Action, Reflection

The Inseparability of Reflection and Action

reflection“We find two dimensions, reflection and action, in such radical interaction that if one is sacrificed—even in part—the other immediately suffers.”
– Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed

Sometimes you give people time to think about something, and things get a lot deeper than you were planning on. You stop for reflection, and they dig into something so deep that even they seemed surprised. As much as you might prepare, you can’t anticipate when this is going to happen. And when it does happen, it is very cool.

In a session on turning learning into action, I asked people to think about a time that they had reflected on something. What was that like. They thought silently for a minute then shared with a neighbor. One woman had journaled about a newspaper headline and ended up writing a book. Several women talked about the reflection that comes from loss, driving them to start a statewide advocacy group or make serious life changes. Across the board, people recounted experiences that showed how a time of reflection yielded a time of change.

“Human beings are not built in silence, but in word, in work, in action-reflection.”
– Paulo Freire 

Silence was not an option for the author driven to write a book. She said that she couldn’t stop herself once the idea took hold. She described the fear that comes from taking on a project that involves new skills showcased in a public way, and yet that fear wasn’t enough to deter her. The resulting book is the only documentation of a local asylum that defined that era of mental health services.

Reflection and action are inseparable. Each is needed to keep the other on track, and yet too often we rush to action because so much needs to get done. What if we stopped– and those supporting us funded us to stop– so that we could reflect alone, with colleagues, and our community?


Action Objectives Are More Active

A good lesson begins with learning objectives, we are told. We create and then communicate what we intend our students to learn by the end of our time together.

Learning is great, but action is better. Teachers, imagine how our teaching shifts when we articulate the actions our students will take because of our lesson. Those creating teachable moments within your office or board meeting, imagine how the engagement of others changes when we envision what our staff or board members will do because of the information you share. I hesitate to say “will take” or “will do” as opposed to “be able to take or do” because there is, of course, no certainly that they will take or do them. But let’s post that flag on the hill and aim for it. Their success matters.

The action objectives I set for our board trainings is that the board members who attend will implement job descriptions, schedule an orientation for new members, and train those who need it on how read a balance sheet. I know that not all will take these actions, but I have heard from many of them that they do. We give them the awareness of why these things matter, word doc templates to adapt as they need, and short videos that make a lesson on balance sheets easy. We make it simple to take the next step.

By stating our objectives in term of action, we have more skin in the game to move them along the engagement cycle from know to understand to engage. We commit to giving them the tools they’ll need to succeed; we commit to staying with them as inevitable questions arise while they put lesson learned to work.

Ultimately we need those sitting in our workshops to do things differently. Our funding partners expect it too. Setting action objectives raises the bar on us so that we can more reasonably expect more from them. Ready, set, action!

Action, Adult learning, Chunk, Emotion, Flip, Guide

The start of something new

2015-09-05 16.22.03We often don’t think about why we do what we do until well after we have done it. Such was the case with Chunk, Flip, Guide, Laugh, an educational approach that I have subconsciously been developing over the past 15 years without an intentional focus on the purpose behind it. It took a colleague’s request that I share my thoughts with others for me to take the time and write them down.

In reflection, Chunk, Flip, Guide, Laugh resulted from a chunking process on the plane ride out to that talk. It was the end of the training season, and I was tired. I hadn’t packed any supporting materials and had no intention of doing a powerpoint. I asked myself: Bottom line, what do they need to know about my approach to education? Chunk became a part of my professional vocabulary after a graduate school leadership professor spent a quarter talking about how we needed to “chunk the work.” Flip is commonly associated with the “flipped classroom” and Khan academy. Guide and Laugh flowed naturally from our work with rubrics (which we call “pathways” as a friendlier word) and humor to break up such serious subjects. The notes I scribbled on that plane ride became the basis for more thinking on how we teach so adults can learn.