Mirror, Mirror


What do you see when you look in the mirror?  Are you looking for particular information, like the evil queen desperately wanting to be the “fairest of them all?”  If so, and you find that you’re not the fairest, are you the type who would serve up a poisonous apple to the one who is?  Can comparative reflection catalyze authentic growth?  Maybe?  What about individualized reflection with comparative components?  For example, what if the evil queen was simply seeking to be the fairest that she could be…her fairest self?  What if she had asked the mirror to show her a pathway to potential lifestyle choices that would propagate growth and development in such a way as to maximize her own fairness without directly comparing it to the fairness of others, but possibly cross referencing the fairness of others (along with their individual journeys leading to that fairness) in an effort to generate a potential means to that end for herself (no doubt a less marketable storyline for Disney, but maybe a better example of reflective learning and growth? Who knows?)

Let’s face it…we are each unique.  We can’t always become what we see, what we admire, or what we wish we could be, and in many ways, that simply doesn’t seem fair (and it certainly doesn’t seem to be the fairest).  However, I would argue that critical and consistent reflection, drawing on comparative analysis without resting on comparisons for individualized outcomes, can fosters and maximize fairness in meaningful ways.

Poisonous Apples

How much energy should a person spend working on the degradation of the people, places, and/or ideas that they see in their rear view mirrors, as opposed to working on the positive promulgation of people, places, and/or ideas that lay ahead of them?  What’s the point of distributing poisonous apples?  What benefit can we derive from the defamation or breakdown of others?  Would it not serve us better, specifically as we seek reflective development, to identify and articulate the positive attributes of those we pass, rather that highlighting their perceived negative ones…especially because perception, like beauty, is arguably in the eye of the beholder?

Unless I’m missing something, it seems important to view reflective growth though a lens of abundance and optimism, rather than one of resentment and scarcity.  I’ve seen it done both ways.  I hate to admit it, but I’ve done it both ways.  Having seen and done so, I have come to firmly believe that a compassionate, positive, optimistic, individualized, and celebratory reflective paradigm is enhanced tenfold over a negative, diminishing, targeted, and excusatory one (and frankly, I don’t even know if “excusatory” is a real word – creative license rocks!).

Sharing Light bulbs & Letting It Happen

For those of us in educational leadership, we are well served (and better able to enhance the lives of those we serve) when we can recognize and perpetuate positive reflective growth in others.  I recently had an amazing experience.  While monitoring the cafeteria on day last week (“other duties as assigned”), an eighth-grade boy responded to me with unrestrained disrespect, which wasn’t the amazing experience, just a fundamental preemptive annotation.  Stick with me.  I’m getting there.

If you’ve never faced a cafeteria occupied by almost four hundred eighth graders on the second-to-last full day of school, I’ll invite you to invoke your imagination.  It’s an energized space.  These young people are truly bustling with end-of-the year enthusiasm.  A great majority of the students in our school community are very well mannered.  For the most part, they make thoughtful decisions scaffolded by solid core values.  During the moment that I’m referencing now, this young man did not.  So there I was, doing my best to maintain a safe and sanitary environment in which these kids could rejuvenate and nourish themselves, when all of the sudden, I was staring down an opportunity for shared reflective growth.  Exciting, to say the least!  Actually, I was “marching” the young man to the office in a bit of huff, but “excited for positive, reflective growth” sounds better, and deep down, it’s always my intention.

Here’s the thing, when we got to the office, this insightful kid pushed ahead of any assistant principal huffing and puffing I might have unintentionally slipped into by saying, “Mr. Berg, I was being silly with my friends, and for some reason, I couldn’t switch from being silly to being serious when I started talking to you.”  In that moment, he was being critically reflective.  In doing so, he showed incredible self-awareness, identifying an inability to effectively code in that situation.  I was thrilled, and frankly, I had to sit back and reset for a moment.  We went into an upbeat and thorough conversation about self-awareness, coding, and the importance of critical reflection.  We celebrated the fact that he could identify this challenge, and we enthusiastically decided that spending some time thinking about how important communication is in high school and beyond would be a positive use of some of his time this summer.

The student teaches the teacher!  How cool.  It reminded me that the sharing of reflective growth might be as important as reflective growth itself.  I would argue that being willing to learn from the reflection of others…whether they’re your students, your teachers, your friends, your children, or even total strangers, is an important characteristic of those who learn best.


Dream Big.  Work Hard.  Be Well.

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