Christian tradition has a long and healthy association with practices that guard or reset our hearts. These include, to mention just a few, times of self-examination and confession, intentional gratitude and worship, personal and corporate lament, and seeking to discern our own motives. All of these can keep us from merely outwardly going through the motions, because they focus our attention on what is driving our desires and choices. They can force us to confront our own hearts and allow light to be shed on our motivations. We define Introspective Practices this way in the survey:
“Christian learning is not just about learning the right things; it is about guarding our hearts. Practices that can help us grow in this area include:
- focusing on moments when we experience joy or wonder as we learn, and not just those where we feel success
- reflecting on opportunities to learn as a gift from God
- asking ourselves what new knowledge or skills could help us serve others
- confessing times when our motive for learning is pride or self-promotion
- talking with others about why we are learning”
Introspection isn’t meant to foster an unhealthy obsession with self but to move us beyond ourselves by bringing the connections between our motivation and our inner growth into live outward connection with God and community. It’s important then that these practices are intentional. They can then be experienced by students as a regular moment in the classroom, as much a part of learning as studying for a test or showing your calculations in Math.
We have seen the incorporation of introspective practices in action in classrooms where we work. When teaching candidates at one of our institutions return to the University for courses after teaching practice, every day begins with a gratitude circle. Colleagues and teacher candidates stand together in a circle. Anyone can take a pass if they wish, but few do and it has become their practice to begin the day by reflecting on one thing they are thankful for. Professors have noticed some shifts in the reflective journals that teacher candidates are asked to keep. For some students these reflections have become deeper, more intentionally positive and constructive. Indigenous Canadian students have explained that the practice of standing in a circle to reflect, discuss and make decisions is a deeply significant part of their own tradition. They felt at home and honored by the practice, and so it has fostered for some students a meaningful experience of being included.
Setting aside such moments to connect with one another and reflect on how we are learning is a very realistic goal. It is necessary, however, to intentionally build it into your teaching routine. Otherwise fostering introspective practices will quickly become crowded out by other goals such as getting through the syllabus. The following teaching activities show some other ways in which it can be done:
What if studying art involved loving attention?
What if math caused students to ask big questions?
What if physical education helped students to address their fears?
If you can, talk with a colleague who has also looked at these examples. Note what the teacher’s goal was. What kind of introspection did they wish to promote in their students and why? Then talk about how they achieved it practically. Do you think it would have reframed learning for their students? If so, how?
Why not identify one class, or one unit of work where you could intentionally introduce an introspective practice into the rhythm of the classroom. Aim to make it as familiar as taking register or handing in homework. After several weeks of doing this, talk with the students about what they have noticed about themselves and their learning during the time you’ve all been doing this together.
You can find many more examples of ways to introduce personal reflection on these two sites:
Teachfastly.com, in particular activities focused on Attention, Response and Reflection
Whatiflearning.com, in particular the sections headed Atmosphere and Ethos and, Making Learning Personal