Inspiration for creation happens in unexpected moments. A case-in-point would be this blog post. Last week while shaving, my wife’s make-up mirror was serendipitously aligned with the mirror over our sink and the mirror that is on the wall adjacent to it. The image that formed was of me from the side and slightly from the back. I was momentarily startled by the way I looked from this angle, which was unique to me. My first instinct was to shift the mirror in such a way so that I didn’t have to see the poor posture of this aging fellow, which was me. I reflected on this reflection (pun intended here) and I realized how ridiculous that impulse was. This was an angle of my true self, which everyone else is quite accustomed to seeing. In this moment of revelation, I shifted my focus from avoidance, to really looking at my posture. A slight shift in my shoulder position and the image improved dramatically. In fact, my neck even felt better. This experience sent my mind down the path of how this tendency to avoid reflection on our true self interferes with our ability to grow as educators.
With this tendency to avoid discomfort in mind, what are some small steps educators can take to begin leaning into self-reflection?
1) Listen to audio recordings of yourself. I still remember being a kid and listening to my voice on a tape recorder for the first time. I was convinced that there was something wrong with the machine because of the strange way my voice sounded when I played it back. It took a great deal of convincing from my mother and friends that this was truly the way I sounded. With the availability of voice recording on our electronic devices, capturing your own voice is easier than ever before. My favorite go-to app for ongoing asynchronous conversation and collaboration is Voxer. A side benefit of Voxer is that it allows you to listen to your own dialogue. For me, I was struck by the number of conversational tics that were embedded in my messages. With that in mind, I am working to reduce the number of times I say “umm” and other repetitive, distracting language.
2) Watch yourself on video. If you are looking to really grow in a reflective way, hit the record button and sit back with a bucket of popcorn and watch yourself do the magic! I suspect that the first time you do this, it won’t feel very magical. I have a painful memory of the first time I watched myself on video. It was back in the mid 1990’s when the district I was working in made the shift to portfolio assessments for evaluation purposes. One of the expectations for the portfolio was to include video recordings of three lessons and a written reflection for each. So I fired up the 40 pound VHS camera and captured my first lesson. Awkward! If listening to your conversational tics is disheartening, watching one’s body language and movements is even more of a challenge. I was humbled, yet driven to do better.
More recently, my experience into using video was posting reflections on Twitter to #EduIn30 hashtag. I attended a conference where I had the privilege of seeing George Couros. George is the author of the best-selling book, Innovators Mindset: Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity. George challenged the audience to begin capturing short video reflections of our professional learning and posting them to Twitter using the hashtag #EduIn30. It is a challenge to distill “big” learning into a 30 second clip. Much like Voxer, this provided the side benefit of listening as well as watching myself communicate when I viewed the video. It takes some serious courage to tweet these out, knowing that your thinking is now visible to a global audience. Courage comes in many forms!
For teachers looking to challenge themselves to grow through the use of video, check out the work of thought influencer Lisa Westman. In her blog post, “Mom, Can You Please Record Me?” Lisa deeply explores the why and how of leveraging video for instructional reflection. (Click here to read the blog post)
3) Develop reflective partnerships. As educators, we frequently find ourselves isolated in silos as we exercise our professional practice. In the principalship, this is especially true. I frequently receive positive comments. What I lack is the critical feedback that will lead to my growth. In an effort to combat this isolation, I have established a small network of people who will speak the cold, hard true that I need to hear. These folks range from friends, colleagues, and family. They all mentor, support and challenge me in different ways. My relationship with these individuals is characterized by authenticity and vulnerability. They are trusted treasures both professionally and personally. Have you identified these folks in your life?
In a world that is dominated by the selfie, I believe it is ever more challenging to embrace a mindset in which we see our true selves. We can edit our appearance and create stories of our lives through social media that can greatly skew reality. I think that our integrity has been greatly challenged by this. Until we are willing to embrace the discomfort of seeing ourselves as we truly are, we are doomed to stagnation in an imagined world that is only our perceived reality. I would love to hear about the reflective practices you are involved in that are leading to your growth. Feel free to leave a comment!