Being Reflective with Ralph Waldo Emerson: Pt. 1

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Last week, as part of our school’s way of looking at teacher growth, I sent in a written reflection of my goals. This coming week, I will be asking my students to reflect on their progress this year, assess how they perceive their growth, and perhaps even set new goals for the summer.

There’s a little online initiative going on right now to celebrate Ralph Waldo Emerson’s 250th birthday @

Each day starting May 31 a writing prompt will appear that is meant to help you be more self-reflective.’

The first prompt:

If we live truly, we shall see truly. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Not everyone wants to travel the world, but most people can identify at least one place in the world they’d like to visit before they die. Where is that place for you, and what will you do to make sure you get there?

I feel fortunate as the place I wanted to visit most before I died was the place I was born and left 30 years ago. I had a chance to do that this Spring Break: Hong Kong, China. What did it take to get there? A former friend, colleague, and mother of a child I taught moved to teach at the HK International School. Aside from wanting to visit, I now also had someone to visit. I enjoyed every bit of that week.

View from the Star Ferry looking at Hong Kong across Victoria Harbour

The second prompt:

That which each can do best, none but his Maker can teach him. Where is the master who could have taught Shakespeare? Where is the master who could have instructed Franklin, or Washington, or Bacon, or Newton? . . . Shakespeare will never be made by the study of Shakespeare. Do that which is assigned you, and you cannot hope too much or dare too much. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Identify one of your biggest challenges at the moment (ie I don’t feel passionate about my work) and turn it into a question (ie How can I do work I’m passionate about?) Write it on a post-it and put it up on your bathroom mirror or the back of your front door. After 48-hours, journal what answers came up for you and be sure to evaluate them.

How can I change the homework policy at school?

What have I done:

  1. I’ve produced the research showing that it doesn’t make a difference in lower elementary school.
  2. I’ve looked for the “research” that says it does – there is none! (not for second grade and below) The studies that have been done show that there is no benefit of homework in the lower elementary grades. Many of the researchers may add on, “Homework should help them develop good study habits, foster positive attitudes toward school, and communicate to students the idea that learning takes work.” Cooper (1989)  – Ok Mr. Cooper, so you’ve looked at all the research and find that “it should not be expected to improve test scores,” but you recommend it anyway for reasons that have nothing to do with the research you looked at. Then there’s the research regarding practice of a skill. It’s pretty obvious that practice makes a difference. But practice and homework are two different things. There is no guarantee that your student is learning anything if they don’t see the purpose behind the practice and don’t get immediate feedback. If there is one kind of homework I would assign, it would be that a student should read each night or be read to. That is something that many researchers have found to be effective.
  3. I’ve asked the school to change the policy and will do so again.
  4. I wrote an article that got published last week about this issue.
  5. Some folks say, the research is out there. The only thing I’ve found is that reading to your child and practicing a skill makes a difference. If there is no one there to coach them while they are practicing, though, what good is the assignment? I have yet to have one of those folks bring me a piece of research that concludes homework in second grade and lower makes any difference. I’ve asked to see this research.
  6. I’ve chosen not to dwell on the past (the policy hasn’t changed) – I may the only person who has this belief (I’m not…just the most vocal one), but I can still have faith in my conviction and, while change didn’t happen, I can continue to try and influence change in the future. I don’t believe in ‘feelings’. If the evidence shows there’s no noticeable effect, I will keep asking the question, why do we do this? Because some parents ‘feel’ its important is not a good reason.
  7. I applied for an administrative role (one who could change a policy), but that didn’t happen. Oh well. There are more pressing issues at school, but just because teachers have close to no influence over matters like policy changes
  8. I will keep persisting on this matter.
The third prompt:

It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude. – Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance

The world is powered by passionate people, powerful ideas, and fearless action. What’s one strong belief you possess that isn’t shared by your closest friends or family? What inspires this belief, and what have you done to actively live it?

I believe that if we ask our students to take risks, we (teachers, parents, staff) have to do the same. I can safely say, I’ve taken several risks this year – these included successes and failures (learning opportunities sounds better though).

The fourth prompt:

Your genuine action will explain itself, and will explain your other genuine actions. Your conformity explains nothing. The force of character is cumulative. – Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance

If ‘the voyage of the best ship is a zigzag line of a hundred tacks,’ then it is more genuine to be present today than to recount yesterdays. How would you describe today using only one sentence? Tell today’s sentence to one other person. Repeat each day.

It was a breathtaking day on Lake Washington spent with people I care about.

Mt. Rainier in the background

Being a reflective practitioner is something I need to get better at. Can I keep up with one prompt per day? We’ll see. June is shaping up to be another very busy month.