Dec 30, 2011 Embracing the Quiet and Taking Time to Reflect
Here in Vermont December is the darkest and quietest time of the year. The days are short but the long evenings are lit with the peaceful ambiance of candles, holiday lights, and snow. The shorter days bring me into the house earlier, so there is more time to sit in front of the fire and appreciate the moment. Outside there is a stillness as much of the natural world is at rest. I am taking a cue from Mother Nature and making the most of the silence and peace of this time to recharge, plan and reflect.
During this last week of the year, many organizations and schools are closed for the holidays. Those of us in the education field have an interlude from the hustle and bustle of the regular workday. It is easier to “unplug” as there aren’t as many emails or phone calls to return. It is often the time I catch up on notes from workshops or items on the “to-do” list that have been hanging there for a while. The tranquility of this period and the awareness of the coming New Year offer the opportunity to reflect on what we have accomplished during the year and all that we are thankful for. I always look forward to taking the time to think about the “blank slate” of the upcoming calendar and the opportunities for a fresh start the New Year brings.
As I sit this morning enjoying the solitude of a December dawn it makes me realize how important it is to create this kind of quiet, reflective time all year round. Those of us in the education field spend so much focusing our energy outwardly. We spend our days planning, preparing, meeting, teaching and implementing. Many of us work in fast paced environments and spend a lot of time rushing from one place to the next, or working with one group right after another. Often when one program or class ends, we move on to the next without much time spent on reflection about successes or the lessons we could be taking away to improve our practice.
The philosophy of experiential education recognizes reflection as the key to moving learning forward and creating lasting and meaningful lessons. We seek out new tools and ideas to facilitate reflective practice with our students or groups, but how often do we practice what we preach and take time for self-reflection?
Taking the time to reflect on our practice as educators helps us find meaning in our work, develops insight into what strategies or approaches are most effective, and allows us to use what we learn each day from our clients or students to improve in the future.
Reflective practice is an important part of documenting and communicating the value of your program or course offerings. Ongoing gathering of data such as quotes, student work, and participant testimonials can help you “tell the story” of your program or class and monitor progress and successes along the way. Maintaining an ongoing record of lesson plans and activity sequences can be very useful in planning future programs or lessons. Some of our best tools and strategies are developed “on the fly” in those moments of spontaneous creativity that occur when a lesson plan goes awry, or we adapt the use of materials or rules of a game and create something new or better. If we don’t have a systematic way to capture these teachable moments they could be lost.
Daily record keeping and reflective practice can be a challenge with all the demands of the present. There are simple ways to start making it a habit. Practitioner reflection could take the form of a journal, a daily lesson or training report, space on your lesson planning sheet or calendar for notes, an activity log, or regular check-ins and report outs with a co-teacher or colleague. Experiment and make it meaningful and useful for you.
As experiential educators know, good reflective practice is more than a record of what happened. Meaningful reflection delves into What did it mean? And How will it improve my practice?
Look for my next post for a continuation on the subject of practitioner self-reflection and “questions for the reflective educator”.
Enjoy the quiet of this special time of year.