By Jacqueline LeKachman, Steinhardt Class of 2023, English education
This semester, I started working as a volunteer remote tutor through an organization called EConnected, which strives to support and connect English language learners (ELL) across NYC. As an English Education major who will certainly interact with ELL students in my own classroom, I was excited to be paired with a trilingual sixth-grade student. After several sessions of getting to know each other, I thought it would be fun to let my student write his own story instead of reading others’ stories; I wanted to give him the agency to create his own narratives.
The day of our next session I was prepared with a fun icebreaker – a review of the elements of plot, and a step by step guide to creating a story based off an action-packed image of a forest. But as we began the story-writing activity, I noticed my student didn’t seem particularly excited. He was responsive and engaged, but when it came to actually writing the story, he wrote only several sentences that he didn’t want to elaborate on, and he didn’t seem to find the forest image as generative as I thought he would. What was happening? Where had I gone wrong?
I think about this moment often as almost a personal advertisement for reflection. At NYU, everyone is always involved in something exciting – developing a project, chasing their ambitions, etc. Often we can forget to take a step back and reflect. However, this act of reflection is absolutely integral to our future success. After this session with my student, I made space in my day for reflection and considered the following: What went well, and why? What didn’t go well, and why? What should I change in the future?
I may not be a self-reflection master, but this experience did teach me valuable lessons that I will carry with me into my future English classroom and in my future leadership positions. Here are my top three takeaways:
Reflection is a form of self-care and goal-setting. After my session, I was feeling discouraged. I wanted our sessions to be a space where my student was inspired, not just present, and I felt like I had failed. Taking time after that session to allow myself to be upset, and then to reflect on why I was upset helped me refocus on my passion for English-teaching and on thinking about ways to better serve my student. I reflected on how my goal had been to give my student more agency in our sessions and found that choosing a random image of a forest for him to write a story about might not have supported that goal of student agency. This reflection helped me set a goal to let my student provide his own image to write about during our next session, which was much more productive because he could write about what he truly cared about.
Make space for reflection immediately, and record your insights. Although I was sad after my tutoring session, and it would have been easy to distract myself from what felt like a failure, reflecting on the session right after it happened was extremely productive. Not only were the facts of the experience clearest in my mind, but also I had all my materials still open, ready for review. You certainly don’t have to reflect on an experience immediately after it happens if you need a break. However, reflecting on experiences the day that they happen allows you to best retain your thoughts and feelings about them. Writing down the fruitful insights or goals that result from your reflection can also be particularly helpful, as you can refer back to them in the future.
Reflect on experiences even when they go well! Reflection isn’t just for when you feel an experience went poorly. You can always learn something or potentially become even more innovative by reflecting on what was successful. This process can help you understand what to keep doing in the future and help you develop greater self-awareness. It can also help you “share the wealth” and pass on what you learned to others so that we can all support each other in becoming stronger, more compassionate leaders.