Last week at Founders’ Day, the whole school gathered in the amphitheater for the bell to be rung sixty-six times, one for every year of the school’s existence. Prior to that moment, Mr. Smiley asked that we all take a time to pause and reflect on our year. Like me, many of you likely feel that reflecting is a practice we do not do nearly enough as we should or would like to do.
As an educator, I believe that cultivating a spirit and habit of reflection in our students is critical to both their academic and personal growth, but also to the nurturing of healthy decision-making skills. Through reflection, students can learn causality between choices they make and the outcomes.
In the classroom, at different points of the year (e.g., the mid-trimester or trimester), after projects, and prior to tests, teachers and advisors often engage in reflective conversations with students. Asking students what study habits they will try or have tried, or what they could have done differently in class discussions, is intended to help nurture metacognitive skills. Recognizing actions that led to success or identifying ones that did not lead to success can help shape future behavior.
Outside of the classroom, being reflective is equally as important, particularly around technology. Frequent meetings and discussions in middle school on digital citizenship are focused on building a habit of reflective self-questioning prior to hitting send. Always asking Is it kind? Is it necessary? or How will this impact others? can lead to better decision-making on devices. Twenty years ago, adolescents had the luxury of time and countless opportunities to reflect on a poor decision because of how long it would have taken to take a picture on a camera, develop the film and then put it in the mail. Having time to consider the feelings of others and alternative actions was enough to deter a poor instinct. For better and worse, today our world provides our raw emotions and thoughts instantaneous access to an infinite audience for all our tweets, photos and posts.
As adults who are eager to support our kids in becoming more reflective, there are several tools we can employ to counter natural walls or reluctance we get from them. Active listening and holding off problem-solving for them allows kids to talk through their challenge, reflect, and often come up with a solution on their own. Teasing out a student’s intention and then helping that person understand the impact on others and oneself is another powerful approach. Another practice I like to use is asking students to use a numerical scale to quantify feelings like frustration, fatigue, or pain that they felt prior to making a decision. Not only does it give the listener some context, but it also helps the individual have comparison points for the future to put things into perspective. Finally, finding time to identify alternative choices and pondering possible outcomes of those actions can help broaden the kids' minds to a multitude of choices they have in the event they find themselves in a similar situation in the future.
As a middle school, we hope that encouraging reflection provides students a pathway to build scholarship and good habits that will serve them well beyond our walls. Being reflective is also necessary for our kids to overcome the pressures of peers egging one another on while gathered around a device, or the perceived expectations of being active and current in social media. However, just as using a stress ball only in times of crisis proves less than effective, we must practice reflection routinely and on a daily basis. Only then will we be equipped to be reflective when we need it.