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Enhancing Vitality and Positivity Through Reflection
This is Part II of a five-part series that will focus on reflection, non-resistance, compassion, and egolessness. By Derrick des Vignes and Jocelyn Wiley 30-Mar-18
One of the greatest untapped resources we have as learners, no matter our age, is our ability to reflect. Reflection may be achieved through meditation, prayer, or simply through deep and extended thinking. But no matter which path we choose, we must focus on self-efficacy. Our biggest challenge as learners is prioritizing reflection in our busy lives, instead of filling what we perceive as empty spaces in our schedules with something else, whether in the name of connectivity or productivity. Let’s consider the words of acclaimed artist Jenny Holzer: “At times, inactivity is preferable to mindless functioning.” There is merit in nothingness. Not to say reflection is nothing—on the contrary, reflection is something fundamental to advancing our physical, psychological, and intellectual abilities. There is value in the apparent nothingness of space, quiet, and stillness. The space between the spokes of a wheel provides strength and balance. The silence between the notes in music is what makes the sound unique. The stillness of sleep provides opportunity for rest and rejuvenation. All this “nothingness” provides us with extraordinary opportunities. As we are learning from recent research and practice, this state of apparent nothingness actually provides opportunities for reflection that have practical application in schools today. In Baltimore, one elementary school incorporated meditation as a replacement for detention. This paradigm shift provides students the opportunity to “look inside themselves, taking that energy that is negative and refocusing it to something that is positive” (Bloom). Smith College in Massachusetts, one of the prestigious Seven Sisters colleges, introduced workshops on “Failing Well” to help their high-achieving students (who have never failed anything) see failure as an opportunity for growth and a chance to step back from “a culture that has glorified being busy” (Bennett 2017). There is increasing evidence that schools are scheduling time for reflective practice, but to be truly reflective practitioners, we must also teach students how to reflect, as well as practicing it ourselves. Five teaching strategies to advance students’ skills, habits, and knowledge as reflective learners are: discussion, interviews, questioning, logs, and journals (Costa and Kallick 2013). The International Baccalaureate Diploma is so committed to the value of reflection that new assessment criteria actually award points for written evidence of student reflection. In the Extended Essay, this criterion is called “Engagement.” The IB document Approaches to Teaching and Learning (ATL) identifies three different types of reflection: cognitive (required in Theory of Knowledge); process (required in the Extended Essay); and affective (required in Creativity, Activity, Service—CAS). “Making Experience Count: The Role of Reflection in Individual Learning,” a working paper authored by Di Stefano, Gino, Pisano and Staats, concludes, “Results from our studies consistently show a significant increase in the ability to successfully complete a task when individuals are given the chance to couple some initial experience with a deliberate effort to articulate and codify the key lessons learned [through reflection] from such experience.” We grow up thinking that every mistake is bad, and thus we work hard not to repeat them. In doing so, we neglect to take the time to ask ourselves why we made this mistake in the first place. We’ve been convinced that mistakes are indicators of inferiority or incompetence. The notion of humility in defeat or failure is seen as an embarrassment or a weakness, not as a virtue arising from genuine effort. Nonetheless, as the writer Alexander Pope said, “To err is human; to forgive, divine.” We must allow ourselves to be comfortable with forgiving ourselves for our errors—but this comfort comes only with reflection. Every great human invention we enjoy today was preceded by a multitude of failed experiments. Reflecting on the why is what has allowed humanity to flourish. The lesson of the wise old sage, as told in our previous article “The Tao of Instructional Coaching,” reflects a wisdom we must embrace with our thoughts, words, and actions: we must try to be wise enough to ask the questions or point the way for the learner. We all have the answers to our own questions deep within ourselves, waiting to surface, if only we can harness nothingness—that is, space…quiet…stillness—for reflection. Derrick des Vignes is the Coordinator for Instructional Coaching at Ridley College, Ontario. Jocelyn Wiley is an international educator who has worked in Canada, Bermuda, Mexico, and Abu Dhabi.References: Bennett, Jessica. 2017. “On Campus, Failure is on the Syllabus.” NYT, June 24, 2017. Bloom, Deborah. 2016. “Instead of detention, these students get meditation.” CNN.com. November 8, 2016. Costa, Arthur and Bena Kallick, ed. 2013. Learning and Leading with Habits of the Mind. Alexandria: ASCD. Di Stefano, Giada, Francesca Gino, Gary P. Pisano and Bradley R. Staats. 2014. “Making Experience Count: The Role of Reflection in Individual Learning.” Harvard Business School Working Paper, March 2014. (Revised June 2016.)
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