After midnight a few nights ago, I wrote a long blog post about reflection. The next morning when I tried to cap it off with a tidy conclusion, I realised—upon reflection—that I’d gotten it completely wrong. My post was a mess. It was a holier-than-thou rumination that presented reflection as a method we can use solely to identify and address our own flaws and insecurities. Although that may be one function of reflection, it is far from the only one, and in fact when my students reflect on their defects and difficulties without also acknowledging their successes and growth, I always point it out. So here I am again, starting over.
Here at OYIS, we seem to have a curricular crush on the concept of reflection. We ask our students to reflect before, during and after their units and whenever we conclude a significant learning engagement. A student who successfully completes our programmes is likely to be a finely-tuned reflection machine. And teachers lament the fact that some students find it really challenging to conduct genuine reflection. How, we ask ourselves, can we help them develop the reflective reflex?
Well, lately a troubling question has been nagging at me. Are we, the adults of OYIS, a reflective community? Do we model reflection for our students? Although I loosely think of myself as reflective, I can’t remember ever unpacking the term to ask myself some serious questions about it: What is reflection, anyway? Does it matter? And crucially, am I practising reflection, or just preaching it?
Although Merriam Webster defines reflection as “a thought, idea, or opinion formed or a remark made as a result of meditation” and the Cambridge Dictionary gives us the still broader “serious and careful thought,” I believe the reflection we’re talking about with our students goes beyond deep thought and demands that we direct that thinking inward. Mirrors reflect, and when we behold a mirror, the image that stares back is our own. After all, the IB Learner Profile distinguishes “thinkers” from “reflective,” linking the attribute to “our own ideas and experience,” as well as an awareness of “our strengths and weaknesses” that can “support our learning and personal development” (IBO). If we accept this interpretation of reflection, then it must matter: it forces us to inquire into who we are and how we approach the world, and then to build new learning and development upon that foundation of self-awareness.
This brings me to the most difficult question: do I conduct genuine reflection, as I so often ask my students to do? Whereas a student might be asked to reflect on the way they approached a complex task that called for imagination, research, planning, analysis and revision, I should ask myself about my professional choices as a teacher: did I work hard enough to ensure that the quiet students had as much time in conference with me as the ones who are always clamouring for attention? Did I involve the other members of my team in that decision, or did I overlook their opinions because I ‘knew’ I was right? Did I listen actively to my supervisor’s advice, or did I nod politely and then just forge ahead with my own ideas? Likewise, I should reflect honestly on my personal life: have I been trying to guilt trip my son into reading more, even though I know that this is the worst kind of parenting? Did I stop playing my fiddle or studying kanji because I had no time, or because I have little aptitude for either and was mortified by my mediocrity?
If there is any silver lining to the last several years, it has been that we have been given time to really understand what we value in life. For me, that is spending time outside with my friends and family and being able to foster face-to-face relationships but professionally and privately.