Looking Back to Look Ahead

Out with the old, in with the new! We are a few weeks into 2018. A calendar year has closed, and the next one is upon us. The dial rolls over, some of us - who treasure the tangible - purchase new planners or datebooks. We set new goals, personal and professional. Without intending to, we share in a kind of cultural, collective deep breath. Hopefully we feel a bit cleansed and optimistic as we look ahead at the months ahead.

Even though we are already 19 days into the new year, there is something very important to do, if you haven't already: pause and look back at 2017. Reflection, the act of looking back with the intention to process experiences, is as important for your future self and your organization's goals as anything else on your list. In research, the words critical, essential, and fundamental often appear alongside descriptions of the power of reflection. It builds self-awareness. It undergirds all good storytelling. It verbalizes complex group experiences. It allows us to mentally underline lessons learned: things done well, mistakes made. It helps us understand why. From theologians to cognitive scientists to military generals to educators, the consensus is in: reflection is potent.

And yet, reflection often isn’t given its due. We intuitively know it's important, but too often it just loses out to competing priorities, to the beating movement of time. When we finally get to the end - of a project, a workshop, a unit, a year, or maybe more deeply, a relationship, a disappointment, a success - our tank might be depleted, tired and unable to make space for adequate reflection. Or maybe we just push it out of our minds and move on to what's coming next. It gets cut down in time or scope or drops off the agenda completely. And if we do reflect, deeply and sincerely, and we capture that reflection in notes, valuable key points and considerations. Will we look at it again? Will we share it with others? Will we continue to reference those lessons learned in our future work? How do our reflections become embedded into our minds and mindsets?

I, along with some of my teammates, have been thinking about reflection as the new year is upon us. Especially, how do we address this paradox? Reflection is key to growth, but we inevitably dilute it or ignore it. Given that we are an education design lab, we decided to think about it through the lens that works for us: set it up as a design challenge. Define, empathize, brainstorm, build…and create a prototype that we can try going forward when it comes to reflecting often, meaningfully, dare we even say (in this fast, fast world)...slowly.

Using the lens of a design challenge, we made a choice as a team at 2Rev to intentionally include an end-of-year reflection in our virtual team hangouts, which we hold every two weeks as a facilitated space to connect personally beyond project meetings and management. We sat down together for an hour, before and after our holidays, to contemplate and look back and use that reflection, intentionally and meta-cognitively, to process our learning and to grow. We used a shared Google doc (had we been meeting in person instead of virtually, we likely would have used sheets of chart paper stuck up around the room). We asked ourselves the questions below, posted our own answers, then reflected in a virtual gallery walk on the experiences of our team members, commenting “+1” in agreement or building on what someone else had said.

 
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Our questions were adopted from Ten Questions Really Worth Asking: Your End of Year Reflection. My teammate Meaghan Foster designed our reflection document and led the process. (Thanks to Meaghan for creating such a special, thoughtful activity for us!) Here are the questions we posed ourselves:

  I.     LOOKING BACK

  • What were three milestones, key learnings, or triumphs from the past year?
  • These can be personal, professional, or a mix.

   II.      EMBRACING AMBIGUITY

  • What are three questions you’re still thinking about?
  • Feel free to pick problems of practice, philosophical musings, strategic challenges, or personal grapplings. These can be personal, professional, or a mix.

   III.     LOOKING AHEAD

  • What are three ways you want to continue growing next year?
  • What capacities do you want to develop? What do you want to want to learn more about? These can be personal, professional, or a mix.

The richness and value of this experience was clear very quickly. The act of sharing drew us closer. The empathy practice, seeing through someone else’s lens, helped us grow. The knowledge-sharing among individuals on distinct projects made us a better firm. We’ve come back to this document to add to the reflection and continue to draw lessons from the process and the content. Of course, reflecting on that process, there are things we want do differently and better, and we’re excited to try them next time!

Ready to try it? Ask: Are you making time to reflect (yourself or your team)? Are you capturing that reflection and sharing it? Are you using that reflection to inform your goal-setting and next steps? Reflecting well, deeply and sincerely and with an eye to growth, to learning and scaling, is a key piece of the transformation puzzle.

For more research and resources on reflection, check out:

Costa, Arthur L. & Bena Kallick. (2008). Chapter 12. Learning Through Reflection In Arthur L. Costa and Bena Kallick (Eds.) Learning and Leading with Habits of Mind.

Morris, Gayle. (n.d.). Metacognition – Cultivating Reflection to Help Students Become Self-Directed Learners.

Provenzano, Nicholas. (2014, September 25). The Reflective Teacher: Taking a Long Look.