When was the last time you had students speak up? Not the type of speak up where you can’t hear a student, but speak up about a challenge, a success, a problem, a solution? We stand in front of students each day, yet who does most of the talking? What created that culture? As I think about the method of reflection I want students to embody, I have to look at myself as a learner.
During my early education I was very soft spoken, raised my hand, and waited to be called on by the teacher. Then as I went through high school and college I did the same thing, didn’t want people to judge me on my answers. Totally was an anti reflector. I wanted to get good grades and did, but I wasn’t sure how I got there or what I would do differently next time. I was in the educational system that our students are still a part of and we aren’t doing enough!
We must strive to create dynamic learners that have the opportunities to reflect, to find new paths, to embody the innovative spirit. How does this look in a classroom? It starts in kindergarten when we ask students what kinds of problems they might be having, not discounting what they say. We use those problems to start getting students to speak up, to share what difficulties they encountered, to look to their peers for help. This looks like 4th grade students solving problems, checking each other’s work, finding out that their peers have the same problems, and coming to conclusions about their next steps.
Teachers have to provide support, we have to model reflection, and we have to give students time in the classroom. Reflection doesn’t always come naturally, if it did then we would have a much more positive school climate. If we reflected at the end of every day, we’d find something that we wanted to get better at. What we don’t remember are the other issues that we didn’t solve, we didn’t reflect at the moment, therefore we don’t remember at the end of the day. Have students reflect in the moment, give them 5 minutes to think about a challenge and a success. Students need to come up with an idea for how to overcome that challenge. Many times we give them the answer and what learning comes from that?
Without a routine reflection time built into a lesson, reflection becomes an add on, something teachers throw in at the end. As I am reading George Couros’ book, Innovator’s Mindset, I came across a quote by Seth Godin that states, “Change almost never fails because it’s too early. It almost always fails because it’s too late.” Think about what this really means for our students, for our staff, for our leaders. When we are reactive and try to change it doesn’t drive success, it drives a frantic push for finding something that works, often failing since it’s too late. Reflection can be that opportunity for change, for innovation. You have a problem that you need to solve, don’t just jump head in, think, reflect, plan, and act.
Knee jerk reactions are what education is centered around right now. Oh boy, that student didn’t get it so now we need to shove them in a group for remediation. Did we ever stop and ask the student to reflect, to listen to that student’s ideas, their voice? We must stop the cycle of reaction and create a culture of reflection and change that drives success. When we begin to react to things we are way to late. If we take the opportunity and build in that needed reflection time, creativity and innovation come to the surface. George states in his book, Innovator’s Mindset, that innovation is “a way of thinking that creates something new and better.” Reflection brings that about, not at the end of the day, or the end of the lesson, but throughout. Students need to talk, need to experience feedback from each other, they need to speak up and teachers need to listen. That is the culture that I want for my children and is the same culture that I want for my students.
Try to build in a reflection time at the beginning of every day. Many times it’s as easy as a morning meeting, asking students what their goals are for the next 30 minutes, by lunch time, by the end of the day. Have them check in with a partner, stand in front of the class and share their challenges and successes. There is a dire need for listening to students and it can happen and will happen if reflection time is part of your culture. Starr Sackstein has written many pieces on reflection and those pieces have allowed me to start to look at how important it is for all learners to reflect. She states that, “A great reflection is an art form that must be taught, then practiced and later refined, over and over again like many important life skills.” Think about all the opportunities we need to give students to reflect and what kind of culture will bring those opportunities. If we are always reacting and looking backwards, do we know what our next steps are? Like the image shows the reflection in front of and behind, we need both, but we need more forward reflection and less backwards reflection. How will we get better as educators, as learners, as humans, if we don’t think about possibilities in the future and only reflect on past events?
Artists, writers, musicians, builders all reflect. Their goals are their end products. When they create and produce, they are constantly analyzing and reflecting on how their process is going. Could you imagine a builder reflecting at the end of the build, looking at the house they put up and realizing it’s out of square. You can’t go back and fix it, but if that builder reflected on their plans throughout the build, the mistake would have been caught. Learning would have occurred and the builder wouldn’t have upset a customer. This analogy works well in our schools. Teachers reflect constantly, we need students to reflect. They are the ones creating and learning (teachers do too). If a student or teacher makes a mistake and doesn’t reflect on it, a learning opportunity has sailed by. Reflecting is learning and we are making a big mistake when reflection becomes an add on, just looking at the past, not the future.