Zoe McKenzie is a Community Builder for Shift, working in Petersham in Erewash. Following a Mindshift course on Reflective Practice, Zoe explains how it’s changed the way she reflects with others and the powerful outcome it’s had.
Applying what I learnt to my work in Petersham
During the reflective practice sessions, I gained a range of tools I could use in my work. This included a reflective flow chart to log successes and challenges of an event. It also covered what we would do the same or differently in the future. Given the nature of my work in communities, I was not short of opportunities to implement this new technique.
The week before the course, colleagues from Erewash Borough Council had organised a half term activity event in Petersham. It involved an explorer (treasure hunt) activity and lunch. Two local mums provided arts and crafts. This was the first time they’ve taken responsibility for an activity of this kind.
This was a great opportunity to use the reflective flowchart. It allowed me to get feedback on how the Borough Council and the mums felt about the event.
Reflecting with the community
The ‘normal’ or ‘standard’ approach would be to feedback with the council and move on to the next action. However, I thought it was important to speak to the mums and get their input. If we’re committed to enabling people in Petersham to take control and ownership of what happens in their community, getting their opinions was crucial. I hoped it could empower them to continue to be involved and maybe take a little more on each time.
I was unsure how they would react to exploring their thoughts together through a structured process. It was easier to have the conversation and ask more probing questions because I’ve built a really good relationship with them.
We talked about the positive things they’d identified. They said it was free, other parents were getting involved and helped tidy and the arts and crafts. Most importantly they said it kept their children busy and having fun.
They also reflected it was great to see new families engaging with each other and new connections being made. A number of these families mentioned they’d tried different foods which were healthier than the foods they’re used to.
Identifying positive changes
It was really encouraging to watch and listen to them objectively analysing the event through their own eyes. They then started to think about how things could be improved going forwards. The flow chart was filling up rapidly with ideas and suggestions for future activities.
With further probing, they agreed they’d like more communication with Amie from the Council who’d played a big part in the organisation.
At one point in the conversation one of the mums said: ‘Zoe, I should be the person speaking to Amie and connecting with her instead of you being in the middle.’ For me this clearly demonstrates progress. It’s local leaders taking direct responsibility of things within their community.
Creating change in the system
A couple of days later I had the same discussion with Amie from Erewash Borough Council which she got really stuck into. Similar issues emerged and it was reassuring to see Amie recognised the role of the community and the mums’ input and willingness to help with the arts and crafts on the day.
I shared their thoughts with Amie and we noticed the similarities and differences. When Amie read they wanted to connect with her directly, I could see she was slightly taken aback. However, she has really taken it on and has since arranged to meet with them.
Using the reflective practice flow chart in this instance provided a way of helping everyone articulate their views. They came together to make sense of a shared experience and made a plan for doing things even better going forward. It also helped to reveal the value created in the community which may not have been visible beforehand. For example, the new families connecting with each other and trying healthy food.
I think the important message here is about giving the community a voice and noticing they are more responsive as a result. The Reflective Practice toolkit is like handing a microphone over to people and saying – ‘speak into this, tell us what you’re noticing’.
I don’t think I would have had that conversation with the mums if we hadn’t done the reflective practice learning. It gave me confidence and allowed time and space to think and evaluate events with them. It also provided them with a new skill and tool to use in their lives and their own community building work in Petersham.