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Front Line Staff / Staff Leadership and Management

Stop, focus, and reflect

reflect, notebook

As schools and afterschool programs across the country are gearing up for the 2010-11 school year, now is a good time to stop, take a breath, and reflect about where we are. While this might seem counterintuitive to some of us (I know many of us try to take that breather at the end of the school year), it’s always good to go into a new year with an open mind.

As someone who conducts training, professional development, and technical assistance with afterschool program staff, I often focus on the importance of making a plan.

I try to end each session with a group by having participants write down at least one thing they will do based on information learned in the training. Sometimes this can be as simple as talking to the right people back at the program to get the ball rolling on something, or as complex as developing a sustainability team. Whatever it is, I always ask participants to write it down and include a timeline.

However, here is where I have to admit that I am a hypocrite. I am often hopping from one project to the next, one area of the country to the next, with “no time” to think about where I’ve just been, who I’ve just spoken with, or what should come of that. I put “no time” in quotations because in my personal life I am a firm believer that I have time for the things I make time for. And I believe that about you as well. We all make time for the things that are important to us.

So, how do I pull that into my professional life? How do I determine where the importance lies when juggling a start-up program in Arkansas whose staff I am training, an established program in Chicago who has asked me to contribute a small piece to their fall training, and a larger project of developing a toolkit for program coordinators who work with older youth (among other job responsibilities and projects).

Well, when it comes right down to it, I think there are a couple things that all of us can do.

  1. Stop – this can be the hardest part, but we must first stop. Think of this as a pause, if you will.
  2. Focus – turn your email off, close facebook (gasp!), and focus on whatever it is you just finished doing. Whether you just attended a national conference, went to a local meeting, or met someone on an airplane, this is an important step. I’ve found myself getting through step 1, the act of stopping, only to be sidetracked by an URGENT email that sends me off in the opposite direction from where I intended to be. There will always be urgent emails and people vying for your time…and they’ll be there when you finish reflecting too.
  3. Reflect – actively reflect upon what you have experienced by writing about it, reviewing notes, or planning ways to share what you’ve learned/experienced. It is in this step that we really start to process the information, and thus learn from it. But we can’t stop here…
  4. Act – follow-up with those you planned to share information with. Implement the program you planned to develop. Make those phone calls, schedule those meetings. Do whatever needs to get done to accomplish the things you reflected about.

As you read through this, you probably thought to yourself, “Yep, this all makes sense.

I mean, it’s nothing brilliant, but I get it.” (at least I hope that’s what you thought!). Well, instead of putting it off, let’s go ahead and start right now. Stop what you’re doing, turn off your email, and think about how you are going to incorporate reflection time into your life this week. Don’t worry about next week for now. Think about this week. Got it in your head? Okay, now write it down.

Looking ahead at my own week, I see that I am “attending” a webinar on Tuesday. My goal is to take time immediately following the webinar to stop and think about how I will use the information presented.

Refer back to your goal on Friday to see how successful you were.

And don’t be too hard on yourself. Incorporating time for reflection is not easy. Trust me, I know! Hopefully I will take time to reflect after the webinar, rather than immediately hopping on email to see what I missed during the hour and a half!

And for breakfast this morning I had vanilla yogurt with blueberry granola, fresh strawberries and blackberries, and a cup of coffee.

Author Profile: @jaimesinger

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