Solitude and Reflection

At the conclusion of October, the teachers of Detroit Prep had the opportunity to attend the Expeditionary Learning National Conference. The conference which brought together approximately 1,000 practitioners and friends of Expeditionary Learning (EL) was held over the course of three days at the Renaissance Center in Downtown Detroit. Attendees had the opportunity to participate in both master classes focused on particular topics and communities of practice - conversation groups centered on complex problems of practice.

As a new EL teacher, I learned a tremendous amount from the conference: from the classes I attended and the interactions I had with more experienced EL educators. In this post, I want to talk about what I learned from one master class on solitude and reflection.

"Solitude and reflection" is one of the core design principles of EL. The organization defines the principle as: "Students and teachers need time alone to explore their own thoughts, make their own connections, and create their own ideas. They also need to exchange their reflections with other students and with adults." Prior to attending the master class, I understood this design principle as meaning that students should have some quiet times during the day and that students should regularly reflect on their learning.

The master class shifted my thinking around solitude and reflection. While part of solitude and reflection is certainly making room in the school day for quiet reflection, the principle is also connected with being alone and silent in the natural world. At some EL schools, students have "sit spots" outside their schools; students visit these spots each day and sit quietly or meditate. At other schools, teachers take solo hikes prior to the school year to ground themselves and become more mindful of their teaching practice. It was striking to me that at many schools "solos" (quiet, alone times for students and teachers) were only loosely structured. Solo participants were given loose guidelines for their time alone - perhaps a task or two - and then sent out. Solo participants were typically not tasked with reflecting on their academic goals. Even though the structure was loose for these moments of solitude and reflection, students and teachers found their self-directed time invaluable and often yearned for more.

After learning how many EL schools incorporate the principle of solitude and reflection into their students and teachers daily lives via time outdoors and via loosely structured solo time, I have started to think about how I can make this principle a more robust part of the day for my Detroit Prep crew. I am eager to take my crew outside for mindfulness time and to facilitate activities that will draw our attention to our natural surroundings. I am also excited to trust my Kindergarten crew with less structured solo/reflection time and to see how their capacity to self-manage and reflect might grow.

If you notice things in Ms. Shelly's crew are a little quieter in the coming months, don't doubt we are still learning and growing! In the words of Pablo Picasso, "Without great solitude no serious work is possible."