Cleaning up your hard drive

Before I dig into this particular post I will disclose that while I’m pretty handy with computers, I am not one of those people who can build their own computers or write code or who is highly fluent in what I refer to as “the language of beep”.  So bear with me on this one… I promise that there is a more important lesson to be gained from this post aside from tech-speak.

After writing the entry about reflective assessment, I reflected on what I shared and also on my day in general. I build time into my day every day for reflection and thinking; I actually calendar it out, as I feel it is that important. While a small number of people process instantly and their best thinking comes on the spur of the moment, I find that my very best and most thoughtful ideas come after I have had time to process information that I’ve taken in. I akin this percolating process to cleaning up a computer hard drive.

On a computer, you need to routinely go through the hard drive and chuck out space-hogging files and applications that you don’t use, as well as deleting or moving that ancient 20-song album you bought but haven’t listened to in four years, so that the hard drive doesn’t get overfull thereby slogging down your computer’s performance. Sometimes you need to run a disk utility or repair permissions to clear off or fix files and apps that aren’t working properly. Once you do these things, you almost always see a noticeable improvement in the performance of the machine.

I find that I need to similarly take time to clear out space in my mind and sort through the myriad information that lives up there. I try to toss out unused information, I re-sort  information I have, and attempt to forge logical connections and “file names” for the many pieces of information that might be valuable but uncategorized at that point. This doesn’t just magically happen for me. I need time and focus to make real meaning of information and sort it into the proper place so that I’m able to come to solution on whatever question(s) is/are at hand. I find that if I have this dedicated time, I contribute at a higher level to whatever is at hand, be it a professional or personal issue, conversation, or decision.

For me, this processing time can take a variety of forms… but more often than not my very best thinking comes when I’m physically busy and can be mentally “empty” and it is best for me to not engage in conversation with others while the process is taking place. For example, running on a treadmill provides me a physically engaging activity that allows my mind time to wander and sort through information. Other activities that seem to provide good think-time include housekeeping, walks and/or hikes. At work, I try to take what I call a “hot lap” around the school when I know I need to process information. Just the act of walking and thinking does a great deal to help me find the solution or sort through information much more effectively.

I’m sharing this little insight into how I tick because I believe that we all need time for metacognition or “thinking about thinking”.  Some need it more often than others, but at some point, reflecting and forging connections is a vital activity for all of us. So… How do you clean up your mental hard drive? How do you offer opportunities to your students to clean up their mental hard drives? Just something to reflect upon and think about… how you provide time for yourself and your students to engage in metacognition… you might find that both for yourself and your students, a little dedicated reflection time could lead to great things.