The journey towards critical reflection

Educators reflect on their actions every day. Reflection is the thinking educators do as they are working with a child, while also observing the environment and planning what they will do next.

Donald Schon, internationally recognised author of The Reflective Practitioner , believes we engage in two types of reflection – reflection in action and reflection on action. Educators reflect while practicing, in action, making decisions about extending children’s learning, about the routines they are engaged in and the What next? for their program. Thinking on our feet and making decisions is part of an educator’s daily practice. NEL_reflection

Our daily reflections in action deepen when we become more purposeful in our engagement – Schon’s reflection on action. An educator may think about something that has happened; think about why it happened; and what they might do differently next time. Reflecting on action takes time; it’s purposeful and can be an internal process or shared within teams.

Critical reflection takes Schon’s model a step further. Critical reflection involves exploring multiple perspectives, making clear the links between theory and practice, and making purposeful changes to practice to improve children’s outcomes. Over time, with practice, critical reflection becomes a continuous process where educators embed talking about theory in practice and practicing theory in their work. Sonya Shoptaugh, an expert on early childhood education and creativity, believes that

To enter into a style of teaching which is based on questioning what we’re doing and why, on listening to children, on thinking about how theory is translated into practice and how practice informs theory, is to enter into a way of working where professional development takes place day after day.

The Early Years Learning Framework (p 13) and Framework for School Age Care (pp 11-12) have a set of reflective questions to guide educators andidentify ‘on going learning and reflective practice’ as a key principle underpinning practice. Both frameworks explain that ‘critical reflection involves closely examining all aspects of events and experiences from different perspectives’.

Curtis, D. and Carter, M. (2008). Learning together with young children: A curriculum framework for reflective teachers. St Paul, MN: Redleaf Press. 


The Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority (ACECQA) oversees the implementation of the National Quality Framework (NQF) and works with the state and territory regulatory authorities to implement and administer the NQF. Rhonda Livingstone is National Education Leader at the Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority (ACECQA). Rhonda provides national leadership, policy advice and recommendations on pedagogy and educational program and practice to enhance learning and development of children attending education and care services across Australia. Rhonda has more than 20 years’ experience in the early childhood sector, including working as a centre director, sessional academic and training coordinator, in government contributing to the development of national policy and legislation, and was a part of working groups to develop standards and resources for the NQF. Having worked as both a service provider and assessor, Rhonda has a keen interest in contributing to the discussion about streamlining processes to minimise burden and maintaining a focus on ensuring quality outcomes for children and families.

4 thoughts on “The journey towards critical reflection”

    Anne Kennedy says:

    Thanks Rhonda for your helpful comments on the importance of reflective practice. When the Frameworks talk about gaining multiple perspectives on our work that means reflecting with children, families and community members and not just with colleagues or individually. Quite a challenge to do that well and to respond to what that collective thinking tells us.

    courtney says:

    We have implemented many ways to critically reflect and I can see it naming such a large difference in the way experiences are set up and made inviting to the children.

    Victoria Tooala says:

    Interesting how this article helps broaden my understanding of ‘Critically Reflecting’ children’s day, i.e. reflection in action (when becoming more purposeful in our engagement with children) & reflection on action (being more patient for what is to come, what may the child had done it differently). Thank you Rhonda, the article was very clear, specific and helpful.

    Maurenne. says:

    This article has helped to better understand the aim of critical reflection. Most of the time for our daily reflection I tend to critically reflect about how our day went not about a specific action and how changes can be implemented to broaden, extend and be more intentional in children’s learning.
    Thank you.

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