Tuesday, September 22, 2015

What is Reflection? 4 Questions to Guide Your Thinking

Today is the last day of summer. I know, summer really ended earlier this month when school opened. Back to waking up early, packing lunches, checking homework, talking to teachers, waiting at the bus stop, band practice, cross country, new adventures, old friends and different expectations.

We have spent the last three weekends starting or resuming all these back to school habits. If we are lucky, we made some goals and are trying to meet them. But how much time in the last three weeks have we reflected on our new experiences with students, colleagues, bus schedules and adventures? It is an interesting question.

I am a mindfulness class drop-out. OK, I didn't actually drop out and the instructor was far too positive and hopeful to kick anyone out of the class. However, I really struggled with the practice of mindfulness.

"Pay attention to your breathing" were the basic directions. "Notice what you are feeling in your body." "Just be." Instead, I planned tomorrow's lesson and made mental grocery lists. I struggled to not giggle while we practice "mindful walking."

Even though I was not able to practice mindfulness, I have become mindful or reflective. I still can't really pay attention to my breathing without getting distracted. But what I have learned is to pay attention to how I feel and reflect upon why I am feeling that way.

Here is an example: As a teacher, I am totally ok with the idea of failure. If the lesson was a flop or everyone failed the test, I am able to quickly say to myself, "what can I do differently next time?" I am comfortable enough with my skills and our community of trust to notice what went wrong, why it did and what I can do differently next time.

The same was true for when things go well. I am able to notice what went right and what made that event/lesson/encounter successful. From there, I can ponder how to replicate this success in another setting or for another purpose.

Consequently, these basic questions have become my mindful or reflective practice:
  • What happened just now?
  • How did that go?
  • What made it good/bad? Successful/not? Pleasant/Unpleasant? Productive/A waste of time? Fun/Boring? Engaging/passive? 
  • What can I do next time to improve the outcome? (even if it was good)
It is easy to get wrapped up in the new and sometimes overwhelming challenges of the 2015-2016 school. After all, we are so busy and deadlines loom. But it is essential to make time to ponder these questions. Sometimes over a cup of coffee early in the morning, sometimes with a trusted colleague or mentor, sometimes while sitting in traffic or waiting in the car for band practice to be over.

I may never be able to pay attention to my breathing. But by focusing on these reflective questions, I can figure out what is going on and how to best move forward.


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