Tag Archives: reflection

What Was That All About?

~The Valuable Role of Reflection

As the world attempts to reinstate “normalcy,” there are clearly different baselines or targets amongst countries.  For the United States, Costco in the news provides but one example. Just before the start of summer, their plans included “beginning a phased return to full sampling,” after 14 long months without offering shoppers microwaved mini tacos for nourishment? Society definitely needs nourishment, though I’m not sure mini-tacos will do.  Or, what about Lollapalooza, a three-day music event that drew 300,000 people in 2015, returning to Chicago from July 29 to August 1? Regardless of what is happening or is planned to happen, I have felt maybe more than ever before, a near mandate to reflect on where we have been.  

As an educator, a sort of responsibility has enshrouded me.  To do due diligence and attempt to make sense, as best I can, of the past school year. To draw out as much learning as possible from the many lessons the pandemic offered, or “forced” depending on how you might see things.  Three immediate if not glaring points stood out:  Change, flexibility, and rebirth.  In this, humanity is in the midst of a quasi-phoenix moment; a rising from the “ashes.” As exciting as the past year was tiring, for some reason, reflecting as thoroughly as I may have liked, continued to be put off.  Not one to procrastinate, this baffled me.

Then the other dayI happened upon a tweet. A teacher tiraded how educators should be left alone, nothing more expected, this is OUR summer and we have done enough to get through the past year.  I understand this sentiment as for many, the past 18+ months maybe have felt like being held underwater and summer finally is a time to come to the surface.  To breathe.  The myriad of unforeseen and often uncompromising situations the force that held us under.  Still, I harken back to an article I wrote a few years ago titled, “You Make a Difference~The Value of Summer Reflection.” Here I outlined the pivotal role of reflection and realigning ourselves to our purpose.  Summer, the essential pause. Yet, also a time to reflect.

Summer’s Kick-off

The day summer school teaching finished and summer “officially” began, I received an e-mail from a former student from another school.  The message began, “Hey! Jennifer got stabbed in the leg by Wendell at the end of March which complicated the year..” Immediately, I was issued two parts opportunity to lend a consulatory response and one part the ability to gain greater perspective. The timing seemingly perfect, as I still had not done an “honest” job of reflecting on the 2020-21 academic year.  I desperately wanted get to the bottom of the question, “What was that all about? Another year of jostling between on-line and in-person learning.”

And so here I am. There is a ripeness to the moment where the catalyst is space more than time.  

Caught Up In The COVID Storm

Before the academic year came to a close, I did not entirely skip reflecting.  Oddly enough, it was something I asked students to do and also something I did with a colleague. Just not alone and to a depth that would appease.  In a final meeting over Zoom, a teaching partner and I met.  We attempted to simultaneously add our thoughts to a straightforward end-of-year reflection template that looked like this:

Biggest success this year:Biggest challenge this year:
Strengths data shows:

Areas of growth to focus on:
One thing I learned this year:

One thing I want to learn next year:
One change for next year:

One goal for next year:

Surprisingly, at least for me, was how off the cuff nothing immediately emerged as a goal for next year.  This was the dawning moment of how I was both exhausted but also how I had been caught up in the COVID storm.  My vision not quite 20/20.  Ultimately I had not fully come to grips with the reality of the pandemic and one of the greatest lessons I learned.  The best-laid plans of mice and men oft go astray.”  To remain flexible, adapt, and be forgiving.

Meta-Reflection

Over the years, I felt feedback received from students is a gift.  A window into their reality. A term I am coining here is “meta-reflection,” building off metacognition and thinking about thinking. Might we reflect on student reflections? It may even connect  well with a strategy many educators may employ with students.  Harvard Zero Thinking Strategy, “I used to think but now I think.” One question asked on the student reflection that led to more in-depth analysis was, “What are a few things in social studies class that I did to help you to learn?” A prevailing theme was evident, allowing for my own “I used to think but now I think.”  I used to think I was limited in doing meaningful project-based learning because of an overabundance of standards, but now I know that more wisely designed curriculum implementation is possible.  This I was able to deduce, as patterns emerged in student comments attesting to how they were reinvigorated in learning as a result of agency, authenticity, and purpose. 

The student reflections led also to a more philosophical goal. To continually remind myself to be the teacher one student envisions me to be, “You taught us in a way where you knew we would understand. You put yourself in our shoes and every day it felt like it was a brand new day for every student to do better and have fun.”  Comments are not all so glowing and when we model honesty in the feedback we provide students and invite students to do the same when  giving us feedback, there is a necessity to embrace vulnerability.   One student maturely commented in a way which resulted in pushing me to think more about a check-in routine I was using.  Her points not only honest but absolutely valid, leading to my immediate plan to discontinue the routine.. 

As a learning community, giving and receiving feedback is a skill we routinely practice throughout the year. In reading student end-of-year reflections I can say with confidence how students in 2020-21 stands out  for their high degree of insightfulness and graciousness. One individual’s honest yet humorous response is sure to not to be forgotten. The fill-in-the-bank question asked,  “If I were a middle school social studies teacher I would _________________.”  A common response for example attested to the role of collaboration. For example, “make more projects where students get to work together.” The particular student’s memorable response was but one word.  “Quit!”  Ironically he is also the son of two teachers.

A few years ago Rhonda Scharf was credited with posting on Facebook the following thought, “Teachers are not ‘off for the summer,’ they are ‘in recovery.’”  And if I can add, “in reflection mode.”

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ACCREDITATION IS ALL ABOUT BEING BETTER

Being fully immersed in another school for five days is like no other professional development.  And it is available to us all.

“Creditum” in Latin means, “a thing entrusted to another.”  Fast forward from Roman days and to the United States at the end of the 19th century, where there was a push for  “accreditation.” The nature of the process being one where secondary schools were poked and prodded in effort to determine whether they could be entrusted with adequately preparing students for university.  

Roughly a hundred and fifty years later, accreditation lives on.  The tenor centered more on reflection and support, and less on judgement.  Today, the United States Department of State has granted authorization to six regional non-profit accreditation agencies.  Recently I was invited to participate in my first virtual visit by one of these agencies, the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC).

One word continually surfaced throughout the accreditation deep dive.  

Impact.   

After examining everything the school said it did, we would do our best to tease it out in conversation.  We would also look for it in hallways, classrooms, and in conversations with students.  An effort to confirm to what degree programs and policies ultimately have a positive impact on student learning.

Accreditation days and nights are long. Initially, closely reading all the documentation is critical.  Looking for and triangulating evidence then ensues.  A vanguard of this “paper trail,” is to learn more about the extent reflection and collaboration played throughout the self-study process. Is the report a true reflection of the entire school community? Folders within Google doc folders are pored over. Questions likely surface and streams of notes are taken.  Accreditation members met with various smaller groups in effort to better understand the school. In these meetings, committee members moderate the discussion, often launching the conversation with “Can you please share with us how your team worked together to gather evidence on x, y, or z?”  

Accreditation requires a 360-degree approach, one that truly is multi-dimensional. Learning from all stakeholders is essential.  This means: 

~Leadership team (head of school and principals)~Teachers  
~Parents  ~Support Staff
~Business Staff  ~Building and Grounds
~Nursing Department  ~Public Relations and Marketing  
~Admissions  ~Governance or board of directors (or governing company which was the case of the visit I partook in)

Beyond conversations with adults, some of the most telling evidence is out of the mouths of students, as they share more about their learning.  Impressively, many even talk about why and how they can apply this learning.  Busy daily schedules include time for the committee to debrief but also plan forward.  “After hours” are dedicated to contributing to the writing of the final report.  

SO WHAT?  

Accreditation is a lot of work but the results are very gratifying. Moreover, I can think of no other venue to develop or improve skills.  People whom I have met with accreditation experience agree that there is no better professional development.  Here is a short but not comprehensive list of some of the skills incorporated in a school visit:

~Question development         ~Interview strategies              ~Formal writing

~Collaboration                         ~Presentation creation           ~Oral presentation

The visit I did was unique in several ways.  The nature of a virtual visit, itself is different. However, on our committee we were four members in three different time zones. This visit also happened to be the second ever dual commission visit (WASC and MSA~Middle States Association). Further, the school’s governing board which happens to be in Dubai, welcomed the participation of three evaluation specialists from the education ministry of Qatar. The amount of experience and expertise, combined with a high degree of mutual respect, ultimately led to a very thorough process.  One where collaboration, honest communication and consensus building were benchmarks.

NOW WHAT?  

At the end of the process, a school is provided with commendations. Celebration of these strengths is encouraged.  Additionally, critical areas of follow-up are included.  The final report with its action steps is often greatly appreciated, as it very well may be the needed wind in a school’s sails.  A sort of distilled and formalized plan for improvement moving forward.    

The whole accreditation process is value added for all.  Professional development for committee members but of even greater importance is the role it provides in helping a school hold a mirror up to itself.  To reflect.  To be vulnerable.  To speak but also listen.  Then, to take a moment to celebrate before setting out on the path of betterment.  Because what it all comes down to, is self-improvement.  Schools ultimately focusing on improvement, to the benefit of all students and their learning.

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Note: Accreditation commissions welcome teachers to participate and I highly recommend it. Two commissions I have experience with are below. If interested, click on the following links:

www.acswasc.org/

www.msa-ces.orga/

Meeting Learners Wherever They May Be

“Aim for the middle of the square,” I encourage an 8-year old boy on my basketball team.

The power of geometry on full display. Meanwhile, another player kicks the ball against the gymnasium wall, seemingly confusing basketball for soccer.  Two others chase each other in a game of tag. Out of the corner of my eye, I spot another dancing the Macarena.  The Macarena?  Is Tik Tok responsible for the one-hit wonder Spanish song of 1993 being brought back? Reaching for my whistle, I notice another player launching shots from beyond the three-point line.  In wonder I look on, taking a few seconds to just take in the full scene.  

Weren’t the directions and demonstration clear?  To take shots from 3 feet away, stepping from side to side and aiming at the middle of the box. A timeless backboard drill.  

Before I am able to blow the whistle, it happens.

“Coach, can you tie my shoe?” one 4-foot tall player earnestly requests.  His large blue eyes match his dyed fringe.  The shrill tone of his voice resembling my 5-year old nephew’s.  

I look down at his knotted lace and caught up in the chaos, regretfully do not seize the opportunity to teach this “life skill.”  On the ride home, the moment continued to be replayed. Impossible to get out of my head, it stewed the next 48 hours.  

For a veteran teacher, this was a serious self-check.  An invaluable lesson to meet the learner, wherever they might be. A cornerstone of any education certification program, I would have guessed I perfected this lesson.  However, in the midst of “herding cats,” did I forget?  Mere negligence? Simply distracted?  Whatever the reason, I was embarrassed for myself.  A “wrong” to made right!  

Grateful to learn from the error, I was reminded how we may have a particular aim for a class or practice, yet of even greater importance than our plan, is that we remain flexible and respond to the learners right before our eyes. Differentiation sometimes a reflex, while at other times requires utmost intention.  

The next practice I approached the boy with the knotted laces and on bended knee showed him how to tie his shoe. Singing in a hushed tone, “Over, under, around and through, meet Mr. Bunny Rabbit, pull and through.”  Smiling, he gave it a try, his motor skills a clear challenge. The third attempt a success!

During my childhood a poster hung in our home’s laundry room.  It shared advice from best-selling author, Robert Fulgum and was titled, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.” Fulgum conveyed the simplicity and power of such adages as, share everything, and to play fair. 

Years later, a third grade teacher, I turned to look over my shoulder each time a student called, “Mister…”  I looked for my father, a bit bewildered because from one day to the next I had become a “Mister” myself.  Though the exuberance, joy, and energy of 8 and 9-year olds was a pleasure, middle school became my wheelhouse.  More than twenty years would pass before I would be in the company of third-graders again. 

This time, wearing the hat of coach. A chance to improve my well-conditioned skills in patience but also explicitness, assuming nothing.   

Not even that all the children can yet tie their own shoes.

An Economist’s Take: Budgeting and Adventure

Follow our bicycle journey around the world at www.pedalgogy.net or on Facebook.

This post is not just for any would-be bike tourer. It considers an issue we could all think about.

We have seen all sorts on this trip so far, literally from feast to famine. The extreme wealth of the flashy supercar-driving Chinese high-fliers, to the maimed and forgotten street beggars in some parts of south-east Asia.

This trip is a real lesson about economic development for an Economics teacher.

For years I have taught middle school Humanities through to first year degree level Economics courses. I try to deliver the topics of Inequality and the Distribution of Wealth in a thoughtful and pragmatic way inside the classroom, but rarely is it ever effectively applied to real life. How can it be, when many of the young minds in the room belong to people from privileged backgrounds? I can share my experiences and things I’ve seen, and maybe even offer some thoughts about how it can be and whether a positive change will ever happen, but it is often the case that students listen but cannot yet hear. We do however excitedly apply lovely abstract formula devised by Lorenz and Kuznets to the reality of human tragedy and ecstasy.

So, I have come to appreciate that the position we are in of having some savings to spend whilst cycling around the world is not a common one, and there certainly is only one way our cash flows these days, and that’s out. We had to be prepared for that. Our reality is that we are in a small minority; to put things into context I always like some cold, hard, sober, emotionless numbers:

71% of the world’s population lives on less than $10 a day (Few Research Center, 2015)

39% of the world’s population does not a bank account (World Bank, 2015).

22% of Brits & Americans have no savings (Telegraph, 2012, MarketWatch, 2015)

64% of Brits & Americans have less than £1000/$1300 in savings accounts (TIM, 2014).

62 people have the same wealth as 50% of humanity (Washington Post, 2016)

It would be easy to say then, that being able to tour the world for two years means we are lucky and blessed. Well, I’m not so sure it’s either of these. We have worked hard to establish our careers, providing reassurance that when we need to earn again, we should be able to find work.

We didn’t do anything personally to affect it, but maybe we were ‘lucky’ to be born in UK and Ireland into caring middle class families. From then on, I think we make our own luck. Are we blessed? Well, this suggests some kind of divine intervention, which doesn’t compute with me. Who is the one that decides if we can or can’t do something that we dream of? Personally, I believe it is us – only us.  Sure it takes some forward planning and self-belief. I prefer brave (maybe a little bit crazy), self-assured and assertive as ways to describe ourselves.

Also, people make excuses far too easily and frequently about why they can’t do things they’ve “Always wanted to do”. Sometime it seems people say it just to exonerate themselves. I don’t understand that. That “could’ve”, “would’ve”, “should’ve” tense. I believe that where there is a will, there’s a way. If ultimately it doesn’t live up to your expectations, well I’ve always thought that it’s better to regret something that you have done, rather than always wonder about how it might have been.

There is never a bad time to go and explore. We have met retired couples touring, single 70 year olds, read of friends who ride the world with their two kids in tow, or their dogs. Those who are battling with sickness, those who just don’t know what they want to do in life, so go out for a ride. I don’t think that you particularly have to have a reason or a cause either. I found out how much I love touring by just giving it a go a few times and have discovered that there is a beguiling beauty to the rhythm and excitement it brings.

Six months into our two year ride now, we have become acutely aware of, and are grateful for:

Freedom of movement – Having EU passports (although for me not much longer) enables us to roam. Sure, visa applications are a hassle, but there are many people in the world we know and love who cannot whimsically cross borders.

Western Privilege – Not really sure what this means, but we certainly have a life of relative comfort back in our home countries. Services that are provided to us as a matter of course are to some, always out of reach.

Health – We should never take this one for granted. Staying fit, eating well, not taking too many risks. Enjoy every day you feel good, and battle when you don’t.

Age – Am I middle-aged? I guess I am, but they are just numbers. Are we always too young for things until we are too old? Rubbish. Don’t be held back thinking about your age. If you can’t help it, then get a younger partner, they’ll keep you young!

So what does all this suggest? ‘Carpe Diem’, would be the obvious thing to conclude, but that’s one hell of a cliché. Perhaps we should all live frivolously? No, that would be irresponsible.

Budget? Yes, but don’t let it suffocate you.

 

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Videos of our adventures can be found on our YouTube channel.