In recent decades, the idea of ‘reflective practice’ has been at the centre of many conceptions of ‘good’ educational practice (Roche, 2016). Educators are encouraged to mindfully engage in a variety of practices from simply thinking of one’s own educational activities and how to improve them, to considering the social, ethical and political implications of their thinking for education (O’Toole and Hayes, 2016). However, some commonly used models (e. g. Kolb, 1984; Gibbs, 1988) encourage a procedural approach to reflection, focused on solving a perceived problem in educational practice. As noted in our symposium outline, “the image of the child held by adults within power will often dictate what children are able to do, become and how they are recognised as citizens”, and procedural reflective practice models do not support educators to acknowledge and act upon this. On the other hand, other models like Brookfield’s (1995/2017) and Schön’s (1983/1991) encourage educators to ‘hunt assumptions’ or question our ‘espoused values’ underlying practice. While this is an advancement on a procedural approach in terms of criticality, it could be argued that the dynamic, nuanced, relational nature of educational experiences can be lost, with assumptions and values seen as static items that can be identified and so changed.
This paper presents a new approach to reflective practice that is innovative in both its conceptualisation and its tools. The Relational Reflective Practice model draws its theoretical influences from a range of thinkers in pedagogy, psychology, sociology and philosophy, most notably the work of Anthony Ryle in London from the 1960’s onwards. Ryle developed Cognitive Analytic Therapy (CAT) as an integration of cognitive, psychoanalytic and Vygotskian ideas (for a more detailed description see Ryle & Kerr 2002). It has more recently been informed by the work of Bakhtin, introduced to CAT thinking by Mikhail Leiman (1992), who drew on the latter to propose a ‘dialogic’ model of the ‘Self’. This approach is radically relational and argues that constructions of children and childhood, and indeed of teachers, parents and education itself, must be contested in a democratic society. It is crucial to note that educational relationships occur in a context, both proximal and distal (Bronfenbrenner and Morris, 2006) and multiple perspectives can be ‘true’. The CAT ‘mapping’ approach employed in educational settings through the Relational Reflective Practice model is emphatically not therapeutic, but rather allows the intangible nature of relationships to be made visible. It facilitates what Potter (2020) calls ‘hovering and shimmering’ – metaphorically ‘hovering’ over a situation to view it in its entirety, while ‘shimmering’ between multiple and even conflicting understandings and perspectives simultaneously. A case study will be presented showing the benefits of Relational Reflective Practice in one primary school and two early childhood education settings in Ireland.