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Making Time for Reflection

The last two months of school have been grueling. There were assessments to be finished, activities to be planned, trips to be taken, graduations to be rehearsed and meetings to be attended. On top of that, there were unexpected crises to be managed - like when the bus driver got lost on the way home from our trip or when the computer we needed for that one project crashed.

Another factor in all the mayhem were all the good-byes. Watching all my students graduate or leave is always hard. This year, I had to add our Head of School (who is also a very dear friend) to the list of "graduates." Both of my children graduated this year and are transitioning to new schools, which means saying good by to all of the teachers, bus drivers, administrators and secretaries we love.

All of the excitement and change happened in the blink of an eye. It seems like just last week we were returning from Spring Break and now, all of a sudden, it is over. How does that happen?

These last two days, I've had some time to reflect on the past two months, both at a TEDx Event at the George School and also at my pool. But in the moments listed above, I rarely found time and space to reflect on the change, the problems, the solutions, the feelings or the thinking - unless I was stuck in traffic. How does that happen?

Reflection matters and I have been thinking about it a great deal lately. This spring I have been reading #EdJourney by Grant Lichtman. This brilliant and engaging book has opened my eyes to a host of things that should matter in education, helped me to rethink and re-imagine some of my priorities and affirmed much of my thinking as an educator. (I promise to blog more about it as the summer wears on).

Lichtman's book itself IS a reflection of his journey to schools across the country and the idea of reflection comes up all over the book. He even devotes an entire chapter to the idea. In it, we learn about the importance of reflection and the impact it has on creativity, empathy, curiosity, student engagement, mental health and even design. Lichtman shows how some schools make time for reflection, but clearly indicates that this is a growth opportunity for schools and a way to add value to the organization on the whole (pg 167).

At the TEDx event yesterday, several students presented. Among them were two who reflected on the lessons learned in their high school careers. On student said he had learned about trust, humility and passion. It was clear as he spoke that he had internalized these ideals and would be able to access them throughout his entire life. Another student spoke of adoption the "nomadic mindset" wherein we learn to be resilient in the face of instability and show compassion toward others. Clearly, these students had reflected on their learning in deep and meaningful ways.

How can we achieve this same level of reflection for all students? As humans, we seek to create meaning, but as teachers we often don't allow the time or opportunity to create meaning for ourselves or for our students. There are ways and if schools are to be relevant in our ever-changing world, we need to identify them, utilize them, and share them with others, so that all students (and teachers) can have the time and opportunity to reflect and grow.

What if:

  • all students blogged to help them think about their thinking and learning? Blogging gives voice and helps to synthesize ideas. Instead of it being a project, shouldn't it be practice?
  • students had more opportunities to tell groups of people what is important? At yesterday's TEDx event and last week at 8th grade graduation, students had the chance to stand up and state what was important to them. The depth of their thinking, the moments and ideas they shared that were meaningful for them and the clarity in their communication was amazing - not just for the audience, but for the speakers themselves.
  • students and teachers had longer breaks in the day to go outside, talk, think and be?
  • we allowed students to doodle while they learned and create visual representations of what they are thinking?
  • we allowed students to guide discussions consistently?
Having spent the last two months with few opportunities to reflect upon the many things I was learning, experiences I was having and the ideas that were percolating in my head was a poor choice on my part. It sent a message to myself and my students that if you have time in the car or the grocery store line to reflect and think, you've done just fine. Spending the last two days with little to do besides reflect highlights for me the importance of creating time, developing the skills and communicating the importance of reflection - both in the classrooms and on an institutional level.

It comes down to sustainability and relevance. In order for learners (those who are students and the adults charged to guide them) to keep up with the rapid pace of information and change, we must be able to create meaning for ourselves. In the creation of meaning, we are sustaining our selves and the institutions we represent - ensuring that as individuals and organizations we can continue to move forward. Likewise, as reflectors of ideas and experiences, we develop the skills to remain relevant as the ideas and experiences change.

How will you make time for reflection?