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Time to Reflect

I love the very beginning of any break! From a simple Friday night signaling the start of another weekend, to the much more dramatic Memorial Day kick off for summer break. There is such an expansive feeling at the beginning of a break–all things seem possible.

(I’m going to read at least these three books, and sign up for tennis lessons, and play much more music, and visit all my friends and family, and, and…well, you get the picture).

But one of the surprising benefits of each break, which shouldn’t surprise me after so many years, is that as soon as I can truly put down the weight of all the work, I immediately start to think of all the things I could have done better, and I actually get some decent ideas on how I could do better—it’s a strange phenomenon to me. The spaciousness almost instantaneously creates the room and energy I need in order to reflect.

Now that reflecting is a mixed blessing, after all, I can, yet again, clearly see the many habits of my practice that could use some serious reshaping. But I can also see and embrace more clearly what worked well (thank goodness)! And so it happened on Friday night over dinner with some friends, just hours after the final countdown of the school year, I was showing them a video from one of my last classes, and I felt excitement about my teaching (not so much so that I wished summer hadn’t started, but genuine excitement none the less).

The video was from a second/third grade geography class, one in which we had been simulating the adventures of fifteenth century Portuguese explorers searching for an ocean route to the riches of India. Students had been studying maps to help them form an opinion about, and debate, many different decisions in relation to their route and their survival (e.g., Whether they should sail close to the coast or more out into open sea, or should they change their route to seek out a place for more supplies or push on ahead.). Then they would roll dice to determine many of the variables such sailors would have to face, from changing weather conditions to finding out if a newly encountered area was inhabited or not. After figuring out each new scenario, the students would have a few minutes to act it out. (In my previous blog post I talked about the pleasure of making things, including a fourteen-foot long cardboard model ship as a prop for their reenactments.).

On this particular day, the 10:30 class rolled a six, which meant they were in for a storm. Their next roll determined the intensity of the storm, and that one happened to also be a six (plus six more added for storm conditions), which registered as a twelve on the Beaufort scale (hurricane force winds 73+ mph)! Luckily, the following roll sent the storm in a northerly direction for the next five days. The crew excitedly exclaimed, “That’s the direction to India!” (Okay, it’s hard to make things realistic enough for young students to truly fear a hurricane, although one class did nearly sink!).

The accompanying video is a brief taste of what that storm looked like in the classroom.

And as I watched it with my friends after dinner, with all of summer vacation ahead of me, I took more stock and satisfaction in what we, my students and I, had created over the last six weeks of this simulation. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy the whole thing in the moment or didn’t value what had been taking place, but my experience was all overlaid with a veneer of fatigue and no little measure of doubt that I hadn’t done enough (e.g., we should’ve talked more often about latitude and longitude, etc.).

But ah, thanks to the relief and promise of summer break, I could appreciate how much fun we had, how engaged the students were, and the concepts we did manage to bring to life. Getting the time, and therefore the energy, to reflect on our experiences is essential if we are to deepen our practice, our understanding of our experiences, and perhaps most importantly, our compassion for all involved (ourselves, our students, our colleagues, and our parents). Here’s hoping that whatever size break you can manage this summer, that it is enough for you to feel and take stock even briefly in what is working amidst all the imperfections that come with the territory of being a person on this planet.