Not long ago, I started thinking about the concept of “reflecting forward.” I’m sure this idea has a fancier name somewhere with someone more eloquent than myself, but to me, reflecting forward is the idea that we can take what we have learned along the way and use it to plan next steps. It’s not just learning from mistakes; instead, this would be deliberately planning future events by reflecting on what did or didn’t work in the past or, even, the present.
You know that quote from Albert Einstein? It’s the one that points out, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” So, then, reflecting forward is the opposite of insanity—it is very, very sane.
I’m not talking about bigger issues like bad habits or relationship fails or anything that happens to us because we’re human and therefore very, very flawed. I’m talking about the things we do as teachers and principals, as leaders and decision-makers, as people who are in charge of something. How can we reflect forward and plan for different, more favorable outcomes in what we do?
Here’s an example. I struggle with remembering the specifics of events that happen throughout a school year. For example, every stinkin’ year we have a schoolwide celebration in late October. I always remember the vague details, but I didn’t do a good job remembering exactly how to prepare for the event. As a result, the days leading up the celebration were a little frantic and scattered. This past year, though, I finally reflected forward—I sat down and made a specific, point-by-point list of things we’d done to prepare, things that had been successful, and things we needed to change. Then, I got into my Google calendar and added an event for a few weeks prior to next year’s party. I copied-and-pasted my list right in the “description” window of the event. Now, I have it on my calendar to plan differently in the future based on my reflections from today.
Then I took it one step further. I added an event a few days after next year’s event titled, “Considerations.” In the description window, I again copied-and-pasted the list, but headed it, “Any changes for next time?” Then, in both calendar events, I clicked the “repeat” feature for several upcoming years. By doing so, I have set up a structure that will force me to consider improvements for several years to come—and I can always click backwards if I want to remember what changes I made and why I made them.
Google calendar is a natural and effective tool for us to reflect forward, because we can document and plan our evolution of improvement. There are other ways, too; notebooks, list systems, audio recordings, and even those simple manilla file folders of yesteryear work well. It doesn’t matter what tool we use—just so we plan for improvement by reflecting forward.