Tips for Teachers
The Power of Personal Reflection
I recently had the privilege of speaking to a large group of early childhood educators at a Teacher Appreciation Event in northern Illinois, and the requested topic was how personal reflection can help teachers be more effective in the classroom. Although I frequently weave elements of this issue into many of my workshops, I had never presented an entire workshop on this topic before. I have long maintained that excellent teachers are reflective teachers, as excellent parents are reflective parents. This means that as professionals we think about what we do with children in the classroom. We look at not only what the child’s behavior is, but how we are responding to the child’s behavior, and how we feel about the child and how we communicate with the child. In engaging in the process of thinking about the teacher’s role in the classroom and his/her behavior in the classroom, teachers have the opportunity to fine tune their work and return to school the next day with new ideas and more effective strategies.
It is easy to focus primarily on how a particular child was frustrating or demanding or challenging or difficult that day, and to avoid paying attention to how the teacher’s interactions with the child may have been helpful or not helpful. By keeping the focus on the mutuality of interaction between child and adult, and examining one’s own behavior and feelings as well as that of the child, teachers are more likely to continually improve their practice, making increasingly wise and informed choices.
Another aspect of this workshop included an opportunity for teachers to consider developing some kind of relaxation or meditation practice for themselves. While this process is NOT the same as reflection, which focuses on thinking and assessing, relaxation or meditation allows people to replenish themselves through relieving stress and getting in touch with their inner voice, or inner peace, or whatever speaks to them in regard to feeling calm and centered. For some people, a short walk in nature can accomplish this. For others, listening to classical music might do the trick. For many people, developing some kind of structured breathing technique and spending a little bit of quiet time on a regular basis doing this is a very helpful tool that can set the stage for productive self-reflection.
While reflection involves thinking, relaxation breathing/stress relieving activities focus on clearing the mind of thoughts and simply feeling calm and connected to a sense of peace and comfort. It was quite an inspiring experience for me to teach over a hundred educators a structured form of breathing exercise they might choose to use to help them reduce stress and find that sense of calm that can replenish one’s energy to return to one’s work with more vigor and less exhaustion!
It is important for teachers to take care of themselves so that they can take good care of the children with whom they work. Personal reflection is a part of this process, as is finding an avenue for self-calming and stress reduction on a regular basis. Neither process needs to take a huge amount of time. Choosing a space in one’s home or yard or even a nearby park that is easily accessible is a first step towards developing a regular stress reduction practice. Spending perhaps fifteen minutes each day, or even a few days a week, engaging in some kind of structured stress reduction activity such as those mentioned above can go a long way towards helping establish a sense of rest and comfort. This provides the basis for enabling teachers to spend a bit of time reflecting on how their day in the classroom went and what they might want to do differently the next day, or even how they might want to enhance or extend what worked so well that day!
Summer is here, the birds are chirping away each day... do find some time and a place to establish a relaxation practice and some regular time for personal reflection. You will be glad you did! Please feel free to contact me with any questions you might have about this process, I would be very glad to help you find what might work for you!
Tips for Parents
The Power of Personal Reflection
Parents certainly need to replenish themselves and their energy for taking good care of their children just as much as teachers do! When one is exhausted and depleted from the many demands of raising children, working, taking care of a home, just doing the many daily tasks of life, it is hard to be able to reflect on one’s parenting role. It can seem like a burden or even a luxury, having the time to sit and think about how one interacted with one’s child that day! Too often, parents do not find the time to think about what they are doing with their children, how they are communicating with them, how they are disciplining them, whether their interventions are successful or not, what works and what doesn’t work so well. When this process of reflection is not happening, parents tend to simply function on automatic, using the same responses and the same interventions, whether they work well or not.
It is extremely helpful when parents make some time for themselves to relax and empty their minds of all the things that need to get done. This can be quite difficult to do. That is why creating a structured approach to relaxation is so useful. It can consist of a particular breathing pattern one practices for five to ten minutes (there are many forms of these available on the internet, see meditation practice or relaxation techniques), or it can consist of one of the other strategies mentioned in the suggestions for teachers (listening to soothing classical music, having some quiet time in nature, perhaps even taking a bubble bath with some scented candles in the bathroom!). Planning some kind of relaxation practice for a short period of time on a regular basis will be well worth the effort, I promise! Once one has emptied one’s mind and found a sense of relaxation and calm for a brief period, it will be much easier to reflect on how things are going between parent and child and think of new ways to improve or finetune one’s interactions or interventions.
One of the wonderful advantages of the parenting process is that there are so many opportunities for improvement, for trying new ways of connecting, for repairing possible injuries, for building deeper connections! Parenting is a longterm process, and improvement is always possible if we take the time to reflect on how we are doing and how things are going! It can also feel quite reassuring to reflect on parenting experiences that have gone especially well...how about the time you asked your child to clean up the play area and he/she actually did it, and announced to you proudly that it looked great, and asked you to please take a look?! It does happen once in a while! Taking credit for a job well done is also an important element of parenting, and can remind one of what works and how to continue using effective strategies moving forward.
I wish you all a relaxing, reflective summer!