Completely overplanned. Way too many activities. . . . I get too excited about too many things. I need to work on editing my ideas and think more about how they’ll flow.
I often feel like I’m in perpetual motion. As soon as one program is done, I’m onto the next one. I’m racing from storytimes, to class visits, to meetings, to outreach commitments. And there’s always work to do: weeding, shelf-reading, tidying the children’s area, cleaning the toys and games, and on and on.
Hitting the pause button, even for a few minutes, can feel impossible. But for the past six months, that’s what I’ve been trying to do: setting aside about fifteen minutes each week to pause through reflective writing.
Greenall and Sen (2016) define reflection as “stepping back to consider what you are doing and why” (1). Reflective practice entails using that reflection to inform and shape what you do in the future. Some of the documented benefits of reflection and reflective practice can include
- Increased self-awareness, self-esteem, and happiness
- Greater alignment with personal and organizational values
- Improved problem-solving skills
- Stronger connections between theory and practice
- New insights and innovations
Reflection can take different forms. Visual thinkers may find that drawing or making collages result in richer insights. Others may benefit from reflective conversations with peers or a coach. The format is less important than the intent: to engage in regular, structured analysis of what you are doing; to question your beliefs and attitudes about what you are doing; and to apply what you learn to future practice.
Over the past few months, I’ve used my reflective writing to think critically about program design; evaluate which professional development activities best fit with my values and goals; contemplate an article I read on the importance of free play; and assess my performance.
Storytime went so well this morning. I had a great turnout, but more important than that: Everyone was participating. I got so much joy and life from being a part of that.
As humans, we are predisposed to give greater weight to negative feelings and events than to positive ones. But in my reflective writing, I aim to be intentional, analytical, and balanced. I make sure to record my successes and moments of joy, and when I write about problems or failures, I focus on what I can learn from the experience.
For example, I opened this post with a snippet from a reflective writing session on a STEM program that I was disappointed by. I had put in a lot of work to prepare the various activities, but attendance was low and the kids didn’t seem interested in a couple of the project stations. In the past, I would have spent countless hours criticizing myself, regretting the work I had put in, and swearing off STEM programs for all eternity. Through reflective writing, I could see more clearly what hadn’t worked (I’d planned too many activities for one program; the kids couldn’t possibly have done all the stations in the time allowed) and what had gone well (the kids loved coming up with their own experiments as they explored the natural dyes that I had made).
Simplicity! I kept the STEM program for this month simple, and the kids loved it. They had so much fun building ramps and trying out different things.
Setting aside just fifteen minutes a week for reflective writing has made a huge difference for me, from planning more successful programs to making better use of my time to feeling more motivated and joyful at work. I encourage you to give it a try. Set aside a few moments to write (or draw, or talk) about the following questions:
- What went well this week? What were my successes?
- What were my disappointments? What do I think I could have done better?
- What is one small action I can take over the next week to build on my successes and/or correct course from my disappointments?
I hope that you’ll find as much value in a reflective pause as I have.
Greenall, J., & Sen, B. (2016). Reflective practice in the library and information sector. Journal of Librarianship and Information Science, 48(2), 137-150.
Lisa Bintrim is a member of the ALSC School-age Programs and Services Committee. She’s the children’s librarian at the Canton branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore, MD.
This post addresses the following ALSC Core Competencies: III. Programming Skills, VII. Professionalism and Professional Development