Reflective practice – how do we model this for library professionals?

Thinking forbidden! from http://www.clipart.org

Reflective practice is something that comes relatively easily to me.  Having angst as a middle name sure helps, as does a life-long (bad) habit of over-analyzing everything I have done and said, and usually deciding I could have done or said it better…

Working alongside teachers for a lot of years provided many an object lesson in reflective practice, too.  Encouraged to reflect on their teaching, on what went well, what wasn’t quite so successful, and factoring that into their future practice – these were core elements of their daily routines.  In fact, so core that many of the most effective teaching practitioners I worked with would worry over not having the documentation to show this reflection when ERO came to call.  It was usually done in their heads, or, at best, shown in a quick note scribbled on a lesson plan or a daily dairy.

In the context of professional registration for librarians, and for those now going through their first revalidation process, it seems that the reflective process itself is a significant barrier to completion.  Having been involved with two separate groups in a mentoring role, one within the school library sector, and now in the public library environment, it seems that ‘doing’ the professional development, completing the readings, attending the conference workshops and seminars is the easy part.  Knowing how to think about your thinking, to consciously evaluate your reactions and to be able to unpack the ‘why’ or ‘why not’ in your steps for future practice is the stumbling block.  As librarians we don’t necessarily have the language with which to talk this kind of talk – it was not in our coursework as we gained qualifications, it is unlikely that we were taught this at school, and it hasn’t necessarily been a part of our daily practice until now.

So how do we, as management, mentors, team leaders and deliverers of professional development, begin to model the process of self-reflective practice, to share the language of reflection, and provide the opportunities for our staff and colleagues to practice this process and internalize this kind of thinking?  It isn’t just important for registration and revalidation processes, it is a crucial step in achieving and maintaining the momentum for change and innovation which is essential if libraries are to survive.

Are you actively engaging in reflection with staff when they report on professional learning?   Don’t confuse dot-jot note-taking or written reports for self-reflection.  Have you asked what they will do differently? Did the learning cause them to question their practice, or reaffirm what they are already doing? Did they come away with a plan of action, and how will you be able to measure the difference in practice?  Have they begun a journey of professional discovery as a result of the new ideas introduced? What are the new questions they are now asking as a result of the learning? It’s not about coming away with all the answers, it’s about the ah-ha moment, the one that makes us reconsider our assumptions, to question our practice and prior learning.

These kinds of questions must become part of feedback processes following professional development, and should be embedded in performance appraisal interviews.  We must introduce the language in staff meetings and during professional development courses.  Above all, we must not assume that librarians ‘know’ how to do this.  Thinking about thinking is complicated.  That’s why they’ve embedded it in the curriculum and teach it from new entrant level onwards.  We need to do the same.

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