Learning requires reflection. From an individual perspective, “It can be argued that reflective practice . . . is the process which underlies all forms of high professional competence” (Bright,1996, p. 166)
Being a Reflective Practitioner
Many workplaces now encourage their employees to become ‘reflective practitioners’; in fact the number one graduate employer in Great Britain Teach First establishes this concept well before participants actually begin work for the organisation. The ability to reflect on our actions and achievements is crucial for most adults, not only does it help us improve, but it enables us to take responsibility for our performance and build self-confidence. Now, I am not suggesting we ask all students to go off and write self-reflective essays, however there are certain ways in which we can help children develop self-awareness, and a sense of control in relation to their education. By becoming reflective and in turn
encouraging reflection we can create help children create a vision for their future and help facilitate their journey along that, sometimes treacherous, yellow brick road to their dreams and aspirations. As an adult reading this, don’t think you are getting away easy- I am going to take the plunge and share with you my overall vision as an educator. In turn I encourage you to exercise your reflective muscles and create your own with respect to your child and their education. Perhaps, simply by putting it in writing, you will discover paths that you never thought were on the map, or even form cross roads with your child.
I have spent a while considering different visions for young people and ‘education’, and in the end I drew on my own experiences, and I have condensed my vision as an educator into one three word statement ‘courage to achieve’. I certainly had my ups and downs at school, my fair share of failures along the way, and I was taught that it wasn’t good enough to give up, or to accept defeat. For me, ‘courage’ is the word that most sums up that process of ‘getting back up’, and steeling oneself to try again. For young people courage may appear to be the stuff of fairy tales, of C.S. Lewis or Bear Grills, it may not be a characteristic that they overtly identify with their everyday self or their education, but it is my vision for all children. To draw on a quote from Winston Churchill ‘Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.’ There is courage in not following the crowd, courage in believing
in oneself, courage in taking the hard rather than the easy path’. I share my vision by making it part of my teaching and professional outlook. I aim to foster self-belief in my pupils, because this is a building block to resilience and courage. We none of us can be perfect, but we can all draw on courage to better ourselves, and achieve in all aspects of our lives. It is very easy to run through life without actually taking a step back and really looking at our actions, it takes courage to turn the looking glass on what we do, to reflect, and make a step in the right direction.
How can reflection help children? Putting it in practice
With all my students I discuss what I call their ‘vision’ for the subject. In other words what do they want to achieve and where they see themselves going with the subject. Some children turn round to me and say ‘I am not going to do this subject at university, so I don’t really see the point.’ Others may love the subject, but not really know what status it has in their life or their future. Being reflective and creating a vision can give a sense of purpose and direction to any outlook.
For the child who does not see the subject as having anything to do with their future life, creating a vision can that the subject may not be a crucial part of their final goal, but that does not mean it is not an important step along the way. For the child who truly enjoys that subject or sees it as being important, textualising a vision can help clarify their expectations of their own development and how they will go about achieving them. It could be as simple as discussing their work to date and coming up with three goals that make up a vision that is centred around their aspirations, e.g., 1) I will be able to use grammar correctly by the end of the year 2) I will achieve an A grade in my end of year exams 3) I will feel confident writing under pressure. Each vision is different and I expect them to be. Some are bullet points, some are mini paragraphs, but children can, and do, benefit by undertaking this reflective task, by formulating and expressing an outlook for their own learning experience. ‘It’s only when you start to write these things down that you think, “Well I could do something about that’’’ (Peter Yr9). By respecting each individual vision, and acknowledging it, we can give children the self confidence to achieve their goals, or even simply demonstrate that perhaps they have as many expectations of themselves as the adults whom they encounter everyday, both in school and at
home, have of them.
Getting involved as a parent
I also ask parents to writedown their vision for their son or daughter with regards to a subject- and Iinvite you to do the same. It may be a general vision like mine, or it could bemore specific, e.g., * to enjoy English this year * to use punctuation correctly * to learn to write an essay, but it is YOUR vision. Having a clear vision for your child and their achievements, as well as recognizing that they have one too is a vital step – it needs to be ambitious and aspirational, and it also needs to be personal. It took me an embarrassingly long time to realise just how important having (and sharing) a vision for the success of my students was. I can remember speaking to colleagues when I first started teaching about their personal visions, which ranged from ‘my classroom is like a Church’ to ‘I teach students how to behave (and not much else)’. Some of these visions were inspirational, some were hugely aspirational and others
were depressingly easy to achieve. However, none spoke to me and it was clear I needed to find my own vision for my students. As a parent your vision will inevitably differ from your child’s- or perhaps you will surprise yourself and
find them remarkably similar, but the practice of creating one will open up new perspectives for you both, and bring you into a sense of common endeavor. On one occasion when I asked a student whether their mum had completed her vision for them they said ‘yes, but she wrote more than me’. We are dangerous creatures as adults; we can always be accused of ‘pushing’ children, or not pushing enough. But regardless of the extent to our vision, it is often rare that we truthfully and honestly communicate it to our child, or even narrow down our post-school probings to ask our child their unguarded thoughts on their future with a school subject. By discussing both visions together you may open up a new communication that could be enlightening to you both. By coming together and sharing visions for education we acknowledge to children that not only do we respect their point of view, but we are – to quote High School musical (and I’m sure this will only diminish my ‘street cred’ in the eyes of my students) ‘all in this together’. For what more do we want more, as educators, parents, or carers, than to help children achieve their goals, their visions, and their dreams.
Other Useful resources
Steven Covey’s Seven Habits of highly effective people-https://www.stephencovey.com/7habits/7habits.php