Education is a dynamic process; changes often occur in policy and practice with a new administration, fluctuating school leadership, and promising educational trends. The tides change, and new mandates are made, objectives set, benchmarks layout, data to collect, and achievement to measure; but often we miss the vital opportunity to reflect on why new procedures are made and newfangled practices are warranted in the first place. It is in this reflection that purpose-driven decision making can become clear. I recently learned an important strategy centered on reflection from a Japanese teacher in Japan.
I was in Tokyo, a vibrant and cosmopolitan city, at a three-day conference on Asian Education and International Development. The focus was on research relevant to the issues of independence and interdependence among Asian countries through the lens of education. The attendees were from over 34 countries which provided for rich information, and conversations centered on some of the central issues impacting educators across the globe and not just in Asia. It was following the three days of presentations and information sessions, just when I thought my brain could not take digest one more piece of information, that a Japanese educator taught me about hansei(pronounced hahn-say).
Hansei is the practice of “self- reflection” and is a central awareness in Japanese culture, and loosely translates into English vernacular to mean “self-awareness is the first step to improvement.” Rooted in Eastern philosophy and with a religious nuance, the art of hansei is taught in some Japanese schools, so children begin to learn from an early age to reflect on performance, irrespective of outcomes. It is also a part of the corporate business in Japan and not exclusive to education leadership models. My new colleague wanted feedback on their presentation, and like most of the participants in our “hansei group” we gave broad comments based on execution. Yet, we were pushed by our hansei guide to dig deeper and provide pointed feedback that would inform the presentation focused on areas that might need to be bolstered, supported more, or framed differently. I have never participated in such a process at a conference and will admit that it required me to think deeply about content, delivery, and overall impact. The process differed from the type of pointers I have provided colleagues in the past as this process was meant to be critical, with an awareness that we were helping to inform broader actions. Gone were the superfluous adjectives of well done or good job!
Often in western culture, we are not receptive to receiving feedback. Two poignant reasons, time and perception. Receiving feedback usually is not done in an efficient timeframe. Hansei is conducted following the execution of an action. This process does take time, but it must be seen as a worthy use of time to be useful to all participants. Additionally, feedback for many in western culture is synonymous with criticism and taken as a personal assault on performance. Whether one is running a program, guiding policies, or directing leadership activities; the opportunity to be given feedback that quite possibly could have a meaningful impact is lost when the mindset is not open and receptive.
Traveling to attend educational conferences outside the United States provides learning opportunities on many fronts, and as an educator and teacher trainer, I would like to infuse more hansei into my practice. Educational practice is not static, and through the art of reflection, to understand the why behind our policies, the rationale in making decisions, and conducting a mindfulness check on what we can perhaps do differently to enhance and ultimately improve on education is a useful endeavor.