I’ve never been one for resolutions, really…

…but there is one I’d like to encourage everyone to make.

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The ultimate resolution…

I do like the sense of starting fresh that comes with the start of a new year. But I’ve never really been one for making resolutions, because I know it’s likely that I won’t keep to them – usually because they’re unrealistic and there are too many of them!

But there is one thing that I try to have in mind at New Year – at every New Year:

Decide to keep learning.

‘Learning is not attained by chance, it must be sought for with ardor and attended to with diligence.’ – Abigail Adams, 1744-1818

It’s often said, and I believe it too, that we’re only as good as the last thing we read.

Working with troubled kids means that we have to be on our toes. We need to keep ourselves sharp, to be ready for whatever we comes across in the work – and we all know that we come across some dreadful, difficult and challenging stuff.

A couple of things I’ve come across this last year:

– Really complex co-morbidity issues – where a child has a number of over-lapping difficulties. For example: attachment problems, autism and severe traumatic experiences.

– Unaccompanied children being trafficked not only for sex but also having organs stolen en route – e.g. arriving here with one less kidney than they set off with

Grim isn’t it!

So how can we keep pace with the things that our work throws at us?

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Refuse to be defensive

Defensive practice is one of the biggest killers of reflective practice. It’s toxic! Why?


– It undermines our ability to learn – if we are too ready with the self-justification, we’re much less likely to pick up valuable pointers, lessons and tips that might be there for the taking. When people question us or scrutinise what we do critically, it’s an opportunity to grow. But if we have a defensive reflex, we won’t be open to learning. So we won’t learn!

– It dismisses those who could teach us things – it takes real guts to ask questions of professionals. But some of the things that children and families might ask us, could be really helpful learning experiences. If we behave defensively and jump to our own defence, they’ll think twice before questioning us again. The same goes for friends, colleagues and managers.

‘Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.’ Bill Gates, 1955 –

– It silences service users’ voices – if we’re not open to learning, we won’t hear the voice of the children and families we serve. Without their views, we operate in a vacuum of professional privilege and remain untempered by what service users’ think. How can we help effectively without a clear sense of their views?

– It maintains old habits of working – and not always good ones! Being closed to learning means, implicitly, that we’ve already decided to do what we think is right, that our way is best, regardless of what others may think. So we go on as we always have, assuming that there are no improvements to be made. How arrogant is that?

I’ve painted an extreme picture here, of course, but you get the point.

Being defensive, or even passive about our need to learn, undermines our progress as practitioners, shuts other people off from helping us improve and, ultimately, means the kids we serve get a lesser service from us than they deserve.

So what’s the answer to all this doom and gloom?

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Reflective practice

For a more detailed look at this, check out my previous post dedicated to reflective practice.

Here are some quick ways we can be more reflective and further the cause of constant improvement in our work:

– Take a moment – stop for a few moments and think through what happened. Maybe after a meeting or a session with a child, take a minute to think it through and ask yourself: ‘How could I do that better next time?”

– Ask for comment – this takes guts, but will bear fruit if you take the plunge. Ask trusted colleagues or your manager/supervisor to share one idea about how you could improve. Why not go the whole hog and ask a young person?

– Keep a list – have a place in your diary or a notebook where you can list quick ideas or thoughts for improving what you do. That way you won’t lose them and can revisit them later, when you have more time. I use Evernote.

– Be honest – if you’re honest with yourself, you already know what your weak areas are and where you can improve – enough to make a start anyway. So this is a good place to get going with changing things up.

Of course, this is just the start.

There’re no short-cuts when it comes reading and keeping up with research and good practice in your particular field. I’ve listed some posts below that can help with this, too.

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Final word…

The bottom line here is this: the kids we work with deserve the best. So we need to try our hardest to be the best version of ourselves that we possibly can be.

Go for it!  :0)

What do you think?…

– What do you currently do to improve? Are there blogs, books, articles or research papers that have helped you?

– Please let me know your thoughts…   Leave a comment below or click here.

Related previous posts:

– TRM related books

– Reflective Practice – the ‘what’, ‘why’ and ‘how’ of it…

– Wish you had more time to read? Here’s how I cracked the problem…

– 3 must-read books on HSB assessment…

– How to read when you’re busy – part 1

– How to read when you’re busy – part 2

Pass it on…

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