Harnessing a Cyclone: Reflecting on Success, Challenge, and Building a Pathway for Growth

This post was written by elementary educator Kelly Gresalfi.

This is a four-part series, with installments released weekly. We encourage you to follow Kelly’s journey this month and challenge you to engage in the questions at the end of each segment using the hashtag #ExploreReflectConnect.


If you ask my mom, she would say I was always like this. But if you ask me, I was a kid on the go, making whatever choices were right for me at the moment. It wasn’t until my dad passed away unexpectedly in college that I really embarked on this journey. I found myself sitting and thinking a lot about the root of my sadness, searching for words to express my grief. The uncomfortable process of sifting through my own thoughts and wrestling with how my feelings impacted others—and how their presence and actions impacted me—led me to a realization: loss is hard when you love hard. From here, I shifted into a new gear to purposefully connect with others, be open and empathetic, and continuously and purposefully check in with myself. And thus began an ongoing routine of reflection that has guided my personal and professional world as an elementary educator ever since.

“Reflection” is a term that means something a little different for each of us. By one definition, the word relates to the act of “bending back,” but that doesn’t quite capture the breadth and depth of its meaning. My partner’s father, a retired journalist, describes reflection as a “self-examination of actions and motives,” which I think is a solid, open-ended definition that is fitting for teachers, and really, all people. Reflection is instinctual in many ways: we are continuously looking back at events or moments, thinking, “Wow, that was bad,” or “I felt good about that.” This type of reflection is good, cathartic, human. I call this type of reflection, passive reflection: the fleeting recollection of how an experience or moment felt to us.

On the other end of the spectrum, there is active reflection. Thinking: “Okay, here’s what worked (or didn’t work), here’s what I can try, and here is me trying again.” Active reflection is like a cyclone: everything is connected, moving in the current moment, often progressing in a certain direction, at the forefront, and leads to new and unexpected developments along the way. For me, the process is data-driven—encompassing challenges, strengths, experiences, interactions, relationships—and requires a real commitment to growth through self-examination. Plan, try, reflect, transform, reflect, repeat.

So, why reflect?

Here’s the simplest answer: we ask our students to reflect all the time; why shouldn’t we do the same? (Reflect on that!) But in all seriousness, we do ask our students to reflect all the time. Why? We want them to be problem solvers, to think critically, to better their lives and those around them, to look at the challenges of our world and create innovative solutions. We want to instill a growth mindset and we know that reflection will support them in this endeavour. We ask them, “Was this task hard for you? If so, do you know why? Do you think there is another way that you could approach? You said that you ‘can’t’ do this task, but what small parts of it ‘can’ you do?” 

Similarly, we must ask these questions of ourselves and the work that we do.

I hope this has given you a starting point for your reflection journey. Next week we will dig into what a reflective practice might look, feel like, and sounds like. Here are questions you can consider to examine what reflection means to you and your learners in this moment:

  • The word “reflection” means something a little different for each of us. What does the act of reflection mean to you, personally or professionally as an educator?
  • Reflection happens in big and small ways, formally and informally. What does your reflective practice look like right now?
  • How do you foster reflection in your learners? Have you tried different means for reflection since the pandemic?

We look forward to seeing you next week for part two of four!


Feature image courtesy of Kelly Gresalfi

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