Always Time for Personal/Professional Reflection
The spring seems to lend itself to optimism and positive thinking, especially for those living in climates where there is a long, cold winter! Here in the Midwest, the winter of 2014 has been particularly challenging. And in the Chicago area, where I live, there’s not much of a spring, to be honest...a few days of warm, sunny weather, followed by many days of chilly, gray skies, with temperatures in the 40s and 50s well beyond what seems reasonable. Nevertheless, each morning, the birds are chirping, and the daffodils and tulips bloom despite the recurrent chill, and one knows that soon the gentle breezes of summer will be here!
Personally, I look forward to spending increasing amounts of time outdoors, sitting on my deck reading, having meals al fresco, and not shoveling snow! At the same time, the school year is wrapping up and summer plans are anticipated. I find this a good time for reflection on how my year is proceeding. Have I been following up on the plans and goals and focus (see article on Year Words in this section) I set for myself around New Year’s? Am I moving in the direction I want to professionally? How has my practice improved this year so far? What do I still need to focus on or improve on or invest more energy in pursuing? In addition to ensuring that I make time to enjoy the next few months of mild weather and outdoor experiences, what will I do to ensure that my professional skills are attended to as well? Shall I do some professional reading, or attend a summer institute? If not, what will I do on my own to think about my professional strengths and vulnerabilities and focus on moving forward over the next six months?
Taking oneself to the park, or the beach, or just outside in the yard with a journal to write in is a great way to engage in personal/professional reflection while also enjoying the outdoors. For those in hot climates, go outside in the early morning or early evening, when there is light but the weather is tolerable. The vitamin D available from the sun is good for us and less harmful during the early morning and early evening hours. I find that actually writing with a pen, rather than typing into a laptop or computer, is a soothing way to connect with one’s thoughts and integrate one’s ideas. I love typing at the computer, too, don’t get me wrong (as I’m doing right now!), but there’s something special (and rare these days) about writing down one’s thoughts in a journal of some kind.
In my book, The Insightful Teacher: Reflective Strategies to Shape Your Early Childhood Classroom, there are journaling opportunities at the end of each chapter, where there are questions for reflection. Using a book to help in one’s reflection process can be very useful. For more personal reflections on one’s parenting practices, for example, it might be helpful to read one of the many wonderful parenting books available. My favorites are the ones written by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish, How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk, and Siblings Without Rivalry. Even reflecting on a moving novel one has read is a useful exercise. What about this book moved me? Did I learn anything about relationships from this book? Did it confirm some of my understandings about how humans interact? What kind of books do I enjoy and why?
It is best when reflection is a two step practice. The first step is thinking about one’s actual professional practice and behavior (or as a parent or just as an adult living in the world) as compared to one’s goals and aspirations for oneself in these roles. The second step is choosing specific actions one will take to improve and make progress in the areas where progress is needed. Even if you are generally satisfied with your overall progress toward your goals, and you feel you are doing a good job of living up to your own expectations, choosing specific steps to take in order to ensure continued progress and growth is useful and helpful.
I wish everyone a happy, fulfilling, renewing, relaxing summer that includes some time for personal/professional reflection and a plan for continued growth!