Mandalas in the Classroom: How PD Influences Classroom Work

Boulder Journey School classroom teachers, mentors, and interns compose blog posts for the families in each classroom 3 – 5 times weekly. These blog posts offer reflections on daily experiences, question possibilities for future research, and form connections between home-life and school-life.

In a previous blog post, we shared educators’ experiences in a workshop on mandalas. Here we explore classroom work inspired by that workshop.

The following reflections are from a classroom blog post shared with families, composed by Kirsten Zimbelman, Boulder Journey School mentor teacher.

 


Last night I had the opportunity to co-present a workshop on mandalas and their role in mindfulness practice in early learning. We worked with educators from several schools to discuss ways in which we could incorporate this kind of intentional work into our days with young children. Today, we decided to bring our research into our classroom.

Mandalas are best known for their use in the eastern religions of Buddhism and Hinduism. The word mandala is a Sanskrit word, and the literal translation means circle. However, if you break the word into parts its translation can change. Man is the Sanskrit word for mind, while the word da in Sanskrit can be translated as maintenance. So mandala can also mean maintaining the mind.

What does this have to do with preschool? Well, according to research, mindfulness has been linked to children being more positive, having better moods, and increasing their ability to focus. It has also been shown to help children build empathy and connections with peers by helping them process their own feelings. These are both crucial pieces of toddlers’ development, as they, like all of us, are developing their understanding of how their actions affect one another.

We began by looking at images of mandalas composed of natural materials and found various items. We also looked at a mandala built by teachers in our studio.

We discussed the shape of the mandalas as well as the materials used to make the ones in the images.

We offered the children materials such as leaves of varying colors, shapes, and sizes and a collection of man-made loose parts.

We intentionally selected circular boards to offer as a base or frame for the children’s work.

We observed forty uninterrupted minutes of children busily working on their own or collective mandalas.

Tuck, age 2, selected a frame and grape leaves for his work.

Linnea, age 3, added leaves to her composition.

Yana, age 2, and Tuck worked together to build a mixed media mandala.

Throughout the morning, several mandalas were built. Then, in the true spirit of the art, they were wiped clean to begin again.

During their work the children were always in motion; however, the motion was one of focus and intentionality. While we have not yet introduced the word ‘mindfulness’, or the language that accompanies conversations about mindfulness among adults, the children remained focused and engaged throughout the time spent in this endeavor.

“The Mandala is an archetypal image whose occurrence is attested throughout the ages. It signifies the wholeness of the self” ( C.G. Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, 1957, pp. 401 – 402).

In what ways do you observe your children being mindful?

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The Art of Mandalas: Mindfulness in the Classroom

Boulder Journey School collaborates regularly with Hawkins Centers of Learning to hold evening workshops, open to the community. To learn about and register for upcoming workshops, click here.

The topic of each workshop varies; however each experience offers time and space to engage in the three phases of Messing About, as proposed by David Hawkins.


In October, 2017, we focused our workshop on mandalas and how the creation of mandalas is tied to the practice of mindfulness. We viewed the construction and deconstruction of a sand mandala from Werner Herzog’s documentary on Buddhism, Wheel of Time.

Participants reflected on the tension they felt as they watched the monks destroy the intricate design. As a group, we reflected on the relationship with work when we intentionally create temporary work. How does temporary work offer us the mindset to focus on the process rather than the product? What are the experiences of temporary artists such as Andy Goldsworthy and Christo?

Together we dove into the traditional definition of a mandala. We took meaning from an interview with the Venerable Khenpo Rinpoche, who explained that ‘mandala’ is made of two words: man, which means mind, and da, which means maintaining. A mandala is a tool for maintaining the mind.

Additionally, the word mandala is sanskrit for circle, which signifies completion.

The Venerable Khenpo Rinpoche explained that everything is circular and completed within the mind – the mind is the source of everything, which when expanded, offers itself as the house of the deity. For this reason, the mandala should be luxurious, “the house of the deity is not a poor house” (The Meaning of Mandala, 2013).

Mandala created by a participant in the workshop.

Although we do not typically associate Buddhist monks with luxuries, this interpretation of mandala offers a space to recognize the luxuries within our own thoughts and creations.

Turning to Western interpretation of mandalas, we explored Carl Jung’s use and subsequent popularization of the mandala in psychology. Jung spent time drawing mandalas every day. He reflected,

“Only gradually did I discover what the mandala really is:

And that is the self, the wholeness of the personality, which if all goes well is harmonious, but which cannot tolerate self-deceptions.

My mandalas were cryptograms concerning the state of the self which were presented to me anew each day” (Memories, Dreams, Reflections, 1957, p. 239).

Mandalas created by a participant in the workshop

 

What is mindfulness? And how are mandalas related?

So why are we, educators, studying mandalas? What role do they play in our lives with children?

Susan Buchalter suggests that the practice of meditation and mindfulness can be aided through the creation of mandalas. She suggests that mandalas offer a tangible focus point for the mind, and as such can be a tool for quieting thoughts during meditation (Mandala Symbolism and Techniques: Innovative Approaches for Professionals, 2013).

And why do we feel it is important to engage in mindfulness?

Dan Siegel, a clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine and the founding co-director of the Mindful Awareness Research Center at UCLA, shares the following benefits to mindfulness,

“There is a role in mindfulness in parenting [teaching]. Parents need to be conscientious, intentional, and caring in what they do. They need to be present moment to moment, tracking experiences, letting go of judgements, and really being kind and compassionate, having self-compassion…. They also need to be creative, so they aren’t coming to premature conclusions about who a child is and be open to the unfolding of a child” (On The Importance of Mindfulness, 2009).

To explore for ourselves the connections between mandalas and mindfulness, we offered participants the space to participate in the creation of mandalas. We wondered how, in this short timeframe, could we tap into the mindset outlined by Siegel.

Following their experiences creating, the participants reflected on their flow, their concentration, their enchantment with the materials, their personal pride in their work, and their meandering paths of creation.

As facilitators, one thing we noticed was how busy the room was as participants worked. There was never a time that all people were sitting still or quiet. At least one person was always up, looking at other people’s work, or gathering more materials, or even moving to a different space to work.

When we brought this reflection to the group there was some surprise. That had not been felt by the participants, and it clearly had not been a distraction. We thought about the classroom – how busy it can seem to someone not in flow – a teacher or a visitor – and how drastically different that can feel to the child who is deeply engrossed. Would we have ripped that thread of concentration if we had told our participants they were not allowed to move or talk with their neighbors? Do we rip that thread of concentration with children when we ask them to sit still?


 

This workshop, as with most of our Hawkins-inspired professional development, was intended to offer teachers insight into learners through participation in their own learning, rather than to offer teachers specific activities to take into their classrooms.

Look for a future blog post exploring possibilities for incorporating mandala work with young children in the classroom.

Reading for Racial Justice

During the 2017-2018 school year, educators, including mentor teachers and graduate students, and families, are participating in a research group examining the goals of Anti-Bias Education. Click here to read more about this group.

“Brown bear, brown bear, what do you see? … I see children looking at me.”

Many of us have been taught, directly or indirectly, that this book is a lovely example of inclusive, non-bias, “colorblind” literature – sure to support children from diverse racial backgrounds in feeling comfortable and welcome – as there are children who appear Black, Asian, Latinx, and White all pictured happily together.

Marissa Tafura visited Boulder Journey School in October to join our community of educators and families in better understanding Reading for Racial Justice. She prompted us to examine the true message that we are portraying when we say we are “colorblind”. Marissa pointed out that we have been, “socialized to think that naming race is racist.” However, rather than being inclusive, an attitude of “not seeing race” erases diverse perspectives and someone’s experience in the world. She pointed out that just as we typically acknowledge someone’s gender, it’s similarly important that we acknowledge a person’s racial identity as central to who they are.

Marissa works with Empowering Kids Colorado and Showing Up For Racial Justice to encourage active participation in anti-bias practices that support racial justice. She shared that her own background, a white woman growing up in a culture that encouraged silence on topics of race, has shaped her own perspective on the topic. She reminded us that acting for racial justice is messy, and that we must be open to embracing our mistakes on the topic and learning from them. It is okay to ask our kids, “I didn’t like the way I phrased that, can we revisit the topic?”

As a community, we reflected that, while we are growing more comfortable engaging children when they bring a topic or question to us, we are less sure how to initiate conversations. Marissa shared tips for examining the books we offer as entry points into new conversations about race.

According to statistics compiled in 2015, 73.3% of children’s books published that year featured White protagonists, 12.5% featured non-living protagonists, 7.6% feature African and African-American protagonists, 3.3% feature Asian Pacific and Asian Pacific-American protagonists, 2.4% feature Latinx protagonists, and .9% feature Native American and First Nation protagonists. A great place to start is checking to see whether racial diversity is present in the books offered to children.

Marissa reminded us that the presence of racial diversity is not enough, however. We must also check to see whether there is racial diversity among the authors of the books we offer.

Additionally, books should be diverse in the stories they tell. It is crucial to have more than just stories of oppression or over-coming oppression; they should also tell stories of normalized life as a person of color, stories of activism, and stories of contribution from people of color.

It is also important to name race, including Whiteness, so that children can become practiced in identifying racial constructs.

So, when reading Brown Bear, Brown Bear, a book that is all about naming differences that we see in animals, when we come to the last page, let’s discuss the races of the children who are “looking at me”.

What strategies do you use to support anti-bias in your classrooms or at home?

 

Resources from Marissa

 

http://www.empoweringkidscolorado.com/resources/

http://www.empoweringkidscolorado.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/children_colorblind.pdf

https://www.safetypinbox.com/kids

Visiting Spaces: A Professional Development Experience

Our best source of professional development is observing one another and questioning our practices. To do this, we have to create a space that is safe. We make sure to ask questions of all of the teachers, new and long-standing.” – Alison Maher, Education Director

When we invite people into our space, it changes the dynamics. We are always striving to offer the best possible experiences for the children in our classrooms. When visitors arrive, we must also consider how to offer the best possible experiences for children in classrooms around the world.

In September 2017, teachers, administrators, and professors from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia visited Boulder Journey School. In collaboration with Videatives, Inc., we hosted the visitors as part of an international study tour, organized by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). The tour was designed to examine early childhood programs and initiatives in international contexts to inform the National Early Childhood Curriculum in the Saudi Arabian Kingdom.

Our visitors spent two days observing in classrooms, taking notes on the interactions between children, mentor teachers, and graduate students in the Boulder Journey School Teacher Education Program. They unpacked their observations during afternoon dialogues that included presentations and remarks by Boulder Journey School and Videatives, Inc. educators.

One visitor shared that her takeaways from the experience included the understanding that, “the environment is very important. A mindful teacher is even more important.”

Through visits such as these, we grow not only as educators, but also as advocates for quality in early childhood education worldwide.

Delegates from the Kingdom​ ​of​ ​Saudi​ ​Arabia​ ​Early​ ​Learning​ ​Curriculum​ ​Project with NAEYC representatives, and educators from Boulder Journey School and Videatives, Inc. 

To learn more about the Boulder Journey School Study Tour Program, click here. We host tours such as this one through the year.
To subscribe to the Videatives, Inc. blog, Videatives Views, click here and receive a free video analysis monthly.

 

Small World Play: The Benefits of Miniature Fantasy Lands

Six times a year, Boulder Journey School collaborates with Hawkins Centers of Learning to hold evening workshops, open to the community. The topic of each workshop varies; however each experience offers time and space to engage in the three phases of Messing About, as proposed by David Hawkins.

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“[Fantasy] is the mother of all possibilities where, like all psychological opposites, the inner and outer worlds are joined together in a living union.”

Carl Jung

As part of our Professional Development series, Messing About with Teaching, we invited educators to explore the history of small world play, as well as to spend time engaging with miniature fantasy lands.

As participants entered the room, they were greeted by hundreds of miniatures, ranging from medieval characters to marine creatures. Amidst these figures were a series of loose parts and trays that could act as landscapes. In some settings, the figurines and landscapes were a logical pairing; in others, they were incongruous.

The participants examined the tables and chose which sets to sit near.

“Each of us have such different spaces. You look at some of these different classes or visit and think, ‘Oh I wish I had that.’ But you work with what you have, and the children work with what they have. How you set things up highlights what you have already. And I think that was a really big learning experience for me.” – participant reflection

To begin the evening, we explored the history of Small World Play – a practice rooted in psychotherapy and inspired by science fiction writer, H.G. Wells.

The ‘World Technique’ in play therapy was developed by Dr. Margaret Lowenfeld in 1929. The goal of this methodology was to offer children an avenue to explore and communicate their thoughts and feeling through non-verbal strategies. (http://www.creativecounseling101.com/sandtray-therapy-class-history-of-sandtray-therapy-student-1.html)

Her outstanding contributions sprang from her recognition that play is an important activity in children’s development and that language is often an unsatisfactory medium for children to express their experiences. She consequently invented non-verbal techniques that enabled them to convey their thoughts and feelings without resort to words. – The Dr. Margaret Lowenfeld Trust

Lowenfeld herself was inspired by the book Floor Games by H.G. Wells (1911), in which the author of The Time Machine explored fantasy lands with his own children.

(http://www.creativecounseling101.com/sandtray-therapy-class-history-of-sandtray-therapy-student-1.html)

Lowenfeld’s work has extended into classrooms, where teachers and children create and use these settings and figures to explore intra- and interpersonal relationships, as well as to explore the world on a manageable scale. Careful observation of children, and as we discovered during the workshop, ourselves at play with these small worlds offer myriad insights into personalities and learning styles.

Participants “shop” for figurines to use in their play.


Consider this dialogue excerpt from the reflection session at the end of play*:

Kathy and Steve know each other, but in a very limited capacity. Andrea, Brian, and Emily all work closely together, Andrea and Brian as co-teachers, Emily as their Pedagogical Support. Nina and the rest of the participants in her group all teach at the same school.

Alex (facilitator): How did you react to the spaces that you had?

Kathy: I’m very introverted, so to avoid that, I stepped away. I really like ledges and small spaces, so I wanted to take my figures over to the small space.

Steve: I was worried that I had co-opted your space. But it turns out we are of a very similar mindset.

Andrea: It’s interesting that you thought about that. I didn’t even consider infringing on someone else’s space. I just built, and he started building this way, and I was like, well, that’s the edge.

And, I don’t like to work in small spaces. I would have preferred to work on the floor, but I didn’t feel there was adequate space for it.

Brian: It felt like it was a small space, but I embraced it. I mirrored [Andrea’s]. It’s kind of how we work in the classroom; we’ll mirror each other. I mirrored this, and I just worked with my space. Emily’s phone ended up in my way, so instead of just moving it, it became a wall to my space. I felt like the space was too small, so I shifted the scope of my idea. I used the phone and built around it.

Andrea: Whereas, if Emily’s phone had ended up in my space, I would move it to a different space and define, “Here’s your space.”

Emily: And Brian would just work around it.

Nina: The way our table was set up, with the mirrors on each side, it didn’t even occur to us to split up or to change the setting in any way. There was this big piece in the middle that anchored us and drew us to play together.

*participants’ names have been changed


Through our work with these materials, and with each other, we gained understandings of the learning process. Following this workshop, we found ourselves watching children’s work with figures and playscapes through a new lens.

Do you offer spaces for small world play in your context? Share those experiences in the comments.

 

Personal and Professional Impact: Reflections from Reggio Emilia

Each Spring, the entire class of graduate students in the Boulder Journey School Teacher Education Program travels to Reggio Emilia, Italy to attend the US Students and Professors Study Group. Below is a reflection from Cassie Sorrells and Kacy Grady, 2016-2017 graduate students.

The week began on Sunday afternoon with a gathering at the International Centre Loris Malaguzzi to meet fellow conference participants. The nearly 200 conference participants represented teachers, administrators, researchers, artists, and even an actor. It was eye-opening to see how the Reggio philosophy drew professionals from a wide variety of backgrounds and regions of the world. We toured the city, hosted by several kind volunteers from the organization, Friends of Reggio Children. Reggio Emilia is a beautiful Italian city; modern-day avenues form a hexagon around the old city, in the footprint where the medieval city walls once stood. The colorful buildings have been rebuilt and re-appropriated many times within the centuries since their founding, so that what was once a nunnery, today may serve as a local police station.

Part of the conference was dedicated to offering us hands-on experiences in several “Atelier” settings within the International Centre. One of the ateliers focused on Living Organisms and Life Cycles. During this experience, the atelierista illustrated the beauty in living things throughout every stage of their lives and how everything can be repurposed. There were beautiful displays of living organisms for us to observe and reflect on: decomposing foods (fruits, vegetables, bread) and plants of all varieties. We were invited to create a piece of artwork based on our reflections on the Atelier.

Another Atelier, Border Crossings, focused on the learning that occurs at the intersection of nature and technology. We were instructed to explore the area outside of the Centre, and return with images and materials that reflected that natural space. We used infrared cameras, projectors, light, plastic, and metal objects to create an artistic interplay among the materials of these seemingly disparate realms. Our first attempts were quite goal-oriented, and we abruptly found ourselves at a creative standstill. The atelierista offered us some insight: “As adults,” he said, “we often approach a project with a goal in mind. But it is the process, the creation that is the goal.” As we shifted our mindset to one that more accurately mirrored that of children, we found that our creation blossomed.

That afternoon we began our visits to the schools, an experience that everyone had been very much looking forward to. Participants were given the opportunity to visit several different contexts, each of which offered a unique example of the Reggio Emilia Approach in action. We gathered in small groups at the bus station, located near the International Center, and took buses to our school sites.

Salvador Allende, an infant/toddler facility, located on the outskirts of Reggio Emilia, is characterized by its extensive outdoor park. Upon first glance, Allende’s classrooms seemed strikingly bare. The typical Reggio use of vertical space was noticeably absent, and the only materials found seemed to be those being used for an investigation. Upon reflection and through conversations with the teachers, it became clear that this intentional simplicity encouraged deeper investigation. The simplicity of the classrooms was mirrored in the outdoor space. We were immediately struck not only by the natural beauty of the rolling landscape, but also by the total lack of man-made materials. This lack of materials, while creating an ostensibly simple landscape, did not detract from the complexity of experiences possible in the environment. One member of our group actually began crying as she observed the stunning willow tree, the free-roaming rabbits and ducks, and the unassuming swings made out of rope. Allende was a powerful reminder that the natural world can be a phenomenal provocation for learning, without our assistance or intervention.

                          

Iqbal Masih Preschool is located on the same property as the recycled materials facility, REmida. REmida promotes the idea that waste materials can be resources, and feeds these materials into many of the preschools in Reggio. The Centre collects, exhibits, and offers alternative and reclaimed materials, obtained from unsold stock and rejects or discarded materials from industrial and handicraft production, with the aim of reinventing their use and meaning (REmida, 2012). It was inspiring to see the ways in which recycled materials can be offered as provocations. We reflected deeply on the idea that materials have multiple functions, and that every child can find a different use for the same material. This is a refreshing idea in a world that promotes the possession of single-use plastic toys.

(Photos provided by Sam Prince, who visited the Centre, and by Google Images)

Our four days at the International Centre were followed by two full days to explore Italy in any way we chose. Most of our cohort chose to branch off into small groups, exploring Venice, Cinque Terre, Florence, and Milan. These days of travel were an incredible way to end an already life-changing experience. They provided an opportunity to further cement the strong bonds we had formed with our classmates during the course of the trip. Our group of six chose to explore Milan. We ate, drank wine, and explored this huge metropolis that is such a contrast to the sleepy town of Reggio Emilia. Although we were technically finished with the school related component of our trip, our conversations (typically held at dinner over incredible spreads of pasta) tended to spiral back to the themes and experiences we had gleaned from the study tour.

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The personal and professional impact of this experience is evident in the way our classroom practices have changed since we returned. Not only have we been able to draw upon the many examples of quality work seen in Reggio as inspiration for our daily provocations, we have also been reoriented towards the philosophy underlying our work. We have started circulating conversations around the idea of clearing out our playgrounds of all toys and “unnatural” materials, offering a space with only natural material provocations. In addition to its impact on our immediate practices in the classroom, spending a week in the company of such innovative and inspirational early childhood educators reminded us that the work we are doing is part of a larger movement towards a future in which children are seen and valued as true citizens of our world. We could not be more grateful for this experience.

 

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Blog authors, Kacy and Cassie

REmida Retrieved April 16, 2017 from http://zerosei.comune.re.it/inter/remida.htm

The Professional Quality Series: Reflective Observation

This post was contributed by current Mentor Teacher Meagan Arango. It is part of a series on the Boulder Journey School Professional Qualities.

Reflective Observation: This quality speaks to your capacity for close and careful observation and how to use your observations in ways that raise the quality of work and life for those with whom you are in contact. Through reflective observation of yourself, of children, and of other adults you will develop a keen level of self-awareness, awareness of your work environment, and awareness of the world around you that can be used to make informed decisions regarding your professional work. You will engage in a mindful attitude of work with children and adults. Through reflective observation of children, you will be capable of giving words to the children’s gestures and actions, as well as capable of silence and listening to the children. You will be capable of a micro gaze even when you are in a macro environment, and you will understand what is going on enough to notice, capture moments, value these moments, and use these moments to re-launch ideas.

Why Observation?

qUbY57UHxNO6I4E96RNejFQMU2UqdPuMiz8hxKxinZkOxpLiX5Tp5Nz3a1s7KRfb0i_7MivRdU7cEIAVobg0QUJhOXWcjbq7RG7bDYG-AFOcH0IVEM49aPWkraqHSFbTWTkEHDI_3NJlYVU9V8KnrYYDUMABD-3EjAeNukEACcUj68gLR89DvyykG5Observation is integral to the work we do at Boulder Journey School. It is one of the most powerful tools we can use to keep pace with the children as they rapidly learn and grow. Regular observation allows us to design dynamic, high-quality experiences and environments. It allows us to cater our approach to suit the developmental level, cultural background, and personality of each child. Most of all, it invites the voices of the children into these processes–even those who are not yet speaking–because we work in response to what we observe. Most educators, I would bet, can get behind that. Traditional and non-traditional settings have long required teachers to perform formative assessments, inviting educators to tailor their instruction to each child’s observable signs of learning. We think observation can be taken even further.

67Rp-_dbsoXmSTYX5AO5WQygpH8yhZQ1c3LUmKH-lG-BAbdQ5FRbruVMKp_lViBI1f6vSBMpqVHc6SoozP89NcaYCc_n0KKUjgZ_ww9dM9igQBua7GlkUl7FxeOoDfBu5YsI9MKvfFhbve26uXJN_FCjASP0A6pTR2X2JQHrjoQr54yNltAX3P_2b9In the context of our school, observation is not just an occasional tool of assessment. It is a frame of mind, a cultivated skill that becomes second nature. We use it to know the children, to know ourselves, and to know our surroundings. We strive to be in a constant state of observation because we believe that people are–by nature–in constant pursuit of their own learning. Using observation, we join the children on that path, learning alongside them and negotiating an emergent curriculum together.

What does it look like?

To give a sense of what observation looks like at Boulder Journey School, I posed a few simple questions to my colleagues:

When is the best time to observe?

What are your favorite tools of observation?

What do you do with your observations?

Their responses were anything but simple. Let’s start, for instance, with tools of observation.

Screen Shot 2017-04-04 at 6.57.00 PM

There are certain tools that are popular by consensus: still and video cameras, audio recording, and good old-fashioned note taking were commonly listed. But the difference is in the details. As each educator described their tools of choice, they often elaborated–insisting that different tools were best-suited to different tasks: video gives us insight into gesture, context, relationships. Audio recordings help us focus on the expressive potentials of voice, breath, language, and silence. Note-taking invites us to jot down quotes, noticings, interpretations, sketches, questions, and ideas for the future. Most teachers, for this reason, described using a combination of tools to work toward a diversity of data.

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But how do you know where to look, what to listen to, and when to start recording? The answers, again, varied widely, running the gamut from: “All the time!” to “When I have a specific goal in mind”. Everyone agreed, though, that whether you meticulously prepare or discover a meaningful moment off the cuff, observation is a process that carries the promise of surprise. You just never know what the children are going to do! Our Studio Teacher, Jen Selbitschka, described the balance between intention and happenstance this way:

“Sometimes I go in planning to observe something specific, but experiences with children take so many paths that I cannot predict ahead of time, and I find myself constantly making moment-to-moment decisions about what is important to capture at the time. I often uncover stories I was not aware existed when I look at my photographs after an experience.”

This brings me to my next question: what do you do with your observations after the fact? Here, the responses were pretty consistent: we share them, we use them, and we reflect on them. Our educators described sharing observations with co-teachers, with directors, with parents and–especially–with the children. They discussed using their observations: to inform decisions, to theorize, to spark conversations, to develop curriculum. And everyone described a process of reflection. So what does that mean?

What is Reflective Observation?

IcGmjxur4OPpKi1gJBtseE0tRRxsTmRQiQtKNgRLv3WqLSGH5wkphNiC-XbSvUQ8V-gMHPHysTeZQh5AgXNfgtHlImUV45bscOSfjcQgpwzoSyLlTnmwQB3IRNYVRQ33CRl2DeLqMi_YNeIveMncmlpzlFSA1pUTMkB6nP_viwUmPNAMkODSsZVxkaReflect is one of those great words that carries two oppositional meanings. The first refers to the way a mirror reflects. This definition describes the interplay between waves and particles of energy and the surface of an object: instead of absorbing light, the mirror bounces it back, creating a reflection. It is a moment of active contact: energy collides with an object and is ricocheted back, sometimes seeming to be multiplied. Imagine echoes in a tiled room; bright sunlight on a fresh snowbank; trees mirrored on a still pond. These are all forms of reflection. The second meaning of reflect is an internal, mental process. To reflect is to think deeply, carefully, intentionally. Unlike the first, this type of reflection requires absorption. Where the first is a product of energetic movement, the second implies a stillness that is necessary to process information.

 

So when we describe observation as reflective, you might expect that we mean the word one way or the other. But here, we mean it both ways. That’s because our job as educators is not only to process and interpret what we observe internally, but also to bounce it back to the children and adults we work with. When we reflect inwardly, we deepen our work; when we reflect outwardly, we amplify it. It’s the dual action that offers access to the metacognitive processes that so enrich learning.

So, when the educators at Boulder Journey School described the process of reflecting, it naturally took on many different forms. Journaling, thinking, watching and re-watching video, looking back at photos, transcribing conversations, analyzing, researching, synthesizing, wondering, questioning. Reflection, in short, is the action we educators take to learn alongside the children, using our observations as our guide.

How can you get started?

Reflective observation is a complex and individualized process. It looks different for every person. No matter what form it takes, quality observation requires flexibility, openness, focus, and rigor. So pick a tool. Pick a time. And remember that it doesn’t end with watching, listening and recording. Reflective observation is ongoing. It has a quality of reverberation, creating waves that affect change both inwardly and outwardly. And as we cultivate these skills and habits, it is a process by which we can become ever-better versions of ourselves.