Using Reflective Practice to Banish Burnout

Published on Tuesday, 05 October 2021
Last updated on Monday, 04 October 2021

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Are you tired? Not just tired, but exhausted? Burnout. In the last eighteen months, burnout has become a feature of many early education and care settings - perhaps more so than it has ever been.

For as long as I have worked in the sector, there has been a high staff turnover rate and high levels of burnout. Now though, not only are we contending with the usual challenges of often inadequate remuneration and conditions, and the emotional labour aspect of our work, we have had to manage ever-changing expectations, attendance patterns of families, and challenges as a result of the global pandemic that we find ourselves in. 

So, how can reflective practice help all of those things? Okay, let me level with you.

Reflecting on your practice won’t stop COVID from being a challenge. Reflecting on your practice won’t stop children and families from needing a little extra from you right now. Reflecting on your practice won’t suddenly fix the educator attraction and retention issues that are plaguing many services right now.

What it will do though, is draw your focus back to why you do what you do. 

Often, we can become burned out when we are no longer able to find the joy in what we do, when the paperwork and the challenges and the overwhelming tiredness gets in the way of the amazingly wonderful, beautiful, and magical things that happen each and every day when you work with children. 

What if we could do something to bring us back to joy? What if we could slow down and think about why we show up each day? What if we could bring it all back to the children, and the magic of childhood? 

I’ve written previously about reflective practice, and I think from a “what is it?” standpoint, many educators are feeling more confident of what is expected of them and how to do it. But what about the benefits of reflective practice?

Not only does reflecting on our practice help us to make informed decisions about future practices and programs, it sparks the sense of wonder and curiosity within us that makes it exciting to come to work each day. 

I remember once sitting in our staff room, at the service I was working at the time. I was supposed to be on “programming” time, and yet I was staring at the computer and feeling like I was ready to just take a nap. It wasn’t that I was actually tired, but I was tired. I could have easily just written some basic observations and ticked the box. But I wanted to do better than that. And so I wrote about how tired I was.

I wrote about the amount of energy that I had used earlier in the week telling and retelling the Three Billy Goats Gruff story. I wrote about how I had spent hours comforting a child who was struggling with being separated from his mum. I wrote about how I had found it difficult to understand a colleague who had a different perspective about the program from me.

Okay, so I wasn’t getting my observations written. But what I was doing was far more beneficial. As I reflected on the week that had been, I not only felt lighter emotionally, but in the act of being intentional, thoughtful and of slowing down, I was able to think about all the amazing moments - like the child who discovered that when they mixed blue and red paint together, they were left with a delightful shade of purple, or the sound of giggling as two children played together in a newly built cubby.

And suddenly, I wasn’t so tired anymore. I was energised. I felt excited about my work, about the impact that it has. 

Even now, in my work, I engage in reflective practice a lot. I make a mistake and I stop to think about why it happened and what I can learn from it. 

Does reflective practice take away all of the challenges that we are facing right now? No. But, when we slow down and really think about why we do what we do, and how we do it, it might just help to banish the burnout.

Written by Nicole Halton

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