Why Pairing Reflection and Action Defines Success | Gillian Barnes | 3 Min Read

This article won 1st prize in the Intrepid Ed News Summer Writing Contest. The writing prompt was: “I think my profession needs…”  Congratulations to Gillian Barnes!

As a school leader, my profession needs to couple reflection and action more effectively. I see this problem every day. Educators and educational administrators fall into one of two categories: reflection experts or action-oriented professionals. These two camps need to work better together. 

As a marketing and communications leader, I am conditioned to notice metrics, tangents, or “weak points” in a system. People classify me as the person who can poke holes in any argument, and as such, since entering the educational realm, I notice that these two types of people are both highly intelligent and want to make change, but they stand in their own way.

Here’s what I mean.

The Two Types

The reflection experts are deep thinkers and have big ideas. They love diving into books about theory and talking at length about which ones they loved best. Reflection experts are also quoted more often when they enact change because they document the process fastidiously. However, reflection experts may take years. 

The action-oriented professionals, on the other hand, are passionate. They stoke the flames and demand change. They are extremely inspiring and will be remembered as changemakers, advocates, and revolutionaries. However, action-oriented professionals rarely document their work, have difficulty replicating it, and fall victim to half-baked ideas. They also tend to burn out quickly. 

Some overlap exists, but most educators and administrators tend to lean one way or the other. Both types are important, but they rarely take time to work together effectively. The future of education will arrive when these two disparate groups form a repeatable, actionable system that can be emulated. 

So how do we get there?

Plan in Advance, But Prepare to Adapt 

Particularly when it comes to events that happen each year, schools (and businesses in general) fall into a trap of under preparing and overreaching. They have lofty goals and leave themselves one day to accomplish the improbable, which is a recipe for failure. 

While most schools are able to pull off the improbable due to sheer grit, this stress is unnecessary. School leaders need to completely plan a year, with consideration for events, programming, and important messaging, while leaving room for deviation due to current events. A baseline helps schools lower stress levels and provide a better experience for current and prospective students as well as educators.

Make Opposites Attract 

It is often when we are forced to work with those who do not work like us that our best progress is made. Those who are more reflective should be paired with those who are more action-oriented. The reflective partner will create a beautiful process and discover weaknesses while the action-oriented partner will make the plan happen. 

Build in Time for Reflection 

Too often, we do not allocate time for reflection, and this oversight forces even the most reflective individuals to prioritize action. It is why mistakes are made. Reflection and review, in general, should be built into school schedules: it is not just for students, but also for faculty and staff. Valuing reflection will allow more time for editing and fine-tuning; it will result in a more error-free environment without slowing down production. 

Avoid Being a Perfectionist 

In the marketing and writing worlds, there is a common understanding that the “SFD” or the “Sh*tty First Draft” (something we would certainly never say to students!) is essential. We may deviate on the function of an item but most agree that it must be done. The fact is, we must finish something in some form for something better to be created. Set deadlines and finish that SFD. You might still hate it, but your educational partners can make it better. Nothing gets done if a person’s aim is perfection, so removing that tendency will make you much more productive. 

And that’s it. Pairing action with reflection is the solution to 99.9% of the problems in education: curriculum-building, programming, social media production, admissions…it’s everything. Start today, but remember to think and act critically while moving forward.

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