Happy New Year! Out with the old, in with the new! Right? I imagine many of you have made some sort of resolution(s) or set some goal(s) for the year 2014 whether it is to increase your physical, mental, or spiritual health, or some other personal/professional goal. I, too, have identified a couple of areas of focus for the New Year. I am hesitant to refer to these as resolutions due to the typical inability to sustain them. I’ve found, in my mature age, that my goals haven’t changed much, so I just need some simple modifications, a new approach, or a change in my instructional processes/strategies perhaps. Whatever the case, I’ve been spending a lot of time reflecting on 2013 and all that I have accomplished, all that has disappointed me, and all that is still yet to be done in order to determine my next step(s).
It has been an interesting year to say the least. As I scrolled through the many resolutions of friends, family, and associates on one social media site, I came across a post that really spoke to my spirit. A wise friend of mine wrote encouragingly and metaphorically, of a focus on spiritual growth moving into the New Year. My interpretation of his writing suggested, learning from decisions and choices made over the last year, then releasing them while making conscious decisions not to repeat anything that had a negative impact on ones spirit or prevented one from moving forward in any aspect of their life. I found this statement to be profound, to say the least, and it has resonated with me since the conversation occurred. My response was that I agreed with his prolific statement and committed to reflect, release, and renew going into the New Year.
At that moment, another friend of ours, whom I have grown to respect a great deal over the last few years, chimed in with a question that read in part “…reflect? For what?” My initial thought was, depending on the focus of your reflection, it could potentially yield beneficial rewards. As we continued in our gentle opposition with one another, he wrote something that really stuck with me. While I described myself as a self professed “analytical reflecter”, he described himself as a “chalkboard”, erasing things of insignificance and moving forward with that which brought him not only growth and development, but also peace and joy. Wow! A chalkboard, huh? This really struck a chord. I began to think about “reflection” differently (You do realize I am reflecting about this thought provoking conversation concerning reflection, right? I really can’t help it.).
You are probably wondering how this is relevant to us as educators. The relevance will reveal itself shortly. Continuing on, I’d like to focus in on this word, “reflection”. A “reflection” is defined in part as “a fixing of the thoughts on something or [taking] careful consideration”. Now, let’s add this idea of a chalkboard. A chalkboard is a black or green board that is written on with chalk. All you need to convey information is a piece of chalk and an eraser. If you write something on the chalkboard that is incorrect, you erase it, change it, and move forward. You may or may not recall what was once written, but there is clear evidence that something was there, as dust is left behind. Sometimes it gets dusty and messy from erasing so much, but a little residual dust does not impede the ability to move forward with conveying further information. It’s quite basic and simple. I’m going to call this a chalkboard reflection. Converse to its partial definition, a chalkboard reflection may require only minimal consideration of some thoughts and/or ideas, as represented by the residual chalk dust (evidence that considerations did exist and were taken), but the fixation on thoughts is not there . What has been said and done is just that, said and done. Erase it and move forward. There is no time for fixation, or preoccupation with matters that are out of our control. My wise friend’s analogy suddenly begins to make sense.
Now, let me take this further and add the idea of the more sophisticated Smart Board to our reflection. The Smart Board is an interactive whiteboard, which has capabilities to operate as not only a whiteboard to write on, but also a computer and a projector, which means that files may be saved for later use. Each component of the Smart Board is connected to the other through wireless connections or via USB/serial cables. There are so many additional components and capabilities that I cannot begin to name them all, nor is elaboration about them necessary amid this interpretation. I can say with confidence, however, that Smart Boards are indeed much more detailed and complicated than chalkboards. Now, we have what I’ll call a Smart Board reflection. A Smart Board reflection may be described as a fixation on thoughts and a reiteration of considerations (since several files are saved and can be referred to over and over again). While information may be erased in order to create, recreate, upload, and/or retrieve new information, those erasures can be undone, much like a word document, allowing us to go back over our decisions as many times as we feel they should be revisited and reconsidered. Well now…it appears that Smart Board reflections have the greater potential of becoming frustration, worry, and stress. Funny, I didn’t feel that way when speaking about his chalkboard reflections earlier.
Here’s the relevance to educators. Research shows us that reflection may have altering effects on our instructional practice. The degree to which we reflect and the center of our reflection is a choice we make. Why fixate on something that has happened for which the outcome cannot be changed? Why preoccupy ourselves with circumstances that are out of our control? Yes, we all would like to save the world. We all would like to protect and nurture our students. We all would like each of our students to come from the ideal home, with the ideal parental involvement, with the ideal learning environment. We all would like that however, this is unrealistic. This fixation and preoccupation, this Smart Board reflection, is what ultimately impedes our ability to instruct our students effectively because of our displaced focus.
Why not get back to the basics. No, I don’t mean to get rid of the 21st century technology we have longed for all these many years. But what I do mean is, let’s refrain from over thinking our every move. Some things that happen, just happen. There’s no rhyme or reason to it. It is what it is. Let’s not read into a colleagues question about why you chose a specific strategy for instruction. It doesn’t mean they discredit you. In fact, maybe it means they are inspired by you. Let’s not over analyze every suggestion our administrators make to mean we’re not cut out for teaching. Consider this instead, if you don’t over think it, what is suggested may just make sense. Yes, reflect on your practice for growth and development. But choose the degree to which you will reflect. Will you choose to be a Smart Board reflecter, fixated on every single thought you have chosen to save in your mental database? Think about it. You, yourself, have complicated certain considerations to the point of frustration, worry, and stress, by thinking about it, thinking about it, and thinking about it some more. I know I have. Or, on the other hand, will you choose to be a chalkboard reflecter, erasing what is irrelevant but allowing yourself to learn from the residual dust left behind? You see, you can’t fixate on something that is not there. The dust, however, is evidence that there was some sort of lesson to be learned. Take the dust that is now on your hands and move forward into your next moment…your next lesson…your next venture. The degree of reflection and the focus of your reflection is a choice…and the choice is all yours.
I wish you all the best, my fellow educators, for the New Year! Reflect, release, renew, recharge.