“Without reflection, we go blindly on our way, creating more unintended consequences, and failing to achieve anything useful.”–Margaret J. Wheatley
Years ago I landscaped with a friend during the summer months. We worked on some lovely lakefront homes in the Lake George region of Upstate New York, and on occasion we’d bring in a subcontractor to do a challenging deck, walkway, or other project beyond our skill sets. I remember one craftsman in particular who we hired to build a complex walkway designed to snake its way in a sinuous fashion off the back deck and on to the front lawn. His name was Nick, and his work was truly exceptional. He generally worked at a steady pace, but would take what I saw as frequent breaks. After one lengthy break, I asked him why he had stopped and if anything was wrong. “No. Everything is looking good.”, he said. He then explained that the complexity of his work demanded time to stop and evaluate his progress. “The more intricate the project, the more often I need to stop and evaluate. If I rush the work, or don’t pay attention to the finer details, then the end product will not meet my satisfaction or that of the customer’s.” What Nick was explaining to me was the value of analysis and reflection, and the importance of taking time to do both well—in any line of work.
Do we take time in education on a daily basis to soak in the stimuli of our environment and the finer details of our labor? In the classroom, do we make time to stop and reflect? Do we pause during lessons to ensure students are making sense and finding meaning of the content, or do we cover the material and move on to the next topic? Do we wait when asking a question to study the students and their readiness/willingness to participate, giving each student the necessary retrieval response time, or do we choose the student with the first hand up or the student we know has the right answer? As an instructional leader, do we stop and sense the school culture? Do we listen empathically to teachers, parents and students? Do we set aside time with teachers to participate in important data analysis and reflection? Do we make time to visit classrooms, follow-up on post conferences to check on teacher progress on action items, and walk the halls and grounds? Do we visit with parents in and outside of our building, listen intently of their interests and concerns, and work to involve them more in school functions?
It’s so tempting to grind through the work and get it all done, but what is “it?” Why are we doing the work we do, and are the products of a quality satisfying to us and our customers, the students and society at large? Do we build into our daily schedule time to stop and observe our progress along our individual paths, and do we make adjustments when we occasionally go off path? In this busy world of education reform, it’s ever more important to take time to monitor and adjust. To observe and celebrate what’s working well, and forgive ourselves when things don’t go quite as planned. To periodically disconnect from the ever-growing, incessant stream of email messages, texts, and news alerts, and to regain a sense of mind, body, spirit. We and our students deserve no less.