Reflecting on reflection

There are problems with reflection. Seeped in the IB tradition, first through my children and now as an educator, I know that no matter how well it’s disguised or re-engineered most students do not like reflection. In my own children, the response to me asking them about the reflection process resulted in one saying, “it’s over, let’s move on and what difference will the reflection make anyway?” and the other saying “I do my own reflection and it’s deeply personal so I’m definitely not going to share that with a teacher, let alone my class, so I just tell them what I know they’ll want to hear”.   And with the adults in my life so far I think most fall somewhere on that continuum, with the rare exception of those prepared to be/risk being truly vulnerable.

This blog is my exercise in reflection, and heaven knows I screw up often enough, but how much of that is reflected in this? I’m afraid probably not enough. Because as a teacher one is also a public persona and unless your blog is private – in which case, why would you blog if not to receive feedback – you run the risk of incurring the ire or approbation of someone, somewhere in the organisation. Because to reflect in a way that it is meaningful one has to be open to change – either internally or in the environment – and change is one of those very hard things. Changing the self is difficult enough even if you ostensibly / presumably have control over self (I’ve just finished reading Homo Deus, where these philosophical questions were even better and more extremely expressed). As Harari wrote of power  “The entire contract can be summarised in a single phrase: humans agree to give up meaning in exchange for power.” I think we give up more than just meaning for power. And I suspect one of the reasons reflection avoidance seems to hardwired from they youngest age, is that reluctance to show our soft underbellies, because for sure, the power-hungry will pounce.

Another part of reflection is the existence of pathways and an environment allowing for honesty without it being labelled as negativity. And that is a two way street that needs a rare combination of humility, excellent communication skills, acceptance skills and the intellectual rigour to have emotional detachment from ideas and practices.  7 norms

Adaptive schools / cognitive coaching and the 7 Norms of collaboration go a long way towards bridging these human fallibilities. But there are many enemies (besides power) to the process including time pressure, face, and the very human difficulty in accepting sunk costs.

So who can reflect honestly?  The very very young, the naive, the elders – provided they are still allowed to be seen as relevant, the very wealthy and perhaps the court jesters / devil’s advocates.   The rest of us I fear go so far and no further. Or tell people what they want to hear.

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