Tag Archives: Reflection

Reflections on Learning

During our last class before the holidays, my grade 12 students and I talked about getting old. Well, older. I mentioned something that had happened six years ago and we were all taken aback for a moment. Six years ago I was still living in Rochester, New York where I grew up; six years ago, my students were in grade 6. Six years is six years but somehow, it seems like a much bigger change for them. Six years ago, my students were kids. Now, they’re young people who are preparing to go into the world and do something. But not just yet. Let’s not rush things.

I’m reflecting on this right now because I have a birthday coming up and it required me to change the tagline that appears just below the title of this blog. Until about 10 minutes ago, the tagline read, “Photos, travels, musings, and ideas on education by a twenty-something teacher trying to make the world a better and more peaceful place.” Now it reads, “Photos, travels, musings, and ideas on education by someone trying to make the world a better and more peaceful place.”

Don’t panic: I’m still a teacher.

But yes, I’m turning 30 next month and any birthday is a cause for reflection. Last year I wrote a list of what I’d learned in my twenties and it definitely reflects how I was thinking at the time I wrote it. A few months later, I wrote a letter to my brother with some life advice and I like that one much better. It takes some elements of the first list and frames the ideas in actionable ways – I like that. The difference between these two lists, five months apart, also reflects what I would like to highlight here: the importance of perpetual learning.


I can point to much that has changed for me over time, but an essential constant has been the desire to learn and to grow. There has always been a genuine excitement over recognising something new or forming new connections. I’ve never been afraid of what I don’t know and I’ve never been deluded into thinking there’s nothing left to find out. This is also why I’m more than happy to reread books. There’s plenty out there, sure, but you really never step into the same river twice. (My credit to Disney’s Pocahontas here, but further research indicated that Heraclitus said it first.)

Last week, my Theory of Knowledge students gave oral presentations on the topic of ignorance. One student concluded by saying that ignorance leads to growth. When my co-teacher asked what she meant by “growth” she replied, “I don’t know, maybe learning.” Yes, exactly. Ignorance opens doors to learning. I have always known this but I have not always had the language to express it.

Growing up, my parents had a pretty clear policy on things we children didn’t know: Go find out. We had dictionaries and encyclopedias and after some time, we also had the Internet. If you didn’t know it, you looked it up. If you didn’t understand your findings, you asked. I only remember being turned down once for an answer. I was thirteen and my poor dad, looking distinctly uncomfortable, told me, “Go ask your mother.” I did and it was a good thing.

I have never been a stranger to learning. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve taken the important step of being able to appreciate when I am wrong. In many ways, being an educator has taught me this. As a student, I could see right through my teachers, especially new ones, and I knew exactly when they didn’t know what they were desperately trying to demonstrate that they knew. As a teacher myself, I understand the necessity of being both genuine and vulnerable with my students. I expect the same of them, after all, and at the end of the day we are partners in this thing called education. (Schooling is a different matter and, in keeping with the above, I am very open about this, too.)


Learning is deeply personal and I understand that. When I think back to what I wanted out of life six years ago, to return to the conversation with my grade 12 students, I’m stunned by how much has changed. I am in awe of what I have learned.

I am doing almost none of what I expected to be doing, but much of what I dreamed of doing. I have so much more than I thought I would, but very little of what I had wanted. I now see myself in ways I never imagined were possible because I didn’t know they existed, but I am not who I thought I would be. And I know there is more to become.

This is not to say one is all good and the other is all bad, certainly not. Rather, this is to say that I have lived in varying shades of black, white, and gray – at times, more gray or more black or more white. Shifting. Sometimes fluidly, sometimes with stark lines. In short, I have lived. I have learned.

I’m not particularly sentimental but I do grow nostalgic every now and then. For instance, the other day I looked up a friend from a former life. Just looked. But the same day, I picked up a book by an author I would have once passed over. Because you never know. Really.

In the words that Immanuel Kant took as the motto of Enlightenment, “Sapere aude. Dare to know.”

And millennia earlier from Socrates, “I know nothing except the fact of my own ignorance.”

Indeed. And now I’ll return to my reading.

Living Gently

A long time ago I encountered the idiom, “People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.” I didn’t understand it then but have since lived within its meaning. Yesterday, I referenced glass houses while ranting to a friend about people who fail to treat others with dignity and respect. One breath later, I realised that this idiom goes much deeper than that.


We are all fragile beings and encase ourselves in fragile lives. At any moment, we can lose or gain someone or something very meaningful. We don’t know whether we’ll make it home from this errand or that day of work and we don’t know what we’ll discover on the way. We don’t know what a doctor will find during a routine procedure. We don’t know, upon hanging up the phone or clicking send, whether we’ll indeed speak again soon. And furthermore, we don’t know how others’ lives entangle with ours and how that many affect us.

In short, we are fragile and so are our lives. Losing sight of this can lead us to interminably waiting for the right opportunity or the right time. There often is no “right”. Instead, there are opportunities and there are times. Take them when they come because life, because living, is fragile.

With this understanding, it is easy to appreciate how quickly a stone can shatter who we are and how we live.

Treat others gently because they, like you, are fragile. Treat others gently because they, like you, deserve dignity and respect. Treat others gently because they, like you, are only human.


As we walk in the world, it is important to remember that it is not enough to avoid throwing stones. We all live in glass houses. Life throws enough stones and our energy is better spent lifting each other up rather than tearing each other down. Instead, let us acknowledge the fragility of who we are and behave in ways that demonstrate that we accept the same about others.

A Yom Kippur Reflection

The year has turned and
so far
it looks a lot like this one.
The year has turned and
I want a
moment
to open my arms and send out a
wish.

To you.
Whoever you are.
Wherever you are.
I wish you
peace
in the year ahead.
Peace
in your mind and in your
heart.
Peace
whether you find it in
mountains or
seas or
a cup of coffee or
a hug from a friend.

I wish you
living
today. Right now.
Tomorrow is a new day.
An unknown
day.
Wake with this
one.

And wake well.
Live in peace.
Live well.

B’shalom,

Rebecca Michelle