Reflective practice for schools work
Schools Workers are busy people, right? I mean, there aren’t many other people who can claim to carry quite so many eclectic items in their car as schools workers: a plastic crown, rolls of toilet roll, a blow up globe, set of battered Bibles, a pair of portable speakers, felt tip pens or crayons, a pad of flip chart paper, playdough and a rug are all things I have known schools workers to shove into boots and back seats! And in the prayer space, transition or holiday bible club season it only gets worse. Schools Workers can spend each section of their working day in a different school, visiting many schools in their patch in a week so it’s no wonder it can feel like there’s very little time to do anything else. And yet, as with so much of our lives, there is real value in stopping and looking back at what we have achieved, and the summer term provides us with a good opportunity either to plan a day into our team diaries before schools break up or get at least one day of reflection into next year’s diary.
Why bother though? It will take out valuable time we could be in school and for what?
There are lots of different ways to become more reflective practitioners: journaling is one trend that has exploded in recent years particularly with the growing emphasis on mental health from many quarters. Reflection, and journaling, is good for our mental health, it helps us to process things in our own way. Being able to write down what has gone well and what changes we might make moving forward is a significant thing because not only is there value in the process in the moment but it is also important to look back through events and decisions made previously. In a work context you could write into a group’s register – I did this during my youth worker training after every Friday night youth group! Or have another way to record your team’s responses: in folders with the program materials or perhaps using an app like Slack where individuals can join in conversation threads on specific subjects.
However you do it, broadly speaking there are three layers of reflection:
1. Immediate debrief of self and team: this is really crucial because if we dash from one thing to another we can miss the observations of others which can really hone our practice. Even if you only have a few minutes you can ask these questions: How did it go? Anyone have any difficulties with any of it? Do we need to make any changes? When you get the chance, write down the answers, or make some other record of them.
2. Ask the participants: this is a bit scarier and also rather hit and miss. Asking young people or younger children what they enjoyed or would change is bound to bring up some rather random answers to things. It might also bring some surprising responses, either positively or not so! Good youth/children’s/schools work programs need to have some reflection or evaluation built in, all the more important if your work is grant funded. Having evaluation from participants that shows the impact of your work is a great source of evidence for your funders. Search for ‘youth work evaluation’ or ‘child friendly evaluation’ and you’ll find all manner of resources you can adapt for your own use.
3. Ask your Line Manager or Supervisor for feedback: this can also be scary but it should be part of your annual appraisal or similar system. One organisation I worked for asked each worker to fill in a reflection on their own work and also asked colleagues on the same team to reflect or feedback what they thought about how you’d done that year. It was pretty terrifying but it worked, mainly because the team working there were all a positive bunch! The best thing that can come out of an annual appraisal is a recognition that we all have different skills that we bring to our jobs and this is a Line Manager’s moment to recognise your achievements from these skills, but also to offer reflection on areas we are not so skilled at and either offer training or some other advice for improving those skills.
Immediate, lightening quick ‘How did it go?’ questions are important for first impressions, it can help to know that you weren’t the only one to whom it felt like the assembly was like wading through treacle! But it’s also important to stop for a day as a team and consider the year that has just passed:
- What went well?
- What should we ditch or change?
- What else can we do?
- Where is God at work in our town and what can we do to join in?
- How do we reach the school that has been uninterested this year?
Now seems like the perfect time to do this, so book a day ‘out’ of school, gather your team and put those felt tip pens, Bibles and flip chart paper to good use and reflect and pray together over the last year.