Monday, May 23, 2016

Reflecting on Reflection

Reflecting on Reflection
Sandy Cameli, EdD • Educational Specialist • Honolulu, Hawaii

For nearly two decades I had the privilege of co-teaching with a gifted middle school math teacher who empowered learners to achieve great understanding, while virtually eliminating the all-so-common phobia associated with the content. We shared students, exchanged curriculum ideas, and incorporated interdisciplinary projects into programming for early adolescents with a tremendous amount of success - not always an easy feat when working with “walking hormones” !  And, while I honed my own skills as a practitioner and grew as a professional, I was always intrigued by this colleague’s ability to draw insight from twelve year olds, unlike I had seen with other peers. She referenced the term meta cognition more than once during team meetings, but I wasn’t quite sure how understanding one’s own thought process could enhance teaching and learning with our students - wasn’t the concept too deep, too intellectual, too beyond their middle school minds? Apparently not. The inclusion of meta cognition - and reflection - not only enhanced this educator’s ability to support her students, but also encouraged learners to take risks and engage in a class that previously had been clouded by content-intimidation and low self-esteem vibes. Problem solving and algebraic concepts may have been the expectation for the course, but providing an opportunity for students to expand their understanding and develop an inner-strength was more than a by-product, it was the ultimate definition of learning.

The anecdote provides food-for-thought about rumination and reflection for teacher leaders as well. In our fast-paced, assembly-line structure of work and life, stopping to pause and process can seem like a waste of precious time when the never-ending checklist of duties and deadlines loom overhead. And yet, during those quiet moments of pondering, of peaceful solitude, of processing new learnings and information - isn’t that where the aha-factor comes into play, the light bulb moment occurs, and authentic awareness is developed?

The practice of reflecting, as a leader, needs to be built into one’s daily routine - regardless of how little time may seem to exist. The how is less important than the why. And, the task and duration can be as unique as the individual. From reading a quote while brushing one’s teeth, to listening to a 10-minute podcast while driving from work, to journaling before bedtime or discussing a recent article or TED-talk with a partner - each can aid in professional growth. Reflecting on a concept, question, adage or proverb are all ways to encourage expansion of one’s thinking. Even the Confucius and Dewey quotes - embedded in this post - are worthy conversation or reflection starters - do you agree, disagree or feel neutral about either statement?

If as role models in the field of education we expect growth from students and colleagues, then we too must expect growth for ourselves. And, by demonstrating the importance and value of reflection, a leader sets the tone, culture and climate for any learning environment. After all, if a middle school math teacher can empower her learners to reflect and grow as individuals - and survive to talk about it! - then surely educational leaders can challenge themselves to ruminate on the hows and whys of effective leadership, without too much discomfort.