yourself something meaningful, something that you needed and that you can use.

4. Active Experimentation – the learner applies their idea(s) to the world around them to see what happens. This is the fun part, the part that you need not take too serious, because if it does not work you can start again with the knowledge you gained. No time is wasted trying!

In many ways one may view the above as a structured approach to trial and error.

This must be a personal journey where you take real experiences that you would like to change.
Remember that it is much easier to do this if you take notes during the year – keep a diary where you write or take notes. You will know when you feel this is one for my Christmas stocking’s ‘eight ways of giving to myself collection!’ Using the Kolb model you will quickly learn to be precise on jotting the details down to reflect upon.

After you have allowed yourself time you can then look at the eight reflections and choose THAT one – the one that you are going to gift yourself with and enjoy evolving and getting down to a precise art! I started my Christmas stocking earlier this year when I looked at time management and how I can use software to change managing a setting. The results in Step 2 astonished me; I did not do everything that was required, yet everything in the school setting was working more or less to a certain extent.

However, my understanding of being effective had not been close to the experience of the high-quality software’s effectiveness and extreme ease of use. The inconsistencies would have been hard to accept were it not for the many “wow” moments I experienced.

Reflection is a powerful tool for all people brave enough to be honest with themselves, and who are mature enough to not absorb the negative energy, but to focus on the positive changes that can come about – myself included!

Merry Christmas
Magdelize Janse van Vuuren
Early Childhood Specialist and Management Consultant

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