Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Power of Reflection

The act of reflection is something I try hard to teach my fifth grade students. It is a quality they struggle with, mightily. To reflect accurately on oneself, I have learned, is something even adults don't do well. That being said, I think knowing who you are, knowing your strengths as well as weaknesses, is a powerful thing. And so, I teach it.

I live in my head a great deal, I always have. I think I am my own harshest critic. At the start of my teaching career I would listen to my principal give me a glowing review and then insist he list everything I needed to do to improve. When he would look at me, puzzled, I would create my own list for him. I know very well what I am good at. I also am very aware of the many areas in which I need to grow. They are numerous.

My own children have reaped the benefits of this mindset. I have pushed them since they were little to reflect on their actions, strengths, and weaknesses. They look at the world differently - Luke can focus on the negative, Liam focuses on trying to get by with the least amount of work. So, we work on that. For example, I require Luke to list positive things about people, school, his own performance before he tells me anything that is negative. While they are not perfect, they are improving. I think I am harder on them, at times, than I need to be. Because I have seen the impact of parents being unaware of who their children are and what they are truly capable of, I push mine. I need to ease up and it is through reflection that I can see that.

My students so desperately need this growth too. Upon turning in an assignment, I might hand out a reflection sheet. How did they do on the assignment? What was their effort like? Could they have improved? At the start of the year I get a lot of "Great!" By the end of the year, most students can critically look at themselves, know when they mailed it in or when they truly worked their hardest. When we work in groups, I have them reflect as well. Are they contributing? Do they make the group work better by their presence or does it make the group fall apart? How can they be an asset and not a liability. I think this is a life skill our kids, and the adults in this world, desperately need.

As teachers we need this too. When I began teaching my mom recommended that I reflect on each day at the end, write my reflection down on an index card, punch a hole in it, and put in on a ring. Over the year, she told me to read over those cards, reflecting on how I had grown and the work I still needed to do. It helped. 

Now, this blog is my index card. So is my writing notebook. Our job is such an important one. The impact a good teacher can make on a child can last a lifetime. The impact of a bad teacher can do the same. I so desperately want to make a positive impact. I want to help my students be better than they thought they could be. Meeting them, learning their stories, seeing how some of them hurt, I want to help. I carry their pain around with me, looking for a way to heal what I cannot. It is a hard job. 

This year I encourage you to find a way to reflect. Whether your chosen method is through writing (which I encourage), talking to colleagues, or observations of your students, you can find the spots you are already shining. You can also find the areas where you need to grow. 

To start off your reflection, please take some time and listen to Penny Kittle's new podcast, Stories From The Teaching Life. (HEREWhat a gift she is giving us. Listening to her stories made me reflect on my own. It also reminded me of the good we do each day in this profession. I think it will lift you up and give you the energy to go in tomorrow. 

Reflection. What a powerful tool. Whether you have already started your school year or are just getting ready to begin, I wish you well. Let's make it the best one yet.