“Learning is not doing; it is reflecting on doing. And reflecting is not an escape but an essential part of the management process—and probably the weakest part in today’s hyper world.” —Henry Mintzberg
I am thankful that reflection is built into several parts of my week: a Quaker-style Morning Meeting with the whole school on Fridays before lunch; anytime I can exercise; when I’m driving; and even when I’m doing the dishes. It usually takes 10 or 15 minutes before my head slows down from the rush of the day to actually get to the point where reflection is even possible. For that reason, I usually like to wait until there is a pile of dishes rather than just a few, and I’m actually thankful (yes, thankful) that my son’s school is a 30-minute drive from our home.
But the problem is that reflection is slow; it takes its time. And this is where Mintzberg’s words are most useful. If you are reflecting quickly, you probably aren’t actually reflecting. It’s interesting to me that so many schools are now building mindfulness practices into their curriculum. I wonder how many will give it the time it actually needs; how many will stop doing something else in order to make that time. How many will simply add it into the day, adding intensity to the hyper world?
I wonder how many heads of school will use a chainsaw this year in the line of duty. Of those who do, I wonder how many will think, “Is this the best use of my time?”
For me, the answer to that question was “yes,” as I worked last week to clear a large tree that was blocking a well traveled running and biking trail on campus. It gave me an opportunity to show the members of Darrow’s Hands-to-Work Trails Crew what active, real-world problem-solving entails. By demonstrating for them how to approach a technical cut—an ash tree hung up on a small willow—I was able to teach the value of fully assessing the possible outcomes before making an important decision. The tree weighed several hundred pounds and could have done serious harm if my analysis had been flawed. This challenge had a small number of correct ways to accomplish it, and potentially serious consequences for the wrong ways.
Here is why it mattered for their learning and mine. The tree problem forced me to verbalize my approach, requiring that I slow down and test what I was seeing against their observations. I engaged the crew by asking a series of questions about the approach:
- “What will happen if I make this cut first?”
- “If the tree rolls this way, what might be in its path?”
- “What can I do to free up the trunk?”
In the end, the cut series worked and the tree ended up in ready-to-split rounds on the ground. Happily, I didn’t. This moment of nerdy machismo required me to be my best as a teacher. Hopefully, I created a memory for these students that will serve them well as they face other problems down the road. Yes, every second counts as a school leader, but showing students how to take all the time they really need on a problem is worth each second spent.