“We do not learn from experience… We learn from reflecting on experience.” John Dewey
Last Friday, all Lancaster staff participated in our first Professional Development day of this school year. These days are important for us as they allow us time to engage in professional dialogue; to focus on our learning and growth as professionals and this, in turn, has a positive impact on student learning (we hope).
This plays a crucial role in ensuring that we are an authentic community of learners. We opened the day with the whole school together, to discuss the topic of reflection and its importance to teaching and learning. It is a core belief of mine that reflection is where all growth is made possible, so anyone who wants to improve their practice and enhance their results needs to make time for it. I believe this is true for all people and all practices – not just teachers.
If we do not make time for reflection and act upon the results of that reflection, then we stagnate. We become trapped in knowledge instead of finding our flow in learning. Don’t misunderstand me, knowledge is very important. The knowledge that you possess and that you bring to bear on your dealings with the world, definitely informs your practice and your actions. Your personal experiences and your education have helped you to obtain all manner of knowledge, which will no doubt be important in many ways. But if you are happy to sit still with that knowledge and are not interested in learning any more, you are going to find it difficult to adapt to new situations – you will not evolve to meet the requirements of changing circumstances.
Reflection goes hand in hand with the mindfulness practices that we have also been hearing so much about in recent times. It is about finding time to dedicate to yourself, a space where you can look inward. It is interesting that we are more inclined, by nature, to reflect on things that are not going well. We choose to take time only when we need to seek solutions – this is often only a surface reflection. We only examine the problem so that we can fix it – not to find its roots. If we also choose time to reflect on the positive aspects of our practice; take time regularly to really contemplate our actions and the effects that they are having on the world around us, then we are more likely to achieve the depth necessary for real and meaningful change.
This can be difficult because it takes a commitment. Not only of time, of which there always seems to be so little but also of character. We have to be willing to consider and become much more aware of how close we are living our espoused values. We become more alert to the beliefs that genuinely drive our actions – and sometimes we have to question them. When we are mindful of our actions and their possible consequences (through reflection) we are able to assert some control over our own learning pathway.
Reflection is central to the IB programs which we implement at Lancaster and it is a skill that, like any other, needs to be nurtured and developed. By talking about reflection and asking children to actively engage in thinking about their work in this way, we stimulate higher order thinking and we encourage thoughtful, compassionate interactions. We develop students who are interested and actively involved in constructing their own learning.
So, encourage your children to be mindful, to reflect. Encourage them to talk about what they have done well, what they have enjoyed in their learning experiences (not only in school) as well as those things that have not gone so well, that they would like to improve. Involving someone else in your reflection process is proven to be beneficial – we enter into the realms of dialogue (remember last week?) and we can begin to question each other in ways that really encourage a deeper understanding and a connection to our core values and beliefs. In this way, we can also support our children as they find their way and go through the various phases of establishing their own character.
We may also learn something about ourselves along the way.