The Reflection Pool

Why Summer is a Perfect Time for Reflection

Do you feel yourself unwinding? That’s the gift of summer vacation, when the days are long, the evenings are warm and sweet, and you can give yourself some time to breathe. When I say breathe, I mean those deep, slow breaths that fill you up and leave tension behind.

It takes most of us, whether in education, manufacturing, service or the corporate world, some time to really relax. Our current reality is so focussed on being busy and rushing here and there that our bodies, minds and souls are wound up tighter than a two dollar watch.

But when you’re ready, this is why now is the perfect time for reflection.

  1. You’ve got the time. Reflection isn’t about a quick recap of what went well or not. You need to go back through your year and write down the important events: meetings, conferences, or conversations that had an impact. A year in review takes time to create. You might take a large sheet or paper (digital or analogue) and divide into quarters or months – note the events and then reflect. What happened? What did you learn? Then step back, what patterns do you see?
  2. You’ve got the mental space. Our brains are amazing. In the book Your Brain at Work by David Rock, you learn which parts of the brain do different kinds of thinking. When we’re in the midst of work, we often don’t have the mental space to devote to full reflection. Your brain is at its best early in the day after a good night’s sleep. Why not put time aside for 30 minutes to reflect. What do you do well? What do you need to learn next? How will you get better?
  3. You’ve got the energy. Reflection is thinking and thinking takes effort. Sometimes a lot of effort! Your brain can get tired and distracted during the year. When you’re on vacation, you might go for a walk or a bike ride because you have more physical energy. (Although keep in mind that exercising throughout the year will give you more energy) Your review of important events isn’t only about what went well. It should also be about the feedback you received. Whether you asked for feedback or not – and I encourage you to always ask for feedback – people give it to us through their words and actions.  With your renewed mental energy, reflect on feedback. What is it really telling you about yourself? Do you have some blindspots? If you want to go further, I recommend the excellent book Thanks for the Feedback by Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen.

I’m taking time this summer vacation to reflect on my interactions with vice principals and how I might support them better, as well as the structure of school visits. I also want to think about my current leadership inquiry: to work with principals and vice principals to reflect on how their identities intersect with their leadership styles. Yes, these are weighty topics – and I have the time, the mental space, and the energy.

What about you – what will you reflect about?

On Your Mark, Get Set… Unwind!

And…my vacation starts today!  Whew.  This year was a tough one. I’ll save my reflections for later, but just the fact I haven’t posted in this space for several months gives an indication of where my head has been. (Yep, buried.) But I’m coming up for some sunshine and air and couldn’t be happier. My challenge is getting to that place of rest where my body and mind can rejuvenate.

Photo Credit: 8slowdowns Flickr via Compfight cc

Sherri Spelic, who writes thoughtfully about her experiences as an educator in Austria, recently shared a poem that resonated with me: “A Few Words About the End”. It captures the feeling that so many of us experience just as school ends for the big summer break.

It can hard for me to reach the release into independence that Sherri talks about.  I am so wound up after an intense school year that I feel more of a gradual loosening. It happens viscerally, day by day and little by little until..there it is. I’ve found that three things help move that process along.

  1. Time outside: I sit outside on our back deck. I run along the green shaded trail. I swim in Lake Ontario (or any other handy body of water, pools included!).  I breathe in, breathe out and feel the spring uncoiling inside.
  2. Reading paper books: I hold the book, my hands stretch the cover, and my fingers grasp the page to turn it. Somehow, these physical sensations enable more sustained attention. I see my progress through the book. I sometimes take a pen or highlighter to make a note.
  3. A change in location: Leaving home for a few days helps my brain detach from work and the responsibilities that go with it. I rest. I walk. I realize that there is so much more than my little corner of the world. I feel more free.

It’s time to start.

Meditation on Selfies

I’ve never been good at selfies. I get the angle wrong, you can’t see the background, the final photo is often one of me looking startled, and well, not my best. And these days, as I get older, I’m rarely satisfied with pictures of myself. I’m fine with the aging thing (well, mostly – rather be less stiff in the morning) but photos, and selfies especially seem to highlight that process. Pro tip: sunglasses and a smile always help.

Selfie culture is interesting. I recently watched one young person take a series of selfies as he was walking along the street, apparently randomly. I guess one of those ended up on SnapChat, the latest in a series of pics that show his best side to his friends and followers. But I don’t want to sound like I’m 100 years old.  I’ve heard those over 50’s (and some younger ones) moaning that no one asks anyone to take pictures anymore. So what? I like selfies. I think they’re fun. They make me laugh, and I love to laugh!

Lisa Neale is a brilliant selfie taker. You can see a lot of them on her Instagram account and she’s even taken some good ones of me! I’ve tried to emulate her, but I got so frustrated with my apparent lack of ability with selfies that I looked up some tips. Most of it seemed to be directed at bloggers or people who want to be Insta-famous. Uh, that’s not me. But I do want friends and family to have fun scrolling through my feed.

On a recent vacation, my partner and I had great fun taking selfies and trying to get them right. I stopped being self conscious in front of other tourists and we took tons until they looked OK.  Me holding the phone, her pressing the button.

We may have finally got it! Teamwork really is better.