Reflection is wisdom
"In order to be effective, you have to be reflective." I was so thrilled to hear those words come out of one of my participant's mouths in Red Earth, Saskatchewan this week. We were talking about how being reflective impacts our own practice and how it impacts our students' learning as well. Capturing that thought in rhyme was so cool; then, the participants proceeded to translate it to their indigenous Cree language. Have I mentioned I love what I do?
Reflection is not, however, limited to the teaching practice. I was thinking about the lifelong learning we do, and how big a part of all learning reflection is. I remember when I was a little girl (I can't remember, maybe 4 or 5 years old), and I found myself quite curious about the electrical outlets in our house. I have no idea what possessed me to do it, but I stuck a fork into the outlet and got the shock of my life. I remember thinking I wanted to cry and tell someone but I also thought I would get in a lot of trouble. Curiosity has gotten me in a lot of trouble throughout the rest of my life, but rest assured it has never been due to sticking a fork in an outlet again. I learned my lesson.
I suppose I believe that that is what true reflection is all about----learning a lesson. When I am sitting in church, listening to our dear priest tell a story during her sermon, I often reflect on what she is saying and how it can impact my own life moving forward. Regarding teaching, I am constantly reflecting on whether or not my participants are learning what I hope they will learn. If I feel that something needs to be altered to make the learning more impactful, I will change it on a dime. I am prepared, because I want the learning experience to be as valuable as possible.
One of the concepts we talk about the most when I work with teachers and school leaders is the notion that reflection, in and of itself, is not enough to make a change. I can sit and reflect on my bad choices in my younger days for hours on end, lamenting about why I chose to do this or that, but without APPLICATION, the reflection would be all for naught. In other words, I am a true believer in changing our behavior in order to change our beliefs. In other words, sometimes I need to simply alter one thing in my repertoire in order to believe or feel a different way about something. Simply thinking about thinking doesn't make the behavior different. So I suppose I believe that reflection is just the beginning of a change. Stephen Covey (2004) wrote a whole book (well, let's be honest---multitudes of books) on how changing habits can lead to becoming a better person. When Dave and I leave church, we frequently talk about the habit of seeking first to understand then to be understood. I believe that I can reflect all day on how I think I should be more understanding of other people who share different views, but unless I take some ACTION or APPLICATION, all I have really done is talked or thought about it.
One of my workshop participants early this week in Cinnaminson, New Jersey taught me a new term. I often talk about how we should listen openly to others without applying our own agenda to what the other person is saying. She called it "generous listening". I absolutely love that term, and I told her I was going to give her credit the first time I coined the phrase, but I can't for the life of me remember her name (the perils of getting older, right?). Suffice it to say I not only love the term, I love the concept and I am putting it into practice. When I listen to someone else who has a differing opinion than my own, I am working on listening generously; in other words, giving them the space to say all they want to say before I jump in with my own feelings about the subject. If I generously listen, the odds of me remaining fairly open-minded may increase. Then I can apply another technique I learned many years ago from a dear friend in Florida who taught me the sentence, "You might be right about that." Think about that for just a moment. When someone spouts off about their views about religion, politics, school choice, professional development, airlines, or the type of stroller you should buy when you are a new mother (that one I couldn't care less about, but just take a look on Facebook to see how important it is to so many people), saying something as simple as "You might be right about that" takes the wind out of the sails of a wound up sailor. That doesn't mean I am agreeing with the person. I'm simply not going to engage in a battle that has no winner. Will my words truly change someone's position on their political beliefs? I highly doubt it. But I can remain peaceful and calm if I actually reflect on what they are saying then apply generous listening and a conflict-free verbal response.
Just for today, perhaps you have something on which you are reflecting. I invite you to share that with me, and I invite you to share your application of the action you can take from that bit of reflection. I also highly encourage you to NOT put a fork in the outlets in your home.
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