Continuous Professional Learning for Early Childhood Educators: Reflective Practice and Collaborative Inquiry

By: Diane Kashin, Ed.D, RECE.

When I started this series focused on the six pedagogical approaches of How Does Learning Happen? Ontario’s Pedagogy for the Early Years (2014) it was my way of giving back to early childhood educators who were looking for professional learning opportunities during quarantine especially those in my home province of Ontario, Canada. I really appreciate these approaches that include responsive relationships, learning through exploration, play and inquiry, educators as co-learners, environment as third teacher, pedagogical documentation and reflective practice and collaborative inquiry. The pedagogical approaches support the key foundations for learning; belonging, well-being, engagement and expression and are common across settings and ages representing a continuum of learning. The intention is that all educators represented in Figure 4 taken from How Does Learning Happen? (2014, p. 14) will share the understanding that children are competent, curious, capable of complex thinking and rich in potential. Across the continuum these “pedagogical approaches and practices that work for young children are similar to strategies that work for learners of all ages, from infancy to adulthood” (p. 14).

ELECT is an acronym for Early Learning for Every Child Today, a framework for Ontario early childhood settings which was published in 2007 and is now available in an excerpted format. ELECT provides the groundwork for How Does Learning Happen? Ontario’s Pedagogy for the Early Years (HDLH?). The goals for children and expectations for programs that are set out in HDLH? incorporate and build on foundational knowledge about children and child development discussed in ELECT. HDLH? provides a way to think about the ELECT principles and how they work together. The following are the principles.

  1. Early child development sets the foundation for lifelong learning, behaviour and health.
  2. Partnerships with families and communities strengthen the ability of early childhood settings to meet the needs of young children.
  3. Respect for diversity, equity and inclusion are prerequisites for honouring children’s rights, optimal development and learning.
  4. A planned curriculum supports early learning.
  5. Play is a means to early learning that capitalizes on children’s natural curiosity and exuberance.
  6. Knowledgeable, responsive early childhood professionals are essential.

The pedagogical approaches that have framed these six blog posts are grounded on these principles and meant for educators across the educational continuum. They frame my practice. Do they frame yours? You don’t have to be from Ontario, to find them helpful to rethink and reframe in the time of COVID-19. I know and appreciate the wide audience that these posts have reached. The stats for the month of June indicate a global reach. I hope my international readers and those Canadian readers from other provinces, understand the need for this final post to provide early childhood educators here in Ontario, with this information. From my standpoint, it hasn’t always been clear. Many early childhood educators in Ontario are confused about whether the ELECT or HLDH? should be guiding their practice. I hope that they have found it helpful to see the fuller picture which indicates the importance of early childhood education and how what we do as early childhood educators is something recommended across the continuum. It is validating and reaffirming. What we do is important! What we do demonstrates a cycle of professional practice that is reflective.

Cycle of Professional Reflective Practice

According to How Does Learning Happen? (2014), there is an expectation of participation “in ongoing reflective practice and collaborative inquiry with others” (p. 17). Schön (1983) introduced reflective practice in the book The Reflective Practitioner and articulated the need to think about practice as a kind of artistry or craft that continually evolves from reflection.

Schön defines reflective practice as the practice by which you become aware of your implicit knowledge base and learn from your experience. To become aware of what is implicit (something implied but not plainly expressed), reflection is necessary. Schön refers to reflective practice as reflection in action and reflection on action. Reflection in action is  to reflect on behaviour as it happens, whereas, reflection on action involves reflecting after the event, to review, analyze, and evaluate the situation. Another term Schön uses  is “knowing in action” to describe tacit knowledge which is knowledge that you do not get from being taught, or from books, etc. but you get it from personal experience and in this case, professional practice. From an early learning perspective, professional practice includes a process of making sense of a situation, figuring out what is really happening and making adjustments to how you practise. To do this, you need to reflect on, critically examine, and reformulate your ideas and practices, and at times shift your philosophical orientation (Dietze & Kashin, 2016). According to this article by Carter, Cividanes, Curtis and Lebo, reflection allows you to make effective, meaningful decisions about how to respond to and plan for children. It will keep you excited about your work even in this difficult time!

Reflective practice can be undertaken by an individual or a group. When undertaken by a group, it is collaborative inquiry. When you engage with others in collaborative inquiry you question theory and practice, discuss ideas, test theories and share your learning. Together you are engaging in critical and creative thinking which honours openness and flexibility. Through this collaborative dialogue, you look for emergent possibilities and new questions and solutions. This video focuses on the critical part of reflection and demonstrates how one group of educators used it to improve practice.

The process of collaborative inquiry will help you to discover multiple perspectives and deepen your understandings (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2014). So, where do you start? According to Kennedy (2018) begin with thinking deeply about an interest, issue, event or practice from different perspectives. Reflective Practice: Making a commitment to ongoing learning, an article from Australia suggests that engaging in reflective practice involves:

  • Being honest about all aspects of practice, including elements that are positive and those that are of concern;
  • Monitoring pedagogy and curriculum as part of a cycle of continuous improvement;
  • Listening to and learning from others;
  • Engaging in an ongoing process and not a “one-off” activity.

I really appreciate this view of a continuous process that is not a “one-off” activity. It is imperative that you have ongoing opportunities to listen and learn from others. Early childhood education communities of practice (CoPs) are a vehicle to support ongoing collaborative inquiry. Communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly (Wenger, 2011). Do you have a CoP? Do you want one? This resource from Ontario’s College of Early Childhood Educators will help!

Another excellent resource to support communities of practice in early childhood education is this workbook, Reflecting in Communities of Practice also by Carter, Cividanes, Curtis and Lebo.

A framework to support critical reflection that I recommend, is one that I have offered as a tool to help in the creation of pedagogical documentation, what? so what? and now what? This video will explain how it can be used a tool to support reflective practice and collaborative inquiry.

This slideshow on reflective practice also refers to it.

I am also sharing a PowerPoint presentation which I have used in workshops in the past, that speaks to critical reflection in practice. I have added a couple of slides that relate to the current context of the pandemic.

Since the onset of the pandemic I have not been able to do any workshops in a face to face format. Like many of you, I have been confined to my house in the past few months. Professional learning will not be delivered quite the same as it has in the past. One of the gifts of COVID is that it has sparked rethinking in early childhood education and beyond. I believe that the future will involve more web-based experiences. I have had so many opportunities to engage with others in online collaborative inquiry because it has been the only way to engage with others! While I miss the excitement of traveling to new destinations to meet new people, I have found so much value in these online experiences. They are affordable and accessible! I am so pleased to be engaged in a collaborative experience with educators from Seneca College’s Newnham Campus Labschool. Together, we have been offering a web workshop called, Environment as Third Teacher: Re-Thinking Responsive Spaces in the Time of COVID. We hope you can join us for the next session!

These experiences collaborating with Tanya, Nicole and Laura from the Labschool have been joyful! I have a long-standing relationship with this wonderful learning environment. I am so grateful for the opportunity to collaborate with Tanya and Laura who are former students from the 90s and with Nicole with whom I have engaged in many professional learning experiences. With these webinars we have been able to engage with educators from across the educational continuum from all over Canada and the world! We have learned so much from this experience and from collaboratively reflecting on the experience. We invite you to engage in reflection on experience. What have you learned from your reflective practice and collaborative inquiry experiences in these last few months? What do you think the future holds for professional learning? Do you have an increased appetite for webinars? Please share your insights! We are in this together, learning together. Together we are better.

We do not learn from experience … we learn from reflecting on experience ~ John Dewey

As I write, I reflect. I am perched on my deck, enjoying the view of my garden and beyond the trail and forest. I am thinking about one of my favourite long-time collaborators and critical friends, Cindy Green. When I think about the beauty of my surround, I think of Cindy as she has such affection for flowers. I am so grateful for all of our collaborations and for her excellent editing skills. Cindy reminds us that when educators return to the workplace, now more than ever, it is imperative that children, their families and ourselves strive for a sense of well-being and belonging. These conditions for learning are foundational and when woven together with the six pedagogical approaches that are outlined in HDLH?, learning through play and inquiry is a joyful journey for all of us. There is so much educators can do for children and families during this time. This is a super power.


3 thoughts on “Continuous Professional Learning for Early Childhood Educators: Reflective Practice and Collaborative Inquiry

  1. Thanks for the shout out Diane. Our work together throughout the years has been remarkable and exhilarating! I have finally slowed down, having the time to reflect on this incredible journey!


    • Thank you, Diane. I always learn something new from your posts. They help staying up to date and give food for critical thinking…


  2. Thanks Diane, the article has helped me understand the nitty gritty of pedagogical documentation. The detailed explanation of what? so what? next what? explains the practice of critically reflections beautifully.


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