Random Thoughts

Do you give yourself permission to reflect?

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I’ve been thinking about reflection lately and how we use it in our classrooms. I can remember being in elementary school and being asked to reflect in a journal. Reflection is a great process…a proven process of learning. We’ve been asking students to reflect for years in education so one simple question:

Do you give yourself permission to reflect during the work day?

and another question:

Do your administrators give you permission to reflect during the work day?

I say during the work day because I truly feel if we are to become better educators we need reflection time built into what we do. To often we end up like Jenny:

When you spend a considerable amount of time learning about how we transform learning with the use of new tools you find yourself online a lot. Most of this effort happens outside of my working day which impacts on sleep, family time and time spent with friends.

And that’s not good!

Why is it the educators place a high value on the reflective process yet do not give themselves permission to do it during their own working hours? Every educator has prep time. We use that time in a multitude of ways, yet how many of us set time aside just once a week to take 30 minutes or so and reflect.

You don’t have to blog, or even write. Reflecting could be reading an educational journal, it might be sitting and staring out the window, or it might be writing down your thoughts.

Andy Torris, an administrator, finds time in the back of the car when he’s going from one campus to another in his “Dispatch from the Road” posts. Andy uses his working day time, to reflect and write about his thinking.

New comer to the blogosphere David Hamilton has an excellent post on reflection and the act of reflecting.

But lest we forget, reflection is hard work. Whether we are sorting out our emotions and discerning personal values and attitudes, or discovering the shaky underpinnings of contemporary truths, reflection takes work, and, I would suggest, it takes practice. As I prepared to write this blog, I was amazed at how difficult it is to keep focused on a single abstract topic for stretches of time over several days.

Yes, reflecting is hard work! It takes practice, but more than that it takes time. Do you give yourself permission to reflect?

At the Learning 2.008 conference we had seven unconference sessions where participants could choose to go find a corner and reflect. Yet I have had conversations with people who went to the conference who said:

“I just wish I would have had time to site and play with everything I was learning.”

You did! You just didn’t give yourself permission to sit and let it soak in. Instead it was more important to you to go to this session, or that unconference session. Don’t blame the conference, we gave you the time…you just chose to use it in a different way.

Isn’t that what we do with prep time during our working day? We make a choice on how we are going to spend that time. We make the choice to answer e-mails, grade those papers, or update our facebook status.

During the Shanghai EduBlogger Con I was talking with some newbie bloggers who asked the question:

“Where do you find the time to blog?”

My anwers:

I schedule it into my work day. When I was hired and again the first week of school I told my administartion that I will be blogging during working hours. That blogging for me is about learning and reflecting. Blogging is not just writing, it is the act of reading, thinking, reflecting and writing. As a technology person in a school helping teachers, I need that time to reflect and learn about what’s happening, and I make a point to schedule that into my work day.


“So you close your door, make yourself unavaliable and blog?”


2008-09-28_1442 by jutecht.Yes! I, unlike a classroom teacher, do not have set aside prep time. So I create my own around my lunch hour. I give myself 30 minutes of reflection time every day and back that with a 45 minute lunch. I shut off my e-mail client, I shut my door (or would if I had one) and I reflect. Now if a teacher comes to my door and needs my help of course I help them, but that rarely happens during the lunch hour.

I don’t write a blog post every day. Some days I read my RSS reader, other days I listen to a podcast or watch a YouTube video. Somedays I follow links and learn, and other days….I blog.

I give myself permission to reflect. I as a learner need that time, I understand how important it is to reflect and my administrators understand that it is legitimate use of my prep time.

Make reflection part of your work day. If it is something you try and do outside of school it won’t happen. There is rarely a time when I’m not thinking about education and technology…but it’s my passion and I love it! Some teachers have other interests, and that’s great! But give yourself time to reflect on your practice. Make it a habit to reflect and make it part of your work day.

Give yourself permission to reflect….it’s OK

If you need permission from someone then you have it from me. Tell your administrator that Jeff Utecht says you need to take time to reflect. If they have an issue with it…they can contact me! 🙂

I started blogging in 2005 and found it such a powerful way to reflect and share my thinking about technology, this generation, and how we prepare students for their future not our past.


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  2. Hi Jeff,

    Loved the post. I am a great believer in reflection. It is embedded in midwifery education and practice. Over the years I have done my reflection by talking to colleagues and family. But since I started my blog a year ago, I have been a lot more disciplined and structured in my writing. But I am restricted about what I can say about my clinical practice for obvious confidential reasons.

  3. Gotta agree. Last year, I rarely took lunches longer than 15 minutes, but these days, I step off campus, take a stroll, find a nice cafe and take the hour lunch I’m stipulated. Clear the mind, rethink some paradigms and I think it’s made me a lot more productive for the rest of the day.

    • I agree! I’m glad you took it as you don’t have to blog. We all reflect in different ways. It’s making the time to actually do it that’s the hard part. But once you set your mind and your calendar to understand that it will make you a better person and professional I think it becomes easier.

  4. Hey Jeff,

    I certainly agree that finding time to reflect is essential. It’s what I value the most about my blog and my interactions in my personal learning network.

    I wonder, though, whether finding time and getting permission to reflect during the workday actually becomes harder the closer that you get to the classroom.

    As a full-time classroom teacher, I’d love to be able to walk away from my email for awhile, but it’s not officially allowed. Our school’s policy of replying to all parent emails within 24 hours makes it a priority I can’t ignore—and working in a building with demanding parents, I can often end up answering email for my entire planning period!

    I could put off grading papers—-the pile will always be there the next day—but because the time that I spend planning and grading are the only bits of time that I can actually control (externally scheduled meetings and responsibilities seem to rain down from above sometimes!), when I put off planning and grading at all, I find that I do both of those jobs poorly because I rush through them trying to get home.

    And that’s the kicker for me, I think. That’s why so much of the reflection that I do is done away from school—-or not done at all—I just don’t control my time in the same way that professionals working beyond the classroom do.

    Take this example: Our media specialist has been out of school for four consecutive days taking professional development courses on the classroom applications of technology. She often gets to attend these sessions (even though she doesn’t have a classroom) because our school doesn’t have to hire a sub for her to leave the building.

    So she’s reflecting and exploring on the clock all the time! Pretty much any session that she wanted to sign up for, she could because being away from her work is a heck of a lot easier than being away from my work.

    Does this resonate with any other teachers? Do you find yourself willing and excited to reflect, but with less professional flexibility within your workday than Jeff describes?

    Just a gentle pushback from the classroom,

    • Hi Bill,

      I agree that classroom teachers have the most inflexible of schedules. There are always a million things to get done…even if you do them all there is still a million more you can do.

      Let me put this out there. What if you took 30 minutes once a week.

      You work 8 hours a day 5 days a week that’s 2400 minutes.

      If you took 30 minutes just once a week. That’s 1.25% of your professional time.

      I know time is a factor. But can you start with giving yourself permission to use 1.25% of your time to reflect?

      Just a little push back. 🙂

  5. @Bill Resonates with me! I find that my role has morphed since I started exploring Web 2.0 and how we can use it to change classroom practice. Because I want to see change for the kids I invest time learning out of work hours, and now I find I’m spending time at work trying to implement change (I stress trying, not always successfully) on top of the job I’m expected to do. Effectively I’ve doubled my workload on my own initiative. It’s energised me like nothing else; I can’t remember feeling so enthusistic about the future of education, but there are times when I am absolutely exhausted from the effort. I wish my school would afford me the time to write and read while I am there because I have no doubt they are benefiting from my investment. They did send me to Learning 2.008 and I feel extremely grateful for being given that opportunity.

  6. My suggestion is not to reflect with one’s eyes closed. Too often mistaken for napping.

    Like you, I find blogging forces me to reflect more deeply and more often than I might otherwise.

    Good post.


  7. This is a good conversation. I have been thinking for a month or so about blogs as reflective practice. I also have be bemoaning my own inability to have enough thinking time to write.

    I empathize with Bill, because I see day in and day out both my teachers and myself swept along by the “tyranny of the urgent”. I think that sometimes we just have to just do it….sort of like exercise…and once we do make reflection a priority it will gives us energy and focus for the rest of our work.

    I do think that as administrators we can do a lot to support reflective practice. For a while I had built it into our weekly faculty meeting giving over 30 minutes to reading, reflecting and sharing. But I admit that this year as we prepare our self-study for accreditation I feel a real time crunch and it is cutting into our reflective time. This is something I need to rectify!

    One reason I like blogging as reflective practice is that it includes the professional conversation and feedback which is so important to clarifying thinking.

    • “I empathize with Bill, because I see day in and day out both my teachers and myself swept along by the “tyranny of the urgent”. I think that sometimes we just have to just do it….sort of like exercise…and once we do make reflection a priority it will gives us energy and focus for the rest of our work.”

      I like this analogy. The worse part about exercise is getting started. Once you find your routine…it seems so much easier. But getting out of bed that first morning, or going to the weight room in the afternoon is the hardest part. But once there…you never regret it!

  8. I try to make time everyday during the day and sometimes it just don’t happen. I spend an hour in the car daily and I pull out my Olympus Digital Recorder and talk away most days. I try to keep a word document open on my desktop so that I can write down thoughts and ideas through the day that I later add to my journal. And later may come a blog post. Friday I actually had time to write a blog post and publish. Each day is different and some days I read. I too try to schedule 30 minutes a day, but it does not always happen.

    Thanks for pushing my thinking on this topic.


  9. Do I give myself permission? Emphatically, YES!

    Am I allowed the time? That’s a different story…

    It’s 11:46 p.m. on a Sunday night and I’m finally reflecting. But at what cost? I’ve got about 6 hours of marking sitting on my tablet, I’ve got classes to plan for (although the next few days are already covered), I’ve managed to spend some QT with the wife and kids but I can’t help but keep switching my mind back to the hundreds of things that will need to get done in the near future…

    I started to blog (go ahead, click the link, but be warned: not much there) with an aspiration towards professional reflection. But let’s face it: life is a zero-sum game. For every minute I add, I must spend a minute less doing something else. (The same is true, BTW, about curriculum, but I’ll save that for a blog post.) In this equation, some things are immutable: family, planning, grading, teaching. I could give up eating, but those who know me know that ain’t happening any time soon. I do give up sleeping, but mostly to finish my grading. What gets left out? Active reflection.

    I do plenty of passive reflection, where nobody gets to see/read/hear the fruits of my labor and where usually I forget half of what I did reflect upon. But like I tell my students: It doesn’t really count unless you write it down and commit to it.

  10. Great post! I, like others who have already commented, find it difficult to fit in any reflection time during my work day. Between teaching classes, mentoring 3 teachers, serving on various committees, and sponsoring Junior Achievement (plus learning and implementing Web2.0 into my curriculum)…it’s difficult to keep up, much less carve out time for reflection.

    With that said…I do understand the importance. So, what I do to compensate is to get up a little early each morning and while I enjoy my coffee I reflect. Like you, sometimes I blog, sometimes I read, sometimes I search, many times I review my upcoming agendas for the day and make notations on points I want to be sure and make to the students. Granted, the past several weeks have been an anomaly…since hurricane Ike hit here a couple of weeks ago, I’ve been completely absent from blogging, my Google Reader, pretty much everything. As ‘things’ are returning to some kind of ‘normal,’ I’m getting back in the groove…

    I really appreciate your insights on this and for your willingness to share…maybe I could talk my principal into an additional conference period next year so that I could reflect during my work hours…lol…not!

    Thanks again for a great post!

  11. Thanks Jeff, this took me to many of the links on your post and then the links on those posts and then many others…now an hour or more has passed…have I been reflecting?
    Great food for thought.

  12. I am so on the same level as the other teachers. I am still a new mom, and before I got pg I was blogging and reflecting pretty regularly. I would jump on to the k12 online conference for hours.

    I even taught Web 2.0 workshops for other teachers. But now having the time to read and reflect is hard. But I know it has to be done so I am going to really try to get it in my schedule.

    Thanks Jeff!

  13. Pingback: Working in time to reflect/Read | Computer Teacher, Teach Thy Self!

  14. As I read the comments to your post, Jeff, one thought kept coming up. If it, reflection, is important time will be made. I am a tech coordinator, do all IT work, the tech teacher for grades K-8, (6 classes per day), and am the advisor for our closed circuit crew that does live broadcasts each morning. So my days are jammed packed. This year I have closed the Media center for 20 – 30 minutes a day for reflection. Since I have made reflection a priority I am not as stressed and things do get done.

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  16. Jeff, I’m finally getting around to “reflecting.” I, like most people, would probably like to reflect more. I, like many people, have a hard time putting that as a priority. Luckily, I’m taking some time right now, to read, write, and learn – during my work day. I have a feeling many of our bosses (principals, superintendants, school board members) don’t realize the value of what you’ve written about. It is valuable.

    I’ve had teachers ask my how I find time to blog, learn about new tech ideas, etc. I simply tell them I make it a priority. I don’t watch as much television anymore. To me, it’s fun and enjoyable and certainly interests me. If others want to learn about this stuff, they simply need to make it more of a priority.

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  18. Pingback: Hyperlink minds need Reflection… | Computer Teacher, Teach Thy Self!

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  20. I remember learning about reflection in my bachelor’s program. Was even asked to reflect from time to time in my Master’s program as well. I don’t know as I have always written my professional reflections, but I have spent time (what someone else might’ve considered on the surface to be squandering valueable time) quietly meditating and thinking about things. I struggled to do this since my practical self also thought that I should’ve spent my time on otherwise more “productive” activities.

    However, I must agree that reflection is an essential. The urgent will always try to drown out the truly important. I find that when I have spent some time – however much that it is – that I am more focused, less stressful, more creative, and yes, even more productive.

    I’m a religious man, so this analogy is fairly well connected. Reflection, like prayer, is a powerful asset that well practiced, can make a difference in our practice and our well-being.

  21. Del Lovinggood Reply

    I enjoyed your post. I have a journal that I use for my reflecting time. You are so right about just making the time and giving yourself permission to take the time for yourself to reflect. It is amazing how many things you remember that you didn’t realize until you think back over things.

    The time that worked best for me was at bedtime. I would grab me a cup of hot chocolate or coffee and grab my journal and write. Sometime for a few minutes and sometimes for hours. I set a goal of writing at least 15 minutes a day.

    Thanks for your insight.

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  23. Jeff,

    I really appreciate the “permission” to reflect during work time. I feel I must always be busy and productive while at work. Like one of the earlier responders, I rarely take a lunch break, often eating while I read and answer e-mail because I cannot always get everything done. I am a list maker and must always cross off something on the list to be considered productive. I have the type of schedule that would lend itself to take time to reflect while at work but feel that it is taking away from the job. Thank you for impressing upon me that taking time to reflect each day “is” productive.

  24. Wow, There is finally an explanation for what my teachers always told me was daydreaming or not listening. Although I am now 35 working on a second masters, I still find myself staring out the window reflecting on present issues. My own children will appreciate when I tell them they are not daydreaming but reflecting.

    • I think there is a difference between day dreaming and reflecting. Usually reflecting is a process of not just thinking (day dreaming) but actively engaged in the process of thinking, such as writing a blog post, or even leaving this comment back to you. I’m not just thinking about it, but having to really think through how to answer and process what I’m learning. That’s my own opinion of course. 😉

  25. I believe that reflection can be both powerful and helpful. Day dreaming is thinking without action. I day dream often, but not long. Having to reflect takes time and can be mentally challenging. It requires serious thought about thinking back on things that have already transpired or things I that I learned.
    For me to take time during work to reflect would definately call for a committment. Day dreaming is easy, you just go blank and stare out into space.
    Sometimes I get so inundated that I forget to eat, take a break or just stop to breathe. I realize that this is more than awful! I am the one who is making this choice, whether it be conscious or unconscious. I wish there were two of me, one to send to all the meetings, do continuous discipline or hear others concerns and complaints. While the other me goes into the classrooms, gets involved in planning activiities, and takes the time to enjoy the students and staff.
    Currently, just talking about this is making me feel good and I know that I can do a little of both and reflect on everything I do, if I only took the time. This is making me want to take the time, not only for reflection, but for lunch and breaks (smile). When I start doing this and putting myself first, I know that reflection time will become a part of the routine as well. It is important that I understand what I learn.
    Hey, this was actually stimulating and fun. I just found out how interesting I can be and how much fun learning can become. I will do this again and actually think about all the wonderful things that I do as well as the things that I can do better, I exactually feel good. Day dreaming won’t do this for me, but reflection can. Cool!

  26. I am having fun writing and thinking at the same time. Normally, this would be a pain, since I do so many e-mails. This is different because I feel that this is actually helping me and the focus is on me. I rarely get an opportunity to think about myself and what I am doing. I will do more of this it seems to help me to unwind. Again, when I think about the lost time one spends day dreaming versus reflection. There is no comparison. I am thinking right now about how I could have done things differently today, and getting ready for
    tomorrow. I feel more prepared since I have given things some thought.

    • It’s fun reading your reflections on reflection as you think through how you can use this for yourself. Finding balance and making reflection a priority is nothing new. Some call it meditation, others call it quiet time. What ever it is, I agree that it’s about allowing yourself to soak in what you have and are learning about. We know that reflection is a powerful learning tool, by making it a focus in our own lives I think it will help us to beter teach students about the power of reflection in their own learning.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  27. Wow, this was kind of an eye-opener for me. Both the article and the replies get me thinking. My Father passed away unexpectedly in November 09. Know one is ever quite ready to deal with the loss of a parent. I have planning time and lunch back-to-back so I have taken to getting in my truck and driving 15 minutes home just to get the mail. Really it has become time for me to reflect and deal with the loss. As someone said to me you are left with a hole and it never goes away you just learn to move around it the rest of your life. Learning new things like blogging may help me to reflect in a different way. Thanks Jeff.

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  30. I enjoyed your thought-provoking post; it encouraged me to reflect on a recent teaching assignment and on the policies and practices I observed. It was a good exercise for me, but I doubt I will find answers for the many questions that came to mind while reflecting.

  31. When I student taught many years ago, I had an excellent mentor who encouraged me to reflect my thoughts after a lesson to him. He did this rather then giving me his personal feedback. At first it was ackward. As time passed, I realized what a wonderful tool reflection can be. As a teacher now, I understand the feeling of time limiting my reflection and often just reflect in the car on my drive home, or in the morning on my drive in. Although this is helpful, it is not recorded and I can not receive feedback. The idea of blogging reflection is something that I feel could be very helpful and could be built into my evening at least once a week to start. Maybe before I sit down to write out my lesson plans.

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