“That’s the Way We’ve Always Done it.” (Guest blogger: Emily Reilly)

As a professional and in my personal life, I tend to think I am pretty even keeled. It typically takes a great deal to put me over the edge, and likewise I have to be really impressed to show a great deal of enthusiasm. But if there is something professionally that can make my blood boil it’s the phrase, “That’s the way we’ve always done it.” So what is it about that phrase that sends me through the roof? I have taken some time to reflect on that over the years and have come to the conclusion that it links back to exactly what I am doing in the process of trying to understand my strong feelings about those seven little words. Reflection or should I say the lack thereof? Or could it be a feeling of incompetence and frustration on my part? As an administrator I felt the gold standard of being effective was having teachers and staff who were innovative, problem-solvers, reflective and intentional in their decision-making. That was the key. It was time to be intentional and provide a culture of reflective practice. This became my mission as a new administrator.

Reflective practice is not always neat and orderly and can be an uncomfortable process for some. But I had to figure out how to make it work. I could not stand the thought of hearing “that” phrase AGAIN! So slowly but surely, I started to find ways to infuse reflective practice into everything we did. It had to become part of our DNA as a program to get people to reverse their thinking. My goal was to get the initial response to questions along the lines of, “Tell me about how you decided to do things that way” to something reflective in nature, anything but, “That’s the way we’ve always done it.” I learned for many people, reflection is not always a natural process and that teachers need a time and space to support this type of work. This was the case for myself as well. I began absorbing myself in reflective practice articles, attending trainings on reflective practice and began to transform the way I thought about my work and modeled reflection for staff. I learned reflective practice had to become a way of being and doing, not a checklist item to be completed. Professional development and in-service trainings became more reflective in nature, always allowing time for critical thinking and analysis, rather than simply sharing of information. Teachers were given “reflection time” to support discussion of observations and how it might impact their teaching and lesson plans. Staff meetings became a context for discussing and problem solving, no longer a laundry list of items or updates on an agenda that could have just been emailed to teachers. Meaningful conversations and expecting teachers to share their ideas and input about how things were going had to become the norm for staff to be comfortable in being reflective. Reflective supervision became the model of support for staff and I was able to get to know and understand teachers better. I began to see the benefits of the parallel process. The reflective support I was providing for staff was exactly the expectation I had for staff in their interactions with practicum students and children. As a lab school, it was crucial to support young professionals in developing the skill of reflection. “That” phrase began to be removed from staffs’ vocabulary. I would like to think it was not simply because they saw smoke come out of my ears when I heard it, but because reflection became part of the culture and value of the program. Hearing comments and phrases that started off with, “I wonder…” or “Maybe we should reconsider…” or “I noticed…” or “I’m not sure this practice is still in alignment with our current thinking…” became music to my ears!

You might be saying, this all sounds great, but we don’t have time for one more thing! I hear from many teachers and administrators that their staff are tired and overburdened by the requirements of teaching; that there is no time to “add-on” one more thing to do. However, reflective practice is not something you check off your list or a task to do; it’s a way of being, a way of thinking. Are you hearing the phrase, “That’s the way we’ve always done it” or some other version of it? If so, it might be time to see what reflective practice can do for you and your program. It’s an investment you cannot afford to pass up!


Emily Reilly is an Early Childhood Resource Specialist with STARNET Regions I and III and former administrator and teacher in a university lab school program. Emily’s professional interests include emergent curriculum, reflective practice and code of ethics. She is a wife and mother of one, and enjoys running, yoga, trying new recipes and spending time with her family.

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