Reflection. In an age of smart phones, microwave ovens, and GPS guidance, reflection is increasingly a lost art. And yet, reflection–perhaps more than anything else–helps us discover who we are and who we want to be. Reflective practice creates expertise far more efficiently than simple practice. And reflection helps us avoid what Thoreau calls “lives of quiet desperation” and lead more meaningful lives.At SEGL, we incorporate reflection into every class period. For example, five minutes to consider a prompt at the start of a U.S. History class, five minutes to summarize the key takeaways from Precalculus class, or five minutes to say what worked and what didn’t work in today’s Chemistry lesson. English students also write weekly journal entries, and students reflect on their week at Sunday dorm meeting. But the most intensive reflection at SEGL often happens on the Odyssey.
The Odyssey links the first and last sections of the Ethics and Leadership course. Once the students have a basic background in international events, leadership skills, and ethical thinking models, we send them on a personal journey in order to encourage independent reflection (and, later, action). We also want them to practice some of their newly-gained knowledge and skills. This provides a confidence-building set of experiences that enables them to approach their capstone projects–the final section of the course–more effectively.
The students began this journey on Monday by filling out a short questionnaire that asked them questions about their personal history and passions. On Wednesday, each student followed a personalized three-part itinerary (created by faculty members), traveling “solo” from morning until late afternoon and answering journal questions along the way. (We won’t share more about this so that students from future semesters can enjoy the surprise!) This makes for a day filled with opportunities to be still, to focus internally, to discover. And the all-school Quaker-style meeting that followed this day of exploration was insightful and compelling. (After the meeting, we gathered for our now-traditional Spring Dinner: Chelsea made fantastic lasagna, peanut butter-chocolate chip cookies, buttermilk rolls, and roasted vegetables to send each student home for Spring Break with a warm and contented belly.)
The next stage of the Odyssey (which takes place the week after Spring Break) asks students to select a topic of personal interest and schedule individual meetings with DC-based experts. The pedagogical outcomes here are many: Learning how to make a phone call without getting flustered, or how to ask questions that elicit the answers you need, or how to walk the halls of Congress without feeling out of place are all simple but essential leadership skills.