Our new manager seems incredibly professional, she has that ‘wow’ factor when handling difficult staff situations that everyone with aspirational ideas around leadership aspires to. One of her recommendations is that all registered teachers keep reflective journals. There has been lots of discussion amongst staff about what what a reflective journal is, what we should write and why we should do this.

I have always kept an informal sort of  journal/ notebook to keep track of everything I am doing at the centre – life can sometimes get pretty busy! I have found my notebook is something I can refer to later if I need to. I don’t usually have enough time to work out everything that is happening right at that moment, and sometimes I use it a a reminder if I need to do something for myself or a colleague later. Teaching is a non-linear job and teachers are often multi-tasking on the run. My notebook highlights only what I want to record at that point. so I have found my notebook can be used as a filter to categorise the many demands made of me. I also use it to record idea sparks, as one simple idea from a child can ignite an interest, that leads to another idea and a new direction in learning – or the idea may fizzle and die. Therefore my notebook helps me to see over time which child ideas permeate through the centre so I can deepen and broaden that learning by adding information and details later during planning sessions.

My small notebook, that I can fit in my handbag or jeans pocket is always with me, and I take a momentary pause to make notes in this during the day.- usually after something has happened and during a quiet time if it is available. Although if anything in particular happens that needs recording, I record notes immediately so I can refer back with accuracy if I need to document it ‘for the record’. Children join me in writing and my notebooks are filled with helpful ‘jottings’ of children I work with.

As Ron Klug (2002: 1) has put it – my notebook is ‘a place to record daily happenings’. However, as he also says a reflective journal should be far more than that:

A journal is also a tool for self-discovery, an aid to concentration, a mirror for the soul, a place to generate and capture ideas, a safety valve for the emotions, a training ground for the writer, and a good friend and confidant. (op. cit.)

The influence of Schon (1983), and others, around reflection and the significance of reflective practice has foregrounded the role of journal writing in personal growth; journal writing is thus placed within the realm of reflective practice. A journal  does share qualities with things like logs and diaries – it records experiences and events over a period of time. However, reflective journals must involve learning at some level. Learning occurs over time so a reflective journal needs to be written over time, you can’t just write it all at once to show to a new manager as a completed artifact. Writing and keeping journals entails conscious reflection and commentary. Mary Louise Holly (1989: 20) makes this point well:

It is a reconstruction of experience and, like the diary, has both objective and subjective dimensions, but unlike diaries, the writer is (or becomes) aware of the difference. The journal as a ‘service book’ is implicitly a book that someone returns to. It serves purposes beyond recording events and pouring out thoughts and feelings… Like the diary, the journal is a place to ‘let it all out’. But the journal is also a place for making sense of what is out… The journal is a working document.

So how do I turn my notebook into a reflective journal? I think writing encourages engagement and reflection, it stimulates thoughts, feelings and actions from a different perspective. By writing things down, the words and actions become concrete and I can look at them from an outside perspective. Looking at events from a different perspective, from outside myself, enables me to deepen my self-understanding, clarify my values and make sense of my actions. Working with young children is wonderful, however it has it’s frustrations as well. My notebooks certainly help me to channel any frustrations towards a positive resolution. It also helps me to be aware of what is happening in my centre over time, help with setting goals, planning records and it supports teaching decisions I have made.

I often mix notes from books or professional development in my journal. I find the crossover of information can give my understandings clarity, and they often point me in a new direction. However, sometimes when I look at what I have written, I wonder if I think enough about why I do things, or why particular things happen. I don’t feel as if the reflective part of my writing has developed fully yet, that is something to work on, to improve my reflective processes. Although the act of recording events actively engages my reflective processes to monitor my practice, the next step is to articulate them clearly. Reflection makes actions, words and ideas clear. It strips away the distractions of the event so only the clear framework is recorded.

Identifying my strengths and weaknesses with clarity is a work in progress. Although I do believe one of my weaknessess is that I don’t ‘harvest’ my notes enough to inform meetings, reports or planning. I keep the information I gather to myself, I keep it as if it is a personal treasure.

One suggestion from our new manager is to summarise our journals on the last few pages or leave the front pages blank and write an index as I go. It also involves changing my view of the notebooks from daily diary to ‘reflective notes’ and then to ‘data’. If I can get that change in attitude (without stress or pressure) my reflective journal will easily slip from being a daily diary to a tool to harvest data from to improve my practice – wow!