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Reflections Magazine : Reflections Magazine Issue 51
19 REFLECTIONS • GOWRIE AUSTRALIA • WINTER 2013 - ISSUE 51 measuring ourselves against the unattainable only leads to dissatisfaction. This is where Winnicot's idea of being 'good enough' offers an alternative way to think about what we do. The truth is that no one is perfect. That doesn't mean we shouldn't set high standards, or aim to improve. This is not an argument for slap-dash or half-baked practice. Nor is it an excuse or apology for laziness. Instead it is an attempt to think about what really matters in quality early childhood education, and our role in it, without idealising the impossible. As educators we are called upon to make hundreds of decisions every day. Some are small, while others are large, some will be inconsequential, while others will have lasting impacts. Understandably, we want to make good decisions as often as possible. But if we imagine that we can always make the right decision, and always do the right thing, then we are setting ourselves up for failure. In this regard the principles of reflective practice and ongoing improvement, are vital parts of both the EYLF and NQF. Importantly both recognise that we are not perfect. In a perfect world there would be no need for reflection or improvement. However, the message that there is always room for improvement, can itself be taken in two ways. Either it becomes a comfort (that none of us is perfect) or it can become a thorn in our side, reminding us of exactly the same thing, but with an added twist -- we are not perfect but we should be. If we allow ideas about improvement and reflection to become coupled with an expectation of perfection, then they become just another way to beat ourselves up about what we have done 'wrong'. When we look at what we do from the vantage point of perfection, we will always fall short. While it is important to identify areas where we can improve, it is also important to recognise that there are things we do well. Everyone makes mistakes, and there will always be things that, given a second chance, we might do differently. But the value of reflective practice is in seeing such 'failures' in the context of everything we do. There is something in human nature that seems to lead us to focus on the negatives, even when they are outweighed by positives. But we don't have to let our mistakes define us. The key is to see them as learning opportunities, rather than as black marks against our name. 'Good enough' gives us permission to do this. Good enough allows us to put our mistakes into perspective and, as the EYLF and NQS argue, to use them as the basis for genuine and meaningful reflection and improvement. Of course there are mistakes we don't want to make. The wrong dose of medicine, the gate left open, the child left unattended on the change bench -- all are inexcusable and we rightly develop policies and procedures to ensure that they don't happen. But, if we aren't willing to make more minor mistakes, then we are unlikely to learn or to improve. The good enough teacher gets it right often enough that children feel secure and supported, but is also prepared to get it wrong often enough, that there is a chance that something new or interesting will occur. Getting it 'wrong' occasionally is an important learning experience both for ourselves and for the children we work with. As Winnicott argued, the perfect parent actually does little to help a child adjust to life in what is clearly an imperfect world. When we allow ourselves to be human and to make the occasional mistake, we demonstrate a valuable lesson about what it means to be a well-rounded person, warts and all. Resilience and persistence are key qualities that we aim to encourage in children. We would do well to look at how we build them in ourselves too. Perfectionism, and the fear of failure that often accompanies it, decreases the likelihood that we will take chances. When we have the expectation that everyone will do everything right, all of the time, we place an unrealistic burden on ourselves. Faced with the expectation of perfection we are likely to take the safe option, rather than take a risk. And yet how often does the most interesting learning come from a mistake or unintended circumstance? As we seek to improve our practice it sounds almost contradictory to say that perfection is not the answer. But, as educators, we would do well to shake off the idea that perfection is what we should be aiming for. While 'good enough' doesn't sound quite as inspiring as 'perfect', it is a lot more achievable. And it is still good, it just isn't perfection. But if that means that we feel better about ourselves, and if it allows us more opportunities to take a chance and try something new or different without fear of failure, then all the better. Perhaps, seen in this light, being 'good enough' really is enough. References: Spock, B. (1972). Baby and child care. New York: Pocket Books. Winnicott, D.W. (20th century), British child psychiatrist. A collection of previously unpublished essays and radio broadcasts from 1955. Health Education Through Broadcasting, ch. 2 (1993). cited in Columbia World of Quotations. Retrieved May 02, 2013, from Dictionary.com website: <http://quotes.dictionary.com/I_would_rather_be_the_child_of_a>
Reflections Magazine Issue 52