Reflecting on ‘Reflection on Reflection’

By Zena Kavas – Biology Teacher – High School

Continuing on from Stuart’s ‘Reflections on reflection’, I plan to delve a little more into the benefits and importance of reflection and some of the science to support this. Reflection and its close relative, meditation, have the slightly dubious reputation of being a bit flakey, for tree-hugging hippies and people who live in caves, rather than for people like you and me.

However, Maria Montessori says, “But it is necessary to consider not only the active occupations but the need for solitude and quiet, which are essential for the development of the hidden treasures of the soul (From Childhood to Adolescence, p. 73). And what might these hidden treasures of the soul be? This is worth reflecting on, but I would suggest that these hidden treasures may be more than what we learn in our subject areas.

Reflection is defined as the bouncing of light or sound or heat from a surface. When the water in a lake or the sea is very still, we see an authentic reflection. But if there is movement on the water, ripples or waves, the reflection becomes distorted. And so it is with our mind. When the mind is still, our reflections are more real and authentic. However, if there is movement in the mind – busyness, distractions, worries, anxieties – then our reflections may be distorted.

One of the greatest minds of all time, Albert Einstein, recognised the importance of reflection, or time in stillness. He said, “I never came upon any of my discoveries through the process of rational thinking.” His theories of gravity, space and time continue to astound scientist today. Archimedes (~300BC), the great astronomer, physicist, mathematician and engineer, came up with his theory of displacement of water while relaxing in the bath. And Sir Isaac Newton figured out his theory of gravity, while snoozing under an apple tree.

But reflection is not just great for intellectual geniuses. It is a very useful and cheap way to counter the stresses of modern life; the long to-do list, up-coming exams, stresses associated with social media, etc. Numerous studies have shown that reflection and meditation can calm the stress response, allow us to be more aware of our thoughts rather than consumed by them, reduce excess electrical activity in the brain, lower blood pressure and heart rate, and increase levels of hormone associated with happiness.

We often say that we will reflect when we have time, when we have finished everything we have to do. I encourage you to make reflection a priority, to set a good example to our akonga, and do yourself a huge favour by taking time to reflect.

Enjoy your reflection.

Reflection on reflection

By Stuart Mason – Chemistry Teacher, High School

‘Study without reflection is a waste of time; reflection without study is dangerous’ – Confucius.

In the high school we spend 30 minutes a week, early on Friday afternoons, ‘doing reflection’. Some students see it as a waste of time, others increasingly see value in it but might find it an awkward classroom experience to just sit without social interaction. Amongst teachers there is consensus that reflection is an important activity to incorporate into the school day, and it is a central part of Montessori teacher education that teachers write reflections on their learning.

It is well established that for learning to be permanent and meaningful there must be space made in the learner’s mind to process the learning, to compare the new learning with knowledge and understanding from before. Teachers acknowledge that a 30-minute block on a Friday isn’t the most sophisticated way of providing this opportunity but having a timetable slot does give reflection the importance it deserves. Incorporating reflection time into classes might run the risk of having it side lined in the usual rush to get everything else done.

There’s value in having time for quiet stillness, a mental respite from the barrage of input provided by the post-modern world. The question may remain for the reflective person, what am I supposed to do in that 30 minutes?

Zena has expertise in meditation, and runs popular sessions with Tāwari students using resonant bowls that provide the sound for reflection. Silent walking is another popular reflection activity. Activities already subsumed into the subconscious can be suitable: driving on uncongested roads could work for experienced drivers, but for new drivers there is too much of the conscious mind devoted to the activity of driving.

One school of thought argues that a meditation industry has sprung up, one that prescribes reflection as a panacea for the ills generated by a post-modern neoliberal existence: find the solutions within yourself to the anxiety generated by an unfit for purpose system of human existence. The conclusion here could be that we should spend reflection time plotting the revolution.

Here is my proposed NZQA-style assessment schedule for the use of reflection:

Excellence: achieves awareness of what is in the conscious mind, and the deliberate control of which ideas and feelings occupy the mind. This may allow thinking about the nature of one’s existence, or reassessment involving bigger life questions, or higher creative thinking.

Merit: a functional use of reflection time in which the only activities are ones that are entirely subconscious, allowing the mind to do processing of ideas that must happen for learning to be effective, or an equivalent of the ‘shower time’ effect when the mind knows it will not be disturbed so is able to think through a question more deeply or creatively.

Achieved: managed to sit still without being distracted for 30 minutes.

I come to reflection with a problem to think about, so I am usually operating at Merit!