On Thursday my students were taking part in a Retreat while on Friday we had our staff retreat. Teaching in a Catholic school means that faith and discussions of faith are an important part of our daily activities and opportunities such as these are important for students and staff.
On Thursday, my students took part in a retreat in which they were given time to explore faith and their relationship with their faith and with God. It was also an opportunity for me to share my faith with students and to answer questions about faith. The students had an opportunity to listen to other young people share their faith journeys. It was also great for me to be able to listen these faith journeys and reflect upon my own journey.
More Time To Reflect
One of my big take-aways from the two days was we don’t really provide a whole lot of time during our school day to have students or staff reflect on their learning and how it fits within their lives. School is often ‘busy’ and there isn’t much time to step back and do the type of reflection that days like Thursday and Friday allow. Days like Thursday and Friday remind me that taking this time is very important for student growth and development and for my own growth and development. It provides students the opportunity to make connections with students outside of their classroom and to share and work with them.
Students need time to step back and pause. I think this is especially important this year with all that has been going on. For our class, each day we take a few moments to pause and think about things for which we are grateful, beginning our day with a Gratitude Journal. Often I provide a prompt for students because it can be very daunting to come up with these things. But as I reflect on how the students were engaging during our day, I realized that the work we had been doing each morning had been laying a foundation for them to be able to express themselves as they were taking part in this day. It was also good for me, because I also take a moment to do some gratitude writing each morning and this transferred over to being able to step back during our staff retreat and do some deeper reflection especially as it related to our topics of reconciliation and being aware of our spiritual selves.
Growth through Feedback
In order to grow we need some form of feedback and often, maybe too often in school, the feedback students get is teacher feedback. Giving students the opportunity to share their work and share their ideas through Breakout rooms, FlipGrid, Collaboration Space in OneNote has been a great way to allow students to give each other feedback and suggestions. To facilitate formal feedback, we use the Ladder of Feedback format and work with this through the year. There are many different ways to support students in providing feedback but this year, given that we are online, I found this particular format was very helpful in creating a culture of trust among students. It also meant that when I gave feedback, I use this particular format so that it reinforces what students are doing.
One of the things we have been working on this year is really focusing on the feedback and not on ‘marks’. In this, students are now progressing to where they are no longer focusing on marks but on improving their work, knowing that when they get feedback, they will have the opportunity to meet the outcome we are working on because that is what we are working towards. This means that students are usually less worried about ‘passing’ and are focusing on improving the work they are doing.
Thursday and Friday really brought to the forefront the importance of being aware of the ‘busyness’ and occasionally build in times to step back and really spend time on reflecting on what we are doing and where we might put our energy. As I look forward to the remaining few weeks of the year, I am optimistic that we will be able to build in some of this type of reflection time into a number of days. Students need time to step back, maybe this year more than in others, and reflect on what they are doing. Not just their school work but their relationships and on other parts of their lives.
Some people may see such days as a ‘waste of time’ when we could have been working. However, I’ve come to see that being deliberate and paying attention to all aspects of our human life – body, mind, spirit, emotion – is so important in a life-long approach to learning and growing and, in the long run, will help us to be better able to learn than if we just keep pushing forward. Smelling the roses, listening to the whisper of the wind, and getting a sense of how we truly are feeling are important in a whole-person view of life. Taking time to step off the path is good and especially important so that we don’t let the path become a rut.