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Critically reflective practice

18 March 2019

Gerry NosowskaGerry Nosowska

'Maybe reflective practices offer us a way of trying to make sense of the uncertainty in our workplaces and the courage to work competently and ethically at the edge of order and chaos.’ (Ghaye, 2000)

Let’s just stop for a moment.

We are so busy. Busy rushing to see people, to get information, to lobby for what we need, to change things, to rush onto the next thing…

It is good to be productive of course. However, we know that too much busyness stops us being purposeful.

Saying this to practitioners, managers and leaders in social care, I anticipate the response: It’s all very well for you to say that, you aren’t facing the pressures that we are, you aren’t being told that ‘everything is a priority’.

That’s true.

And I don’t want to add to the pressure by putting critical reflection onto people’s ‘to do list’ as another chore.

In fact, I think that the change from busyness to purposefulness is, firstly, the responsibility of the public and the Government – the people who get to decide what social care is for and what resource it has.

However, for people in the messy and demanding (and rewarding) mix of social care practice, it is also important to have some agency. Doing what we can in the situation that we find ourselves helps us to feel more capable and confident. When we influence and act, we build our optimism and resilience for the future. Plus, it is people who are in the mix that know best what can be done differently.

People in social care can influence their context by saying that time to reflect, time to think, time to use wisdom and expertise, time to consult with colleagues, time to look at research is not a luxury. This cannot be said too loudly or too often.

And people in social care can act to grab and to craft places where this vital reflective work can happen.

As Ghaye writes in the quote above, social care happens in the uncertain and messy spaces in our world. Spaces where it is not clear what should be done but the imperative to do something is strong. In these spaces, we need to be able to hold our nerve and think clearly, despite the pressures. This is an act of skill and also of courage. To stop and reflect deeply when there is clamour for action is difficult. But it is also ethical to do this when the best action is not clear. In this way, we use critical reflection to work our way to the firmest ground. We test out the steps as we go and we are ready to change course if our actions don’t lead to the outcomes we are aiming for. We also use this critical reflection to understand the lived experience of the people we are working with. We ponder how best to ensure they have control over what happens. And we figure out how to jointly produce a pathway out of complexity and into stability.

Our webinar aims to support the important work of critical reflection. It reminds us of the benefits and gives some approaches to doing critical reflection, so that we can make the most of our precious time. In the webinar we share examples of how organisations have changed to enable greater reflection. And we look at the enablers that can be used to support reflection.

Making good judgements with and for people is the essence of social care. I hope this webinar will contribute to ‘working competently and ethically at the edge of order and chaos.’


About the author

Gerry Nosowska is Director of Effective Practice and a Research in Practice for Adults Associate. Gerry is a registered social worker, Chair of the British Association of Social Workers and co-presenter of Helpful Social Work Podcast.  

Twitter: @EffectivePrac


Related resources

Critically reflective practice: Making sense of uncertainty

Engaging in reflective practice can improve the work we do and enable us to develop our own confidence and resilience. This webinar is aimed at practitioners and managers working in children's and adult social care. This webinar aims to support practitioners to recognise the support they need from supervisors and leaders in order to engage in reflective practice and develop strategies to support the development of their own reflective practice skills

View the webinar (open access). 

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