3.2 : Interview with Cynthia Evans
Tell me a little about you: your teaching career in a nutshell, where you teach, and what kind of theory/curriculum your setting follows.
I have been teaching in a Reggio Emilia Inspired practice for roughly four years now, and prior to that I spent a few lost years seeking something better than a pre-set, calendar based curriculum. I recall briefly reading a course description at a large multi-day PD event about Reggio Emilia and thinking, "Why would I want to model my teaching on how they do it in another country?!" A few years later I was hooked! While I don't describe my approach as Reggio Emilia Inspired anymore, my approach mirrors many aspects seen in Reggio Emilia, Italy. However, I think what people have come to think of as The Reggio Way, speaks more to curriculum, and less to social and emotional aspects of our work - and from observation, there are some differences between my approach and some within the "Reggio Inspired" arena.
What does "reflective practice" mean to you?
When I was first introduced to the idea of documentation I went full force. I took photos of everything, filled notebooks with any possible quote, and wrote about every single interaction in our day to day. In one month I had filled an entire hallway with documentation. And not just your typical written piece of reflective documentation. I had ivory soap taped to the wall. My then mentor questioned if the vast amount of documentation was necessary - what are the children getting out of it? The parents? Was I discovering new questions about their inquiries through this documentation? This was the first time, I realized, there wasn't going to be a how-to guide on documentation. I would have to find what works based on trial and error. I had similar revelations in other areas - environment, project work, community involvement. The only way to ensure I was seeking best practices, was to be reflective. Questioning myself, both with others and independently, was the only way to progress. I, like most educators I know, started my teaching with a "teach by numbers" system. I didn't have to think about what I was doing, I was told what to do. If a child was struggling, it was because they weren't working with the practice, rather than the practice not working with the child. A reflective practice is a constantly evolving practice, because evolving is what occurs naturally when you begin to question why we do things a certain way. It is also a never ending practice. Meaning, there isn't ever a point in which we reach the climax of our teaching - where there is no more room for growth. Every year we get new children, new families, new challenges, new inquires, and more room for reflection. Maybe one day I might even come upon an intentional reason to tape ivory soap to a wall.
How do you find the time for reflective writing?
Accountability. To myself and others. Starting my blog (https://therisingaction.me/) was a major milestone in my reflective practice. I could suddenly notice the exact number of days (weeks, months) it had been since I had written and this pushed me into writing on a more regular timeline. I also found the more I wrote, the easier writing reflectively became. As I developed my own system of reflecting, I could think less about the "how" and more on the "what" and "why".
Being accountable then made reflective writing a priority, meaning a sudden peak in opportune moments to write. I became okay with writing while I ate lunch or before children arrived each day. I would block out time during the day, inside or outside of the classroom, to at least look through notes.
Finally, seeing value in my reflective writing led the way to making it a speaking point in my non-teacher life - which I swear exists! I will write, surrounded by notes and documentation, while sitting at home in my co-op. I live with nine other adults and two children, and love sharing my reflective writing with them. Seeing our writing as valuable, not just to our own practice but in society in general, is imperative to our field. We are exploring inquiries, forming theories, about human development - this is important work, own it! I love going to my local coffee shop and having the barista ask me what project work this group of children are exploring. Share your reflections with others - it deserves to be shared!
How do you write? At a computer, with a notebook? Do you have a routine?
Both. I certainly do less handwriting than I used to. I have this horrid habit of intending to simply upload photos, only to find myself posting a piece on the blog - never having actually read it myself in it's entirety. Which for the most part, works for me. If I begin to linger on a piece, I end up thinking too much about the wrong things, rather than simply reflecting on what happened and where to go from there. I also make less spelling errors, but eh, you can't win them all!
When did you begin a reflective writing practice?
Immediately after the 'taping Ivory soap to the wall' incident. I realized I needed to reflect on my practice more than I currently was, and writing was a natural mode of reflection for me already in other areas of my life.
What is some advice you have for educators who are new to a reflective writing practice?
Just start. Start wherever you are and however feels good to you. Daily pages is a wonderful starting place for many people. Grab a blank notebook, or open a new Word document, and dedicate yourself to write for X amount of minutes each day. Write with no thought of formatting, templates, or even spelling. Write just to process whatever thoughts happen to fall onto the paper. Evolve from there. Or don't. Find what works from you - and then share it with someone else! A co-teacher, your partner, a friend, or a teacher on the other side of the planet.
How has reflective writing informed your documentation and/or planning?
They have become one in the same, albeit with some tweaking. My documentation is much less complicated now, and I worry less about the aesthetics of the product - and more on the depth of the writing. Routinely writing reflectively has resulted in a confidence in my reflective skills. Often times I will sit down with the intention to reflectively write, only to end up with a piece of documentation.
What is a challenge that comes with a reflective writing practice?
Coming to terms with the lack of answers. Just because we reflect on a moment, doesn't necessarily mean we will understand that moment more. In fact, I usually walk away with more questions than when I started! Also, knowing that I may be the only audience reading it. It used to bother me when some blog posts got hundreds of views and comments, and another piece I put so much thought into didn't get any views. Or when I would write and post reflective writing in the room, only to see every parent walk by without reading it.
What else would you like to tell passionate Early Educators about reflection?
Reflective writing will change your teaching, though not in a linear way. Adults, like children, don't learn in progression. There will be huge leaps, times where you don't feel reflective at all or don't see what your next steps are, and times you alter something based on your reflections, only to realize it wasn't the best alteration. Go with it!