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Teaching Tori the Power of Reflection

“What’s so amazing about really deep thoughts?”

Tori Amos

“To maintain the state of doubt and to carry on systematic and protracted inquiry — these are the essentials of thinking.”

John Dewey

It’s that time of year again – the New Year – a time for resolution, goal setting, and change. We search everywhere to find that one thing, that one answer to help us change.

Recently, I (Christy) have been doing the thing I have loved to do since I first realized the great value of it at the ripe old age of thirteen – walking on the beach. I’m a Florida Girl. In order to really be a Florida Girl (or a Florida Guy, I suppose), it is my belief that you have to love the beach. I realized in my thirteenth year of life that walking on the beach gave me time to myself. It helped me think about the things I wanted in life. It helped me to think about what I wanted in a partner, the things I was passionate about, and, perhaps most importantly, it helped me to dream. My dreams often seemed just that – dreams, unattainable and unfathomable, but the beach gave me that space to get into my head and think.

The last eight years I have lived in New York City and I have loved most everything about it. Everything, that is, other than the fact that there is no real beach nearby for me to walk and think and dream. I come home several times a year mostly to visit family, but sometimes I think the real reason I come home is to visit me.

This past holiday was no exception. My first real beach encounter came right before Christmas. I was frazzled from work, frazzled from shopping, and frazzled with all of  the things that most people deal with. I woke up one day and decided this day can only get better if I take an early morning walk on the beach.

I stepped on the sand and just walked. I walked and walked and walked. I stared out into the calm stillness of the Gulf of Mexico, getting lost in the ripples splashing onto the shoreline. Music to my thoughts. I noticed the houses I passed, wondering who lived in them or which house had the best views for parties and family gatherings or which could be mine someday. Ahh … just like my dreaming in high school … unattainable, but yet I kept dreaming.

I continued my walk, lost in my thoughts, when I realized all of the beauties about this walk. I was exercising, although it didn’t feel like it; I was thinking, although thoughts just appeared without me really knowing how they got there; and I was happy – happy to be outside in the fresh air away from life. I realized then that my New Year needs to be all about feeding my mind, body, and soul. That is the work for me, for now. I didn’t know that before my walk, and I loved how I felt about it after my walk. It made so much sense to me.

I came home and discussed it with my husband, and everything around me seemed to be helping me with this goal. I read an article by Eric Barker called Things the Happiest People Have in Common.

It mentions that happy people have habits, a routine, things they do everyday to deliberately support happiness. So I asked myself, what can I put in place that becomes a habit to support my goal of living the balance of feeding my mind, body and soul? When I discussed it with my husband, I realized that some habits were in place already for both of us – especially feeding our minds. We are avid readers, we listen to NPR and other news programs, and we frequently discuss the political and social issues of the day. We realized that we both needed to maybe work on body or soul. For him, it was body and exercise; for me, body and food; and both of us needed to work on feeding the soul.

“If I allowed fear to overtake me my journey was doomed. Fear to a great extent is born of a story we tell ourselves, so I choose to tell myself a different story from the one women are told. I decided I was safe. I was strong. I was brave. Nothing could vanquish me. Insisting on this story was a form of mind control, but for the most part, it worked… Fear begets fear. Power begets power. I willed myself to beget power and it wasn’t long before I actually wasn’t afraid.”

Cheryl Strayed Wild


Cheryl’s words and this video really spoke to us. Our brains have the super power to help us see similar things a little (or a lot) differently, if needed.  A couple of mornings ago, I (Monique) was taking a walk with my family here in our neighborhood here in Harlem, NY.  It’s our usual Saturday morning ritual to walk and talk together- sometimes, it’s easier to catch up with what’s going on in my children’s lives while walking.  There’s something about allowing your brain to wander as you physically wander.  On this particular walk last Saturday, one of my daughters complained, “I can’t believe vacation is over! Ugh – I don’t want to go to school on Monday!”  Initially, I wanted to wallow in self pity with her and complain.  Thankfully, my brain stopped me.  My brain knew I needed to look at Monday differently.  I knew I had to help her think differently about all the Mondays she has yet to face in her life. We both needed to work on our brains.  I talked some long ‘mom-like’ cheesy rant like, “You know, I’m actually looking forward to this week.  I can’t wait to tackle the new things that are waiting for me.  I’ve relaxed and rejuvenated myself this entire vacation, and it really must be for a reason.  It’s like, I’ll be doing the same things, going to the same places, interacting with the same people, but now, it’s a different me.  It’s like I get to start over but I already know everyone, everything and everyplace.  I think it will be an amazing week! What do you think?”  Surprisingly, my 12 year old daughter was listening.  And I think she bought it.  She nodded and reflected, “You’re right, mom.  I think I need to think differently.”  Her brain was fired up.  That’s our resolution as a family.  Feed the brain and the brain will nourish your body and soul.

This week, as many of us head back to our jobs and responsibilities, wakening up from vacation slumber, there maybe a sense of anxiety wrapped around us. The work we do as educators is so emotionally involved and multi-leveled. Recently a follower and friend of the blog asked this question: What is the next step for me? The biggest thing is to do just that, ask those questions, and then reflect.

“Reflection is a complex, rigorous, intellectual and emotional enterprise.”

John Dewey

Considerations to deep, empowering, motivating reflection:

  1. Reflection is complex and rigorous. It takes time to think and decide and study what Dewey calls as a “dilemma” (goal) that you are having. For some you may come to this on the beach, others a walk in the woods, maybe enjoying the peaceful silence after a fresh snow fall, or having a conversation with a colleague.
  2. Reflection needs to be ok with your brain – or maybe your brain needs convincing, like Cheryl’s did.
  3. Reflection needs to be embraced. You are on about it. Excited and learning as much as you can about it. You are passionate about this thing you are trying to get better at. And you are not judging it.
  4. Reflection needs habits in place to help you on your journey as you near a closer resolution around your dilemma (goal.)

“Reflective thinking, in short, means judgment suspended during further inquiry; and suspense is likely to be somewhat painful… To maintain the state of doubt and to carry on systematic and protracted inquiry — these are the essentials of thinking.” 

John Dewey

So, reflection is the key for us – in our view, it leads to everything else. So, Tori, that’s what’s so amazing about really deep thoughts, actually.

Monique & Christy


2 responses »

  1. What a lovely reminder of the power of making a little space for ourselves. I really needed this today. I will aim to take a figurative walk on the beach now and then to make sure I continue on the paths that are most important to me.


  2. Thanks, Anna! Yes, take some time for you!



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