Friday, February 1, 2013

Blogging . . . A New Form of Reflection? or Learning? or Both?

Auguste Rodin's - The Thinker

Reflection 1: an instance of reflectingespecially : the return of light or sound waves from a surface
2: the production of an image by or as if by a mirror
3a : the action of bending or folding back b : a reflected part : fold
4: something produced by reflecting: as a : an image given back by a reflecting surface b : an effect produced by an influence
5: an often obscure or indirect criticism : reproach
6: a thought, idea, or opinion formed or a remark made as a result of meditation
7: consideration of some subject matter, idea, or purpose

I have many interests in my life.  My family, education, the outdoors, nature, the theatre, and  art. Some of these are more prominent than others depending on the time and point that I may be within my life.  Many times I try to blend some of them together so that they can become more of a permanent fixture within my life.  The one aspect that I find which can transcend into all others, is art.  I am not an artist by any sense of the word but rather someone who enjoys and appreciates the works of many other talented people.  I especially enjoy the times when I can pull aspects of art into life lessons that may be of benefit for others.  The meaning behind a particular piece is up to interpretation and many times that interpretation is only know to the artist themselves, therefore reflection or reaction to a piece will be different every time is is viewed by others.  Reflection is only real and meaningful if it is wanted, necessary, and a part of a learning process.  It is useful only if we use it wisely and many times it can be used for evaluative purposes rather than real-life-changing reasons.  I have been fortunate to have used reflection as a process to learn from, grow with, and heal.

As I think back to prior experiences, the idea of reflection in schools has traditionally been viewed as a means by which an assignment is completed or in some cases as a way to "keep tabs" on what the the student is or is not doing.  As I reflect upon my under-graduate course work and what I learned from the reflection portion of the courses I took, it was quite trivial and meaningless.  It often times was a "re-telling" of what took place rather than insight into what I learned from the situation or happening. I didn't see the learning that was intended for me in "using" the process.  Could it have been a miss-communication on the part of instructor/student intention?  Was it because I wasn't mature enough to see the relevance in learning about myself ... from myself?  Or was it because I didn't see the the value in actually putting my thoughts on paper? - yes this would have been before any digital type of record-keeping or blogging platforms were ever in existence. :-)

I have never been the type to keep a diary or written component of my thoughts, although I do in fact consider myself to be a reflective person making special note of the way I utilize the information of my recent learning.  I do learn from my mistakes and am not afraid to admit that I don't know all the answers.  So, when I first began blogging it was for the purposes of a graduate class and due to the fact that it was a medium that was foreign to me, I put myself on a mission.  A mission to explore the importance of blogging.  It had to make sense and mean something to me in order for my learning to stick to it.  And since that time, 4 years ago, my exposure to blogging has really become quite varied.

My first blogging experience allowed me the opportunity to learn the ropes. I learned how to set up a blog and administer the basics of running and maintaining it.  And in all honesty I was very proud of myself in learning how to do all of this ... on my own!  But it was set up for the limited audience that was my class, like many class assignments are.  The purpose of it was more or less an online portfolio of my learning.  I really didn't see any difference between it and a scrapbook (although the graphics and video did look pretty cool).  Sadly, I didn't view it as being a tool by which others could learn from ... or for myself to use as a reflective piece within which I could learn from.

The second time I set up a blog it was also for a graduate level class.  This experience was very different allowing the world to not only see my thoughts and ideas but to comment, question, and allow me to make mistakes from which I could grow and learn  from very openly.  Class participants were literally from around the globe, all of whom were very "connected" to education and were connected to many educators who were "connected".  This was my first taste of finding a personal learning network (PLN) from which to become a part of, participate in, and learn from.  This was some of the best professional development I have ever been a part of.  In all honesty, it was addictive.  I wanted to ask questions and put ideas "out there" for others to comment on.  I relished in the idea that someone else always has another thought to challenge or further my own way of thinking.  It was refreshing to know that some people shared my views and, strangely enough, it was also refreshing to know that others didn't.  The biggest learning for me with all of this was that I was OK with all viewpoints, I could learn from others, and they could learn from me.  What I had to say mattered to someone in some way.  Sometimes there were many comments and other times, none at all. 

My third blogging experience gave me a sense of responsibility to an audience.  In the spring of 2011 my 6-year-old nephew, Chase, passed away.  At his funeral, Pay It Forward cards were handed out to all who attended, in the hopes that something very tragic could turn into something that would make a difference in the world.  Unbeknownst to us all people began acting upon this.  My sister and her husband had been inundated with great stories of acts that people in their community and throughout the province has begun doing to Pay It Forward in memory of Chase.  As a family we felt it was important to share these stories with others to promote kindness and selfless acts of generosity.  I took on the task of beginning a blog for them to highlight these stories so that they could be shared with the world.  Since it's beginnings in September of 2012 we have had over 80,000 unique visitors to our blog and have reached over 85 countries throughout the world.  I guess you could say that we have quite the following of supporters and certainly feel a sense of responsibility to share.  We know that others have been inspired, because they have commented and sent us more stories. We have also learned that the idea of sharing and the positive human spirit truly do exist in all corners of the world ... all due to the power of voice and story through blogging.

So ... here I am once again ... this time beginning a new blog for the purposes of my professional life and the process of reflection to improve my practice.  This time I begin with the knowledge that I have more confidence in knowing how this business of blogging works.  I know that I have ideas to share, strength to take criticism, and maturity to know that regardless of who my audience is, I will be OK with it.  I am no longer afraid of clicking on the "publish" tab for fear of having made a mistake.  I am much more free in my thoughts and find myself in many situations throughout the course of my day saying, "That would be a great blog posting!"  I not only see the importance of how this form of learning and reflection can be a part of daily/weekly life, I now understand how easy it is to embed into life.  I have lived it, loved it and used it to learn by, grow with, and heal from.

Within my role as an Instructional Consultant I have had the question posed to me, "Why should I begin a blog?"  I generally answer this question by explaining my personal blogging experiences and then refer the questioner to a great blog posting from TeachPaperless entitled Why Teachers Should Blog. Although it was written in 2009 and by internet standards would be considered old information, I keep coming back to the truth behind its meaning.  It was within this blog posting that I have truly begun to understand and solidify, in my mind, the importance of this internet reflective phenomenon for so many people - personally, professionally, and socially. So much of what was written here, was done so with insight and truth to what is real within our current connected world for teachers and their students.  There were a number of key thoughts that have really struck me that I would like to share with you.
Because to blog is to teach yourself what you think.  And sometimes what we think embarrasses us and we must then confront our thoughts and consider whether there are alternatives.
This is real maturity. Because real maturity is not about having the right answers, it's about having the audacity to have the wrong answers and re-address them in light of contemplation, self-argument, and experience.
This is made perhaps even more evident by the public nature of the blog, and that is one of the foremost reasons all teachers should in fact blog. Because to face one's ill conclusions, self-congratulations, petty foibles, and impolite rhetoric among peers in the public square of the blogosphere is to begin to learn to grow.
And to begin to understand that it's not all about 'getting it right', but rather is a matter of 'getting it'.
There is a sense of 'with-it-ness' that I would equate to 'getting it', which comes from putting your thoughts and ideas 'out there' for the world to view and perhaps comment on.  And, yes, that can be scary, but also very empowering all at the same time.  Scary in the sense that everyone can see your innermost thoughts - similar to the nakedness of Rodin's The Thinker but so powerful in that the thoughts belong to you for the world to see.  Who will they influence?  Will they cause someone else to think differently or the same?  Will it be opposing to the views of others?  Will what you have to say make a difference in the life of someone else?  So as I begin this blogging journey for another time, I do so with a new mindset.  A mindset that will allow me to teach myself to think with the maturity of knowing that in order to 'get it' I have to be OK with learning about myself, with myself, while everyone who chooses to, can look in and provide comment or support, or disregard my thoughts all together.

Interpretations are up for interpretation.  We will all view the world through a different lens and the only one who truly benefits is the one doing all the thinking.    Now . . . that's one for The Thinker to ponder.

Thanks for being a part of my blogging learning journey!

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