The Skills of Reflection

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The Skills of Reflection

I have had some fascinating discussions this week with educators from around the country about how we might do a better job of incorporating, and really teaching, the skills of reflection, introspection, self-assessment, and self-awareness in our core educational programs. If this interests you, read on!

In creating an outline for my next book (which will have several co-authors) I try to paint a picture of the difference between how we spend time in schools today, and how we really WANT to spend time. One of the focus areas that jumped out at me was time spent on reflection, but perhaps in different ways than most of us think about that activity. I shot out a listserv query and quickly had several phone conversations with others who are thinking about this.

In some schools, primarily those with religious affiliations, but some secular schools as well, time is set aside each week or each day for students and teachers to come together and reflect and speak in embracing, supportive settings. Bruce Stewart, retired Head at Sidwell Friends School helped me understand the role that Friends meeting times play in the life of their school and in teaching students the powerful tools that deep thinking gives us for both understanding our own lives and in developing empathy for those around us. I also spoke with Tom Nolan, Assistant Director of the Upper School at Crossroads School who has been instrumental in their Council program where students are taught and encouraged to both speak and listen from the heart.

Many of us have programs that attend to student wellness: reducing stress, managing time in a busy schedule, paying attention to healthy habits, and the like. And of course the development of character is a significant focus of most educational institutions. But what I am really thinking about is this: we all understand that the development of the skills of introspection, reflection, and self-assessment are valuable, if not critical life skills. I know from my time in the business world that assessment, figuring out “how to do it better next time”, is a critical hallmark of success. I also know from my time spent teaching cadets from West Point the importance that the Army places on after-action reports. In the real world, reflection on the day-to-day is just as important as deep reflection.

So I want to explore how that might look in the classroom: reflection beyond journaling; allocating time to open the learning cycle to include routine introspection into the core curriculum; bridging that void between the meditation of the Crossroads council and the Friends meetings to use the same skills, or tangents, in every classroom; students engaging in activities ranging from reflection to meditation on a frequent basis in many classrooms. I have a lot of leads to follow with bright folks who are thinking about this, and will continue to share.

Your thoughts?

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By | 2012-03-22T18:06:10+00:00 March 22nd, 2012|Innovation in Education, Uncategorized|5 Comments

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  1. Laurence Favrot March 22, 2012 at 11:16 pm - Reply

    Hi Mr. Lichtman,

    I am reminded of the speech, “Solitude and Leadership” by William Deresiewicz: If I could snap my fingers and magically grant myself more willpower, I would certainly use that for better focus. We live in a web of content pushers intermingled with constant social obligations, all calling for our attention 24/7. It’s hard enough to deal with that cacophony as an adult. How would you manifest a spirit of reflection in a classroom of young minds?

    Distractions are notoriously difficult to handle, even for the trained mind. What incentive is there to reflect when the next topic or distraction is right around the corner? And if you get past the distractions, undirected reflection can turn inward and ugly fast, especially at 13 years old.

    An answer for me has always been competitive sports and exercise but I recognize that it’s only one of many ways to approach the issue. I hope that educators continue to grapple with this question. I would advocate looking for answers wherever they appear. Religions, meditation, and military procedure all have answers worth mining and appropriating.

    • glichtman March 22, 2012 at 11:55 pm - Reply

      Great comment, Laurence, and thanks for checking this out. One answer to your question of how to get young people to focus: when they hear it from people like you they listen. I just gave one in a series of my Falconer classes to the ASB kids today, and when I give it to them straight, that there are skills that we just have not taught them in school that separate success form mediocrity in the big wide world, they listen. You are also right about the role of athletics, meditation, and military training. I just interviewed Coach Herman about these very topics for my new book! I think you would enjoy my book The Falconer; you can download the intro from the blog page; it has aspects of all those things you mention. Thanks again for the comment; would love to see you sometime and catch up!

  2. c f e e (@CurtisCFEE) March 23, 2012 at 6:30 pm - Reply

    Thanks Grant for this important opportunity to reflect… on reflection. Among the most meaningful commitments in our upper elementary grades in recent years are (1) student-led ‘parent-teacher’ conferences that invite meaningful and supported student reflection on progress towards self-directed goals; (2) weekly class meetings encouraging students to support each others’ conflict resolution skills; and (3) student-selected, organized, and led monthly assemblies of the 3rd-6th grade student body on the balance of curriculum, the construction of our community, and other topics they’ve decided to explore. The more we’ve created authentic opportunities to honor student voice, the more mindful and reflective the students have become. We spend less time now worried about how to ‘construct’ reflection for them, and more time responding to the needs they have identified. We love it!

    I am really eager to hear responses to your call for models of how this might be normalized in a classroom on a daily basis. Recently a few of us enjoyed a tour of Germantown Friends, where the school psychologist has developed a ‘Feedback’ model I think you would enjoy exploring. I’m sure there are other practices that extend ‘beyond’ SEL to the variety of core commitments in the educational program, and I look forward to hearing more about them…


    • glichtman March 29, 2012 at 9:51 pm - Reply

      Thanks, Curtis, and sorry to be long in replying to this. Thanks for the lead at Germantown Friends. The Friends Schools certainly have an enviable track record in this area. I do have some leads about schools trying to bring these skills into the classroom, but it looks like it is spotty and based on single teachers, unless the school has a faith-based curriculum component. But there are spots. In the book we are writing we will argue that time should be created in the standard curriculum to practice these important skills. We will all this component of education the Meditation Room, to include reflection, self-assessment, self awareness, and introspection at all levels.

  3. boadams1 April 6, 2012 at 6:10 pm - Reply

    Grant, as you know, @jgough and I use student self-assessment and progress reporting in Synergy. We build in expectations for weekly reflection through quick writes and more formal blog posting. Jill and I comment on the blog posts, as do parents and other educators. If we could use an open system at our school, I think the reflective practitioner habits would become more profound as the students heard feedback from others, too.

    Reflecting and thinking through writing has grown to be one of my most powerful personal and professional habits. I actually love the faculty review system at my school because it has reflective practice built into every step micro and macro. If taken seriously, it promotes deep thinking and learning.

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