John Dewey, Yoga weirdos, and more. In this episode, Andy, Robin and Adam discuss the value of reflection time. How and when can time be found for reflection? Is there more value in reflecting as a team? Plus, Adam takes inspiration from the New Zealand rugby team’s mindset for improvement.
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Hi, I'm Andy Psarianos.
Hi, I'm Robin Potter.
Hi, I'm Adam Gifford.
This is the School of School podcast.
Welcome to the School of School podcast.
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So welcome back to another episode of the School of School podcast. I am here with the usual suspects. Andy. Hi Andy.
Adam. How are you, Adam?
I'm really well. How are you?
Yes, I am very well too. Thanks for asking.
And we've just been having a little off air discussion and thought that today we would talk about time to reflect. Do we take time to reflect? Is it important?
Adam suggested this and I think it's something that we need to reflect upon. Often we get so busy doing, and we get so busy learning, or producing, or whatever it is. And maybe not often enough do we sit back and reflect on what we've done and why we've done it, and did we achieve, I suppose, whatever it is that we set out to try to achieve? I think it's quite important if we want to take this kind of continuous improvement idea into your own personal life or your professional life or whatever it is. We need to find time to think about stuff. Right? I mean, Adam, what's your view on this?
I think it's massively important. I think if we look at a lot of the consistently high performing sort of education jurisdictions, one of the things that seems to be an important feature is time to consider how something was done and approached, or considering your own approach to something and actually ring-fencing time to it. And I think that part of the problem is, just like you said, Andy, say we're working or say this holds true for children in school, we work, we work, we work, learning in school and whatnot, then we finish. And whether it's finished for the holidays or finish it at a certain time, the phrase that you often hear is, "Well, I don't want to be thinking about work during that time." So there's kind of like two settings. There's kind of like work and then doing something else that's not work. And that's, if you like, our downtime or however it might be phrased.
I just think that reflection upon what we do and having an opportunity to do that. I know as a teacher, I was saying I feel that one of the things that I absolutely loved about the conference was it gave me a chance to just sit with other professionals and think about the profession, and talk about that, and consider those ideas that you otherwise wouldn't. And some of those have had the biggest effects on my teaching in a relatively short space of time. And I think that that reflection is hugely important. But when do we ever ... I say when do we. There's plenty of people who do plan for that because they realise the importance of it. But I think there's a lot of people who probably don't.
Well, there's this idea that you have to constantly be busy. And you see it's an easy trap to fall into. So it's like stuff your agenda full of stuff and just keep producing. And then that's the way to be, I don't know, efficient or effective or whatever. But especially in learning, but also just in life in general, if you don't reflect on things, I don't think you ever really learn the lessons. Was it I think John Dewey who said children, not children, just people, don't learn from doing. They learn from reflecting on what they've done. And I think that that's an important thing to consider.
If you can get children to do something, and they may succeed, but if you don't give them a chance to sit and think about why that led to success, the chances are they're not going to learn the lesson that you want them to learn. So we know that. We know that in education, and I think a good teacher will make space in the classroom for that reflection to take place. Because part of it is struggling, part of it is discovering, but a key element is that reflection at the end, or in the process of, oh, that worked, why did that work? What about just teachers as a practitioner, do they need to reflect on their practise? Do they need time and space to reflect on their practise? Do we schedule that in somehow in the day?
I mean, I would say the first answer is, of course they do. Of course. Like anyone else, we're all going to benefit from it. But I think, from my experience, is that it's almost like you need to be told that it's safe to do so. Because if you're not ...
Safe. Good word.
Yeah, totally. Because otherwise, you can think all sorts of things like, I'll come back to you should do.
What are you doing?
What are you doing? You're not doing anything.
Reflecting on what? Can you speed it up, please? Reflected, look in the mirror.
Have you marked those papers yet? What's wrong with you?
Exactly. But I think that, again, I think that you'll give time to something that's valid, right? Yet we know that this is a valid way to spend time, but it's almost like I'm too busy to do this valid thing, so I've not got enough time to do it. And at the end of the day, I'm really tired. So the last thing I want to do is go home and reflect. I just want to switch off or something along those lines. And I think that as a practise, because outwardly it may look like we are not busy, and that being seen to be busy, it can be a bit crackers really.
So do you think that we need to incorporate it into our day in a way where it's almost scheduled in so that it becomes part of our, a process that we do every day? Like meditation, somebody maybe meditates. So is this kind of another way of doing that where you're taking that time, maybe it's the first thing in the morning, maybe it's, Adam, you said at the end of the day people, the teachers are tired, maybe they don't want to. But do we almost have to go to that level to actually say, okay, I'm going to really take the time to reflect?
I don't know. I mean, the only thing I'd say with that is that I think that what has to happen in the first instance is it's got to be validated by people that, if there's a leadership structure or something, it's got to be validated, it's got to be of some worth. And I think that if someone said, I'm just going to pop in, Robin, and see you once a week, and I'm just really interested to know when you reflect on the work that you've done throughout the week, I just wonder if there's anything that pops up. So when I next see you I'll just have a think about that. Is there anything that you've reflected on in your practise, or just something that says, I care about your time for reflection and what comes out of it.
And so I think it might be difficult, even though I'm contradicting myself by saying that some of these things should have ring-fence time or we should make time to do it, I think that it also has to be reflected within the structure that actually that matters. That's something that matters.
And even shared reflection time too. So a lot of teachers have staff meetings after school, for example, in one shape or another. And I remember one of the schools that I've worked closely with, which is a London school, they have this kind of framework around the sort of professional learning communities. And they did a great job of basically having a structured reflective process in the school. Where it's like, okay, they get together and they pick something, and it might be watching a video on somebody else teaching a class, or it might be a lesson on how to teach a particular subject, or whatever it is. And they do this together, and then they discuss it, and then they try it as a school, whatever they come up with, they say maybe we should try to do this. And then they try it, and then they get back together and they talk about it and say, was it hard? Did it work? Did you see the results? Where did you struggle? And it's kind of structured reflective time.
And I think maybe we need a little bit more of that kind of structured stuff in professional environments. And I don't think this applies to school. This could apply to any kind of organisation. But also as individuals. As an individual, it needs to be kind of a self-discipline, right? To say, I'm going to sit back and reflect on today's events. In the past, people wrote journals about their days. That's a form of reflection, isn't it? What happened today? What was significant? Do people do enough of that stuff? Or do they just automatically flake in front of the sofa and turn on Netflix and watch the next episode of Succession or whatever they happen to be watching, right?
Yeah, I agree. And I think that I've seen that used really well in schools where there's also been enough time given. So you recognise that if I just said to every teacher have X number of minutes per day to reflect, they might actually need those minutes in some days. They might not have them. And that might be the reality. But I think that if you give enough time and you kind of say, right, this is going to be the task, and once a term we're going to, like Andy's described, we're going to look at this one thing, we're going to feedback on this one thing and actually really give it time to think about it and be constructive in your experience. So everyone's doing the same thing, but obviously the experiences will be different, and how that relates to learning in schools. I've seen that done. It's hugely powerful. And I think that if you do that often enough, then it just becomes part of what you do naturally anyway.
Yeah. I wonder if there are any teachers who write journals, write their own journals of their daily experience. It'd be interesting to find out if teachers do it.
It used to be that there used to be a little box whenever you saw planning templates and stuff and these great screeds of planning, there was a kind of little box that newly qualified teachers often fill in in some way, shape or form what went well, what would you change, what would you do tomorrow? That sort of stuff. But it's one of those where I wonder if the focus of the practise gets lost a little bit in just creating it. But the idea with the journals, I think, is a magic one that should apply to everyone, whether you've been in the game 20 years or two months. But I think, Andy, sometimes that might be seen as something, that sort of written reflection, might be more necessary for someone who's newer the profession. But the practise is a brilliant one.
But what if you incorporate it into the classroom so that you're doing that, you're having that reflection time with your students. So maybe students are journaling, that you're allotting a certain amount of time, whether it be each day, or once a week, or every other day, where they're having the time to reflect. And while they're doing that, perhaps the teacher could also spend that time doing their own reflection time and then discussing as a group. I don't know, just putting it out there.
Yeah. Well I think anything like that, I mean, why not? I can't see why that wouldn't work. I think it comes back to how it has an impact on teaching and learning. And I think it's got to be done in a way that's understood and is a genuine reflection on what the practise is. And I guess it goes back to that idea of if you do the same thing and expect a different outcome, you're crackers. So if we don't reflect on it, if we keep getting the same outcome, same outcome, same outcome, we don't give our self time to reflect, then where do we come up with the ideas that allow us to teach better, learn better, do things better? And I think that that's something that, as long as that's understood and we set aside time for something that could be very valuable, then I think that that's got to be a good thing. And like you've suggested, if teachers have an opportunity to do it and the practise of it's a really valid one in the classroom, then yeah, it's probably going to be a really positive thing.
Yeah. And applying it to any part of our life, as you said, so that it becomes more of a practise than just something that we feel we need to do. It just flows with our day. And we're able to reflect not just on our work, but our home life, our relationships, all of those things. It's a good thing. There's no question.
And I go back to, I know this might sound slightly cliched, but the New Zealand rugby team, the All Blacks, they're very successful by any measure. They're an incredibly successful group. And one of the aspects that they kind of live to is that they try to be a little bit better every day. That's all. That's the expectation, is that you're a little bit better today than you were yesterday. And I think that's a really sound philosophy, but it does require looking at what you were like today, and how do I be a little bit better tomorrow? And I think that's the thing. I think we're not talking about necessarily big sort of sitting in a cave for three days and reflecting on life in general and having something life transformative, necessarily. If it happens, great, good on you. But I think it's that idea around, I quite like that idea around how could I just be a little bit better tomorrow than I was today? But that requires reflection.
Requires reflection. It requires you to be self-aware as well, which is something a lot of people struggle with. So it's like looking at yourself through that lens and saying, I responded this way to this situation. Was that appropriate? Was it the best way? What could I do better? And it forces you to be self-aware. And I think self-awareness is one of those mysterious things. Some people are tremendously self-aware, and other people seem to be completely living in a world of oblivion. Not too many people, but you do meet them every once in a while, and they're just not aware at all of what they're doing or why they're doing it. And it forces you to be self-aware.
I think one of the things that I believe is that to have a fulfilling life and to feel satisfied, because I think ultimately even happiness isn't a real thing. This is fulfilment in life. You feel like your life has a purpose and that you ... You need self-awareness. Because without it, you're kind of like without, you don't have a keel. You're just kind of drifting along. And I think reflection is a tool for that, right? Yeah. It's the basis for a lot of things like meditation and transcendental meditation and all that kind of stuff. It's really that reflection leading to self-awareness, leading to some kind of higher fulfilment in your life.
But what I was going to say was I think that that's where also that balance of self-reflection, but also reflecting within a group. Like you talked about. And I guess that there might be some things that we are just, it's very difficult to be self aware of until we talk to others, or until we express certain ideas with others. And so I think that kind of balance, or having the opportunity to be able to reflect both as an individual, but also within a group or an organisation, I think that that's probably a pretty decent way to go to start to get an idea about how to use that time well and what can come of it.
So what might be some simple ways to get this in as part of your daily routine? I mean, we talked about journaling, which seems like a good idea. Though I guess that brings up the question is with kids today, do they even know how to sit down and reflect and write in a journal, or would they be grabbing their phone and having to, I don't know, get in? Is their attention, are they able to just settle along enough to really think and reflect? Or is that a skill that also needs to be worked on?
Well, I think that's a world that we created. This world where there's constant entertainment and constant mechanisms for keeping ourselves busy and not being forced to reflect or be self-aware. Will they suffer from it? Only time will tell, right? I don't really know. I think they will. I think they will. Because I think reflection and alone time and the things that lead to those things like boredom, because if you're sitting around and you've got nothing to do, then obviously you're going to start thinking about stuff that happened, right? Sooner or later. I mean, you may think about other things like things that you need to do or things that will happen, but a lot of the times you will end up thinking about what happened and you'll end up evaluating whether or not it was the right thing. It's just a natural process. But if there's never any downtime or space to do that, then yeah, that will lead to a lack of self-awareness, right?
Yeah. Starting at a young age then, doing this is going to be so beneficial, I think, because learning this skill, as I'll call it, at a young age rather than trying to introduce something as the children are getting older and ... I don't know, I guess we're never too late. Never too late to learn how to reflect.
Well, I just want to jump in very quickly and say, yeah, but the flip side of that technology is that there's some awesome things out there that help coach us and guide us in that reflection or meditation, mindfulness, whatever you want to, whatever banner, the time to create space. And maybe it's better organised and rewarded and that your phone tells you it's time for you to do this, or well done, Adam, you've meditated for four days in a row. Keep it up. You're on a streak, or whatever it might be. But maybe it's the encouragement that's needed and I wonder ... It's now talked about more.
I don't know. I mean maybe. I think people have always reflected, I think that there's always been that some people have reflected, some people haven't. Some people have used that reflection time to work really well, some people haven't. Some education systems have said this is a really important part, so make it part of your curriculum. This is what we do, so therefore it happens. And I think outside of that, I think that, I don't know, the shift since I started teaching is huge in terms of making space to think, to be mindful. And maybe that falls under that reflection banner as talked about more often. So I don't know.
No, you're right, Adam. You're right.
I don't know whether that balances out.
You're right. So, I don't know, 35 years ago if you met someone who did yoga every day and meditated every day, you'd think they were probably a real outlier, maybe as far as thinking they were some kind of weirdo. That was weird stuff in my universe 35 years ago when I was young. Now if you meet someone who does yoga and meditates every day, you're thinking, man, I wish I had time to do that. It's just the mindset has shifted so much. And you're right. And the tools do support that if that's what your interest is. But I suppose the danger is that the tools support all kinds of other weird stuff that didn't exist as well 35 years ago. These instantaneous feedback loops of like, well, look, if I post a picture of myself on Instagram wearing this, I get way more likes than if I post a picture of myself wearing that. And that's, I guess, some form of reflection as well. Although not necessarily.
Yeah, for sure.
Not necessarily a positive process. And who knows, I don't know. I don't know, what's the long term effects of all that.
I can say, just while you were sharing, Adam, that there may, there's probably some kind of app for it. I did look up reflection apps and immediately the self reflecting reflection app, journaling reflecting reflection app came up, along with multiple others. So we are using the digital world to do just that as well. So you were right on, you called it. I think we all need to reflect on this topic.
Something to think about. Yeah. Thanks guys.
Thank you for joining us on the School of School podcast.