The start of a new school year means many program leaders are scrambling to build relationships with new children and families, establish new routines, and make sure nothing falls through the gaps. It can be a wonderful and exhausting time, with the most urgent tasks coming to the fore and other things getting shuttled to the sidelines. One of these seemingly less pressing tasks may be self-reflection. But studies show that taking time to reflect on our work with kids is crucial to maintaining focus on children’s spiritual needs and determining whether our efforts are effective.
When I first started organizing an afterschool program for third and fourth graders, my supervisor’s advice to “make it whatever you want” left me struggling. How would I know when I was getting it ‘right’? Writing required staff reports gave me a chance to reflect and develop clear expectations for myself and for the activities I was planning.
Regular reflection can make a big difference in setting meaningful goals for our work and assessing the effectiveness of our efforts. But finding time for personal reflection in an already demanding schedule can be difficult, even when we know it’s useful. Fortunately, there are effective strategies that can help us make a habit out of regular reflection.
First, set aside a dedicated time for reflection that fits your personal rhythm. Pick a time when you’re alert and don’t feel rushed. If you’re a morning person, you might start each day by brainstorming one new way to incorporate silence into future lesson plans or encourage respectful relationships in your group. If you prefer to ‘look back’ over a week, schedule a 20 minute session on Friday afternoons to jot down impressions and mull them over.
Input from varied sources can also help guide our review time, and one often overlooked feedback source is the children themselves. Add moments of group reflection with children to your planned activities. Following a guided meditation, you might ask: How did the instructions help you participate in the meditation? When were the instructions confusing or distracting? This provides feedback on your leadership style. Or invite children to name how they feel when they are learning together and type their responses into a word cloud generator for a visual image of the kind of environment you have created.
Busyness and multiple responsibilities often mean there’s a significant gap between when something happens and when we have time to reflect. To preserve immediate thoughts and feelings, record voice memos for future listening. That way, you have the benefit of some helpful distance and can also preserve something of how you felt in the moment. Use a recording app on your phone to capture your impressions of group engagement during a nature walk or a discussion on environmental justice. Then listen for implicit biases or unconscious expectations that such recording might reveal, as well as ways your comments suggest you’re on the right track.
Since regular reflection doesn’t have to be a solitary pursuit, form a cohort to explore challenges together. Share your experience designing a mindfulness center or teaching an embodied practice and ask what they think will improve your space or technique. With varying schedules, decide whether meeting in real time or setting up an online message board where everyone can post pictures, questions and comments works best.
Finally, coordinate your reflective practice by collecting everything in a convenient spot. Use a single journal book, online folder, or organization app. Then, when you’re ready to reflect, you don’t have to spend time hunting for your feedback and can instead focus on recognizing your strengths and identifying areas for improvement.