Tell the truth in your reflection


Commencement season,  the time of year when we hear various addresses, speaking words of inspiration and challenges to recent college graduates.  One address from this year’s round of speeches that I found particularly relevant to my work was from Author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.  She spoke at the 2018 Class Day at Harvard College. I of course may be a little biased of how much I liked this address, as I am a fan of Adichie’s work.  Her essay We Should All be Feminists helped awaken my own self-reflection of how I see myself as a feminist.

In Adichie’s address she speaks of a theme of telling the truth.  She urges the graduates to be truthful with others, but she also speaks to being truthful with yourself.  There is this thing we do when thinking through a situation where we may not be 100% truthful with ourselves.  We don’t want to acknowledge our “failures and fragility.” Adichie says that it is “hard to tell ourselves the truth of our own emotions.”

These words that she spoke throughout her whole address reminded me of how important it is to be truthful to ourselves when we sit with our reflections.  It’s not just the ins and outs of the experience we need to reflect on, but our feelings we had during and after the experience. When we listen to our emotions and acknowledge them we are more truthful with ourselves.  The truth that we speak with ourselves provides us with authentic reflection.

So what does this mean when we ask our students to participate in reflection about an experience?  We need to teach them how to listen to their emotions and acknowledge them when practicing reflective learning.  If they are not being truthful to themselves in reflection, then they won’t be fully engaging in the learning cycle.  As you put together your guided reflection questions for your students, be sure to include questions around exploring feelings.  The tried and true “how did this make you feel” is a good start, but get the student to dig deeper. One suggestion is to create a Likert scale of a specific emotion and go from there.  Additionally, talk through the emotions with the student as they be more able to verbally express this type of reflection than putting it down on paper.

I’ll leave this piece with a poignant saying that Adichie shared in the end of her address (25 minute mark). A translated saying from the Igbo language from Nigeria, “whenever you wake up, that is your morning.”  I feel that this expression says it all for our own self-reflection to be truthful to ourselves, and something to pass on to our students.

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