March 23 2018 Solarbuddy.org and the Solar Light Challenge

Recognising Earth Hour and all forms of positive social impact programs, Peer Support Australia would like you to check out our charity partner Solarbuddy.org, and the work they are doing in reducing energy poverty in marginalised communities throughout the world.

Solarbuddy.org was created by Simon Doble, with the focus of educating young Australians on how to build a more sustainable future, and make positive impact on those in energy poverty.

Check out their work in the Solar Light Challenge – Earth Hour Solar Light challenge

Marinda’s Rising Star Story

The Peer Support Program has enabled our school to establish a framework for identifying leadership opportunities for our students and improving their ability in managing small teams and designing and coordinating group tasks.

The Year 11 students who have been involved in the Program underwent an application program which involved them identifying their own goals for being involved in the Program, which needed to be endorsed by both their parents and a teacher.

The Peer Support leaders have assisted in the transition of Year 6 students into Year 7 through leading orientation day activities and implementing the Program every fortnight. Peer Leaders will also be working with the primary school students to teach the Year 6 students about our Anti-Bullying Program, as well as assisting with hosting parents during our Year 7 information sessions.

Our Year 7 students have integrated smoothly into the culture of Macquarie Fields HS due to the intensive support from our Peer Leaders. The Peer Support Program is an integral part of the transition process as well as enabling senior students to take on a range of leadership positions in our community.

In the future, Peer Leaders will be utilising their leadership skills to mentor junior students in a more intensive one-on-one program.

The Peer Support Program has also enabled our school to offer leadership opportunities to a wide range of senior students whilst creating a supportive environment for our junior students. The experience has been positive for both students and teachers alike.

Review: Happiness & Its Causes Conference – Implications for Education

Recently, the Peer Support Australia Education Team attended the 11th Happiness & Its Causes Conference to explore the science of happiness and learn about strategies that enhance wellbeing and optimise performance. There were over 60 speakers ranging from neuroscientists to humanitarians, with even the Dalai Lama making a video appearance. Some common themes were the importance of kindness and compassion, the human potential and capacity for transformation, and the need to rethink the ways in which we address mental health and move from a deficit to strengths-based approach.

The benefits of practising gratitude and mindfulness meditation were well documented by a number of speakers who presented their research findings and personal stories to demonstrate that simple strategies can, and do, work. Interestingly, many of those who have spent years researching happiness and the techniques that lead to a more rewarding life admitted that they too struggle at times to maintain these techniques in the long term. It appears that achieving and maintaining happiness for most of us is a work in progress that requires time, attention and dedication for long lasting results. Taking this into account, the need for these techniques to be introduced early on into the lives of our children and young people becomes apparent, as this can assist them to form lifelong habits that are embedded into everyday practice. Equipping the next generation with skills in emotion regulation and allowing them to practice these regularly appears to be key to assisting them to flourish, both in the school environment and the world at large – and hopefully grow to become better adjusted, more self-aware and happier adults.

The talks in the Happiness and Learning stream confirmed that there is an increasing number of schools that are using Positive Psychology Interventions (PPI’s) as a means of increasing the wellbeing of their students and enacting the strengths-based approach of the new curriculum. The Positive Psychology movement, initiated by Dr Martin Seligman almost two decades ago, is based on the notion that in order to address mental health we must focus on strengths and positive emotions as well as the effects of adversity and negative emotions1, and is increasingly being used as a framework for the development of wellbeing programs for children and young people in educational settings.

Why is feeling positive important for learning?
There is a growing body of evidence suggesting that positive mind states such as happiness, lead to better academic performance. This was the case in a recent study conducted by the Harvard Graduate School of Education and The Centre for Transformative Teaching and Learning, whose findings demonstrated a statistically significant correlation between happiness and students’ academic achievement2. Speakers echoed these findings, such as Dr Suzy Green who spoke about how positive mood states not only increase feelings of hope but also students’ capacity for goal attainment. Dr Kerry Howells emphasised the importance of gratitude for education and her research demonstrating appreciation as the most optimal state of mind for high cognition.

The application of Positive Psychology to educational contexts sees schools moving beyond the sole focus on academic achievement to include the development of social and emotional skills and practices that cultivate positive feelings, behaviours and emotions3 and is based on the understanding that these are not mutually exclusive, but rather, complementary. It is evident that there has been a paradigm shift in the ways in which we view education and that we are steering in the right direction, but there is still work to do in moving from theory to sustainable practice.

Dr Paula Robinson spoke about her work with schools to improve their wellbeing literacy. She made a clear point that in order to create successful and sustainable wellbeing programs, schools must use the research and existing models to design their own evidence-based, school specific model, take a whole of school approach, and have a clear long term plan well before they implement. The results of her collaboration with schools such as Knox Grammar reveal that partnerships between schools and experts in the field of positive psychology can yield impressive results, but that more needs to be done to assist all schools, regardless of their financial capacity, to develop these. Wellbeing addressed through a whole school framework rather than isolated programs, can shift culture and create measurable improvements.

Implications for teachers
A number of speakers suggested that if we as educators want to assist our students to achieve wellbeing we must begin by looking at our own levels of happiness and satisfaction and address these honestly. We often fail to recognise that how we feel has an impact on the way we teach. Teachers have a powerful influence over student achievement and are significant role models for our young people4. Despite this, Speaker Dr William DeJean makes a valid assertion that teachers are given far fewer opportunities to engage in meaningful personal and professional development and leadership training that can empower positive change than their corporate counterparts. He suggests that teachers must be given the time and opportunity to understand wellbeing for themselves first before they can enable meaningful change in the wellbeing of their students. Indeed this is an area that needs more attention and resources if we want to see real change.

For now, educators can start by focusing on the simple things they can do to improve their happiness and wellbeing on a daily basis using the strategies presented such as daily kindness and gratitude practice and taking time to reduce their stress levels through techniques like mindfulness, and trust that their example, no matter how small, is a powerful agent for change in their students.

The way forward…
Happiness need not be a seemingly elusive and subjective construct. The insights from this conference for me personally are that we can use scientific evidence to cultivate happiness but that this is an ongoing and individual process that takes conscious effort and dedication. The sooner we begin to teach these techniques to young people, the better able they will be to create habits that can lead to a happy life. Schools are getting much better at recognising their role in the development of the whole individual and how they can equip students for the future but must ensure they also recognise and support the role of teachers in this process. As a society, we are getting better at understanding that happiness is critical to success and developing ourselves to reach our highest potential. The results will hopefully benefit generations to come and lead the way for an unprecedented evolution in human consciousness. For now, we can start by something as simple as giving thanks regularly, being kind to ourselves and others, and taking time to be in the present moment on a daily basis. In the words of the Dalai Lama, ‘there’s hope for a better future for us all”.

-Candela Alvaez, Peer Support Australia Wellbeing Education Consultant

References
1 Seligman, Martin E. P.; Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2000). Positive psychology: An introduction. American Psychologist, Vol 55(1), 5-14. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0003-066X.55.1.5

Schiller, L. & Hinton, C. (2015). It’s true: happier students get higher grades. The Conversation July 30, 2015, Retrieved on 07/07/17 from http://theconversation.com/its-true-happier-students-get-higher-grades-41488?sa=pg1&sq=happier+students&sr=2

3 Waters, L. (2011). A review of school-based positive psychology interventions. The Australian Educational and Developmental Psychologist, 28(2), 75-90. (C) DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1375/aedp.28.2.75

4 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) 2005, Teachers Matter: Attracting, developing and retaining effective teachers, 6th ed, Paris, OECD Publishing cited in Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (ATSIL) – The crucial role of the teacher (2014) Retrieved on 07/07/17 from https://www.aitsl.edu.au/australian-professional-standards-for-teachers/standards/development/the-crucial-roles-of-the-teacher

 

Referenced Talks
Dr Suzy Green and Dr William DeJean – Happiness, Wellbeing and Learning: Not an either or proposition

Dr Kerry Howells – How your thanking awakens your thinking

Dr Paula Robinson and Matthew Cavallaro – Case Study: Total Fitness at Knox Grammar

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso – Universal Love and Compassion

 Further reading
Robinson, P. (2016) Practising Positive Education: A guide to improve wellbeing literacy in schools. Sydney: Positive Psychology Institute Pty Ltd.

Howells, K. (2013). Enhancing teacher relationships and effectiveness through the practice of gratitude. Teachers Matter, Vol. 23 pp. 58-59.

Townsville Parents and Educators Aim to Build Resilience

Over 160 parents filled the Rydges Southbank on Thursday the 20th of April to learn more about building resilience in their children and teens. Peer Support Australia brought Andrew Fuller, one of Australia’s leading experts on resilience, to Townsville to headline the conversation.

‘The positive response indicated that parents in the community are committed to building resilience in their children, teens and with their families’, explains Greg Cantwell, CEO of Peer Support Australia.

On the night, Mr Fuller used research on over 160 000 young people to paint a clear picture of the strengths and vulnerabilities of young people and confirmed that resilience is the active ingredient in creating great outcomes for children and teens.

‘Parents play a vital role in supporting their children and helping them develop skills and strategies that will make them capable of managing their lives positively’, says Greg Cantwell. ‘There was a real sense from those in attendance that they received practical answers and learned practical skills about how to create and build resilience in their children and families’.

Peer Support Australia also hosted a breakfast for school principals the following day. Andrew Fuller presented school leaders with evidence-based strategies on how to build resilience across the school.

‘Peer Support Australia is committed to working with school communities to empower them to improve the mental health of their students and enhance resilience’, states Mr Cantwell.

Mr Fuller discussed with principals how they can enable their students to approach challenges with greater confidence to enhance resilience across the whole school for behavioural change.

‘Peer Support Australia understands the vital role schools play in promoting resilience and the mental health and wellbeing of their students, says Mr Cantwell. ‘We enjoyed meeting with school leaders in the region who use the Peer Support Program to achieve these outcomes’.

Peer Support Australia is hosting an Implementation Workshop in Townsville on May 16th for school leaders and teachers, the first step in having the Peer Support Program at a school.

Schools looking to learn more about the Peer Support Program and the benefits of the Program are encouraged to contact us at Peer Support Australia through our website or phone 1300 579 to speak to a Wellbeing Education Consultant.

Resolving Conflict Between Friends

Conflict resolution is of particular interest to developmental researchers because it enables children to develop interpersonal and perspective-taking skills1, acquire principles of fairness and justice2, define personal autonomy3, and enhance emotional regulation4. Friendships in particular (as opposed to relationships with parents, siblings, or acquaintances, for example) are especially important relationships for conflict resolution development. Unlike family relationships, which have an assurance of long-term continuity, friendships are more susceptible to potential breakdown or permanent fracture.  Also, friends are invested in voluntary relationships, so their resolutions should reflect the desire to maintain rewarding interconnections, which is lacking between acquaintances5.

The hallmark of a good friendship is not necessarily a lack of conflict, but rather it is how friends work together to reconcile after an episode of disagreement or tension. Indeed, some researchers argue that conflict resolution skills are among the most critical determinants of friendship quality6,7. While there is no one ‘right’ way to resolve conflict, there are some strategies that have been identified by researchers as adaptive and more likely to contribute to mutually harmonious reconciliation.

One of the most widely used theories of conflict resolution is based on the ‘Dual Concern’ model8,9. According to this theory, the particular strategy that a person uses to resolve conflict depends on their level of concern for themselves, versus their level of concern for the other person/s10. Collaboration, which may involve cooperation, negotiation or compromise, occurs when there is high concern for both oneself and others, and is generally considered the most adaptive form of conflict resolution. A second strategy, accommodation, is where concern for others give precedence to concern for oneself, and may also be adaptive in certain situations. Collaboration and accommodation are classified as solution-orientated strategies11. Less adaptive forms of conflict resolution include controlling strategies (such as coercion and hostility), which reflect a high degree of concern for oneself with low concern for others, and non-confrontational strategies (withdrawal or avoidance), reflecting low concern for both oneself and others10.

As children get older, their ability to successfully resolve conflicts with friends increases. This is thought to reflect the growing prominence of issues and settings that present opportunities for perspective-taking and consideration of others. Young children tend to resolve conflicts with less adaptive strategies, such as coercion. However, as they mature into adolescents and become better versed at reconciling their friendship disagreements, they more frequently use adaptive strategies such as negotiation5. Indeed, adolescents’ friendships offer valuable opportunities for broader social development because of the behaviours and skills they learn when engaging in and resolving conflict episodes with their friends12.

Studies show that having good conflict resolution skills is associated with various positive outcomes. For adolescents, the resolution strategies they learn and practice in peer relationships are associated with increased friendship quality and long-term friendship maintenance13. Over the life course, conflict resolution skills have been linked to marital satisfaction14 and to workplace success15. There is also research to indicate that the ability to successfully resolve conflict is related to empathy. Being able to perceive and identify with another’s distress or frustration in a conflict situation can lead to a better understanding of the other person’s position. This may then act to inhibit maladaptive approaches to conflict and instead promote more effective strategies16. For example, one study found that adolescents who were higher in empathy were more likely to use compromising strategies and discuss issues with friends, and were also less likely to become angry when resolving conflicts with friends17.

In all friendships, conflict is an inevitable occurrence. However, conflict need not cause lasting damage, and can actually bring friends closer together when they are resolved harmoniously – by engaging in solution-orientated strategies and minimising the use of controlling or non-confrontational strategies.

References:

  1. Jones, T. S. (2004). Conflict resolution education: The field, the findings, and the future. Conflict Resolution Quarterly, 22(1-2), 233-267.
  2. Ross, H. S., (1996). Negotiating principles of entitlement in sibling property disputes. Developmental Psychology, 32, 90-101.
  3. Nucci, L. P., Killen, M., & Smetana, J. G. (1996). Autonomy and the personal: Negotiation and social reciprocity in adult-child social exchanges. New Directions for Child and Adolescent Development, 73, 7-24.
  4. Fabes, R., & Eisenberg, N. (1992). Young children’s coping with interpersonal stress. Child Development, 63, 116-128.
  5. Laursen, B., Finkelstein, B. D., & Betts, N. T. (2001). A developmental meta-analysis of peer conflict resolution. Developmental Review, 21, 423-449.
  6. Crohan, S. E. (1992). Marital happiness and spousal consensus on beliefs about marital conflict: A longitudinal investigation. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 9, 89-102.
  7. Laursen, B., & Collins, W. A. (1994). Interpersonal conflict during adolescence. Psychological Bulletin, 115, 197-209.
  8. Pruitt, D. G. (1982). Negotiation Behavior. New York: Academic Press.
  9. Pruitt, D. G., & Carnevale, P. J. (1993). Negotiation in social conflict. Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole.
  10. Thayer, S. M., Updegraff, K. A., & Delgado, M. Y. (2008). Conflict resolution in Mexican American adolescents’ friendships: Links with culture, gender and friendship quality. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 37(7), 783-797.
  11. Laursen, B., Finklestein, B. D., & Townsend Betts, N. (2001). A developmental meta-analysis of peer conflict resolution. Developmental Review, 21, 423-449.
  12. Youniss, J., & Smoller, J. (1985). Adolescent relations with mothers, fathers, and friends. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  13. Hartup, W. W. (1993). Adolescents and their friends. In B. Laursen (Ed.), New directions for child development: Close friendships in adolescence (pp. 3-22). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Publishers.
  14. Gottman, J. M., & Krokoff, L. J. (1989). Marital interaction and satisfaction: A longitudinal view. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 57, 47-52.
  15. Tjosvold, D. (1998). Cooperative and competitive goal approach to conflict: Accomplishments and challenges. Applied Psychology: An International Review, 47, 1363-1375.
  16. Chow, C. M., Ruhl, H., & Buhrmester, D. (2013). The mediating role of interpersonal competence between adolescents’ empathy and friendship quality: A dyadic approach. Journal of Adolescence, 36(1), 191-200.
  17. de Wied, M., Branje, S. J. T., & Meeus, W. H. J. (2007). Empathy and conflict resolution in friendship relations among adolescents. Aggressive Behavior, 33, 48-55.

MAKE THE POSITIVE CHANGE NOW

Now is your opportunity to register for one of our Peer Support Implementation Workshops in 2017. These workshops are the starting point for beginning the Peer Support Program, as well as for essential retraining or bolstering the numbers of trained staff at your school.

The Peer Support Program is a universal evidence-based health promotion program. Hundreds of schools across Australia use the Peer Support Program to inform positive cultural change. Schools using the program report improvement of student-to-student relationships, improved competence and confidence in students and that students feel a greater connection and sense of belonging to their school – the program empowers.

There are specialised programs for both primary and secondary schools, which foster invaluable skills in leadership, communication and empathy and improve the social and emotional wellbeing of students. The Peer Support Program’s distinctive peer led focus, which is enabled by a supportive school staff community, empowers young people and increases their sense of connectedness, self-efficacy and support.

Be sure to read the brochure and discover more about workshops, our range of resources and discover how the Peer Support Program can become part of your school’s approach to enhancing the mental health and wellbeing of your students.

Brave New World: Starting School

Starting school is a momentous occasion in children’s lives, and indeed in the lives of parents and school staff. There is a lot of discussion on children’s ‘readiness’ for school, yet little consensus on what defines ‘readiness’ and, moreover, whether the term ‘readiness’ is the most appropriate way to think about children starting school.

Readiness has often been defined as a child’s skills, attributes or behaviours in relation to the expectations of individual classrooms or schools1. Traditionally, children’s readiness has been considered in terms of their biological age, maturation, and the achievement of developmental milestones2. More recently however, there has been a shift away from this child-centred focus to one that considers the influence of multiple factors, such as the child’s environment and the role of caregivers, and the interplay between these factors. This interactionist approach construes ‘readiness’ as a relative, rather than absolute, term whereby children demonstrate their readiness in situ, over time3.

The interactionist view takes into account both the independent and collective influences of all participants contributing to the context and conditions under which children learn and develop2,3. This encompasses not only children’s own readiness for school – their physical, motor, social, emotional, language and cognitive development – but also schools’ readiness for children, and the capacity of families and communities to provide developmental opportunities for children underpinned by a ‘ready’ society4.

As such, the onus is not solely on children to be ‘ready’ for school – schools, families and communities all play a role in helping children prepare for their first schooling experience. ‘Ready’ schools are those that are flexible, adaptive and responsive to their students. This can be achieved by providing supports for children (such as transition programs or peer-led programs), supporting the professional development of teachers, facilitating parent involvement, and adapting when appropriate to meet the needs and strengths of students5. Families and communities also play an important role in contributing to children’s school readiness. It is critical to acknowledge the role that parents, relatives and other community members have in children’s development, and to provide support for families and communities to fulfil this role. Such support may include access to high-quality and developmentally appropriate early childhood programs that help prepare children for school, as well as providing sources of adequate nutrition, physical activity, and access to health care5.

An alternative way of framing the interactionist view of school readiness is to consider it in terms of ‘transition’ – a process that is not goal-focused or static, but one that involves continual transformation and growth. Ramey and Ramey (1999)6 define transition as “an ongoing process of mutual adaptations by children, families and schools to facilitate children moving successfully from home and early childhood education and care settings into the early years of school”7. This view acknowledges that any transition will involve some discontinuity, and that this is best managed through secure, respectful and reciprocal relationships which, in turn, help to generate supportive and effective educational environments8.

References

  1. Carlton, M. P., & Winsler, A. (1999). School readiness: The need for a paradigm shift. School Psychology Review, 28(3), 338-352.
  2. Dockett, S., & Perry, B. (2002). Who’s ready for what? Young children starting school. Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood, 3(1), 67-89.
  3. Meisels, S. J. (1999). Assessing readiness. In R. C. Pianta & M. Cox (Eds.), The transition to kindergarten: Research, policy, training, and practice (pp. 39-66). Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes.
  4. Emig, C., Moore, A., & Scarupa, H. J. (2001). School readiness: Helping communities get children ready for school and schools ready for children. Research brief. Washington, DC: Child Trends.
  5. Dockett, S., & Perry, B. (2009). Readiness for school: A relational construct. Australasian Journal of Early Childhood, 34(1), 20-26.
  6. Ramey, S., & Ramey, C. (1999). Beginning school for children at risk. In R. C. Pianta & M. Cox (Eds.), The transition to kindergarten: Research, policy, training, and practice (pp. 217-251). Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes.
  7. Petriwsky, A., Thorpe, K. J., & Tayler, C. P. (2005). Trends in construction of transition to school in three western regions 1990-2004. International Journal of Early Years Education, 13(1), 55-69.
  8. Dockett, S., & Perry, B. (2014). Continuity of learning: A resource to support effective transitions to school and school aged care. Canberra, ACT: Australian Government Department of Education.

TOP 8 TIPS: For Peer Support Program Implementation

Schools across the country are implementing The Peer Support Program successfully with very positive results. Below are a number of tips to help you implement the Peer Support Program for 2017.

  1. Have a very clear plan about how the program will be implemented and linked to the school’s strategic directions and priorities
  2. Gain a firm recommitment from the Principal and the Executive regarding their support.
  3. Inform all staff members via an awareness raising session of the plan for Peer Support at the school. These are provided for you in our resources or we can conduct them on your behalf as part of your membership.
  4. Provide information to the parents to build their support.
  5. Plan the 2 day training for Peer leaders so that it is a special event for them and takes place close to the start of the Peer Support program.
  6. Carefully timetable the 8 Peer Support sessions across a term so that sessions are not always in the same subject area but spread across different faculties.
  7. Train Supervising Teachers to allow students time and space to succeed with The Peer Support Program.
  8. Brief and debrief Peer Leaders and Group members so that time is built in for students to reflect on and learn from their leadership opportunities.

If you trained your Secondary Peer Leaders at the end of 2016, use the 90 minute Extension Session in Section 1 of the Peer Leader’s Training to refresh skills covered during training – 6 weeks is a long break!

Taking stock: The importance of reflection for renewal

The beginning of a new year is a time of renewal – renewed ambitions, renewed energies, renewed bonds within our communities, and a renewal of self. As we look ahead to the possibilities and potential that the new year brings, it is important to remind ourselves that a key part of renewal involves taking stock and reflecting back on our past thoughts and actions. By engaging in reflective practice, it empowers us to move forward with a renewed sense of clarity, purpose and meaning, and helps us make the most of the year ahead.

The concept of reflective practice was first introduced by Donald Schön in 19871 to describe the process of intentionally and thoughtfully considering one’s own experiences, ideally with guidance or supervision from mentors, in order to effectively apply knowledge to practice and refine one’s craft or discipline2. Reflection is an ability that can be developed over time and enhanced by particular learning contexts, such as those where support from mentors or supervisors is provided and where ongoing active reflection is encouraged and reinforced3. Reflective practice is multifaceted and may involve one or several of the following phases: anticipatory reflection, which involves planning ahead based on past experiences; reflection-in-action, where learning occurs within the moment and involves maintaining flexibility during practice; and reflection-on-action, which involves retrospective analysis and consideration of experiences after they have occurred4. In some cases, reflection may also be stimulated by the anticipation of future challenges3. Reflection can be achieved through a variety of activities and practices, including (but not limited to): private reflection; conversations with colleagues and supervisors; digital monitoring of work in practice; evaluation of case studies; and journaling5,6.

Reflective practice has many benefits, both for how we consider our work and how we consider ourselves. For teachers, reflection enables a deeper understanding of teaching style, which consequently results in greater effectiveness as a teacher both in the classroom, within the school community, and with regard to one’s personal identity as a teacher2. Other specific benefits to teachers include involving and engaging students as active learners, creating a positive classroom and school atmosphere, and maintaining flexibility in teaching practice4. Finally, there are benefits of reflection that extend beyond the school context and inform our thoughts and actions as members of our broader community and society. These benefits include challenging us to think more critically, raising new questions to explore, helping us deal more effectively with challenges or conflicts, and enabling us to put things into a broader perspective5.

Reflection need not only occur at the start of a new year; in fact, ongoing reflective practice is critical to flourishing both personally and professionally. By taking stock of our thoughts and actions, we are able to continuously renew our approach to work and our daily lives, enabling us to move forward with a renewed sense of purpose and potential.

 

References

1. Schon, D. A. (1987). Educating the reflective practitioner. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
2. Ferraro, J. M. (2000). Reflective practice and professional development. [Electronic version]. ERIC Digest. Retrieved 20/12/2016.
3. Mann, K., Gordon, J., & MacLeod, A. (2009). Reflection and reflective practice in health professions education: A systematic review. Advances in Health Sciences Education14(4), 595-621.
4. Pinsky, L. E., Monson, D., & Irby, D. M. (1998). How excellent teachers are made: Reflecting on success to improve teaching. Advances in Health Sciences Education3(3), 207-215.
5. Mitchell, T. D., Richard, F. D., Battistoni, R. M., Rost-Banik, C., Netz, R., & Zakoske, C. (2015). Reflective practice that persists: Connections between reflection in service-learning programs and in current life. Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning21(2), 49-64.
6. Amobi, F., & Irwin, L. (2012). Implementing on-campus microteaching to elicit preservice teachers’ reflection on teaching actions: Fresh perspective on an established practice. Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning9(1), 27-34.

Reflective Teaching Practice

“We do not learn from experience… we learn from reflecting on experience.”

“While we cannot learn or be taught to think, we do have to learn to think well, especially acquire the general habit of reflection”

(Dewey, 1933)

For many of us, John Dewey springs to mind when we think about the importance of reflective thinking to education. Not only was his work influential in creating a paradigm shift in the way we thought about education, but some would say it was nothing short of revolutionary as it was at the forefront of early educational reform with the introduction of the concept of ‘learning by doing’ and the emphasis on a child-centred approach to teaching.

In fact, looking at changes to curriculum and teaching and learning practice in the last 10 years shows just how much his work was ahead of its time and its influence on contemporary education. We now see explicit links between Australian Curriculum content across all learning areas and the explicit development of critical and creative thinking skills. We understand that students must not just take in information, but also make meaning and connections between what they learn in the classroom and the world around them.

Most teachers will agree that they encourage their students to reflect on both their learning and their lives on a daily basis, as they recognise the importance of making connections in order to process knowledge and work towards mastery. However, as teachers we may often neglect to see ourselves beyond being the knowledge brokers and recognise that we are also lifelong learners who can use these tools to develop our own professional skills.

Critical reflection can assist us in analysing our performance, our actions and our thinking in order to yield solutions and improvements that make us better at what we do, regardless of our field. Beginning teachers are often well aware of areas for improvement, yet in reality, we can all challenge and stretch ourselves, regardless of how skilled we are or how many years we have been educators.

Stephen Brookfield (1995) suggests that teachers can reframe their teaching by viewing their practice through four unique lenses: their autobiographies as teachers and learners, their students’ eyes, their colleagues’ perceptions, and theoretical literature. In this way, we are able to go beyond simply asking ourselves if our teaching achieved the curriculum outcomes and move towards a critical and comprehensive understanding of where we are at in relation to a range of contexts.

We know from the research that teachers play a critical role in student learning. This means, that as educators, we have a duty to critically reflect on our practice if we want to continue to improve results for our students and create positive educational outcomes in our schools. More importantly though, it reminds us that we can make a difference.

Reflection takes courage, because it challenges us to change, to take risks and be brave enough to fail. It reminds us that every group of students we teach are different, that a one size fits all approach has never been a viable solution, it encourages us to fine-tune our strategies and get creative.

If we are to truly embrace authentic education and the significant role we play in the lives of young people, we must be willing to at least think about how to continue to develop ourselves, how to adapt our pedagogy to a changing world and increasingly diverse and rapidly evolving student needs. We must learn to embrace this change and learn to ride the wave, rather than feeling as though we are barely keeping our heads above the rising water.

To guard against the effects of the pressures we may face, it is vital we not only reflect on our professional practice, but to also on our personal motivation to be a part of this profession in the first place. It’s so important to regularly remind ourselves of why we love what we do and the reasons that make it all worthwhile.

So in this new year, take the challenge to critically reflect on your teaching regularly, not just to fulfil requirements or tick a box, but to get a sense of what you have learned about yourself, how working with such a diverse range of students has enriched your practice and what you would like to change in order to keep inspiring and motivating the young people in your care in future, so that they too, can go about changing the world.

A few reflection questions that may be useful to begin with…

  • Why did I choose teaching? What is it about it that I love?
  • Would I like my students to think/feel/say about me?
  • My proudest moment as a teacher was when…
  • In what ways have I improved since my first day on the job?
  • What is my biggest challenge in moving forward?
  • Three strategies I could use to overcome this challenge…
  • How can I improve my practice to be even better than I am now?
  • Three things I would like to achieve this year…

Practical strategies for teachers

  • Take the time to write it down – time is precious and scarce, but even just a few minutes after a lesson of writing can do wonders, and it saves you from trying to remember it later on. What lit them up? Which bits didn’t work? What was both fun and delivered content? How could you go that one step further and think outside the proverbial box?
  • Keep a journal – be candid about your challenges as well as the highlights, go back to previous entries at a later date to marvel at how far you’ve come or to reinspire you after a hard day.
  • Get feedback from your students – yes this can be scary and hard to swallow at times, but what better way of finding out how you’re doing than asking the ones who you intend to engage?
  • Blog it – you might think no one wants to know about your successes and failures but the truth is that other teachers go through the same things. Perhaps you’ll inspire someone?
  • Talk to other teachers – not just about what drives you crazy but about the good stuff too. Share ideas, ask for insights, be honest about what you need to improve and recognise your successes. Better yet, if you dare – invite them to observe and give feedback. Scary as it may seem, it can often make you aware of things that you can improve on.
  • Use self-assessment evaluation forms, questionnaires or a rubric e.g. see the Thoughtful Classroom Teacher Effectiveness Framework – Teacher Self- Assessment Guide by Silver Strong & Associates (2011) at http://usny.nysed.gov/rttt/teachers-leaders/practicerubrics/Docs/SilverStrongSelfAssessmentRubric.pdf

Additional reading on reflective practice

Brookfield, S. D. (1995). Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass

Chapter available online: The Getting of Wisdom: What Critically Reflective Teaching is and Why It’s Important at https://static1.squarespace.com/static/51acea8be4b02783f894c272/t/53628f3be4b0bddd58665b76/1398968123150/Brookfield-Getting+Wisdom.pdf

Danielson L. M. (2009) Fostering Reflection. In Educational Leadership (66)5, retrieved from
http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/feb09/vol66/num05/Fostering-Reflection.aspx

Dewey, J. (1933). How We Think. Boston, D. C. Heath & Co.