Active and Reflective Learning : Martha and Mary

I was in church today and the gospel really stuck with me. I don’t often mix in many biblical references here but this one really works. The gospel today was the story of Mary and Martha, two sisters who host a visit from Jesus. I have included the passage here:

Luke 10:38-42

At the Home of Martha and Mary

38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Marthaopened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one.[a] Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”


This passage struck me as I am trying to get back into thinking about our NeXt School writing project. The thing that I want to discuss today is our section on Active and Reflective Learning. I think the Martha and Mary story is so appropriate to active and reflective learning. Too often educators are like either one of these women and the ideals of the NeXt School is to look for a balance.

When we are like Martha we become so set on the mechanism of the school and the systems and protocols that help to move things along. We end up having staff meetings that talk about uniform policy and textbook collection practices instead of real professional dialogue. We can become so focussed on getting through our lesson and moving through the curriculum that we lose sight of what and why we are teaching. Remember: none of us teach subjects; we all teach kids! The gospel describes Martha as being “distracted” by many things and this can certainly be said about us as teaching practitioners. We end up getting through the lesson, the day, the semester, the year, without taking the time to reflect upon and look to truly improve what we are doing.

Of course there are times when we can be very Mary-like. We can end up talking philosophy and pedagogy so much that we don’t actually get anything done. I see this happen a lot when it comes to PD within a school or even board-wide. I think we can all relate the frustration that comes from sitting in a PD session that is focussed too much on theory without offering anything practical for us to use in the class. This is often when PD fails and where a disconnect can happen between teachers and board.

The section of the NeXt School certification process that we have tentatively titled Active and Reflective Learning focusses on creating and maintaining and environment that allows time for the professionals in the building to be reflective about their profession but also provides the resources and support to be active about their reflections. I see very little value in a reflective exercise that does not lead to some sort of action. Perhaps that is why many teachers do not even bother to fill out their Annual Learning Plans. They see no connection between what they put in this plan and what supports or opportunities will be provided to them, so they don’t even start. This is a key challenge for any administrator and one of the resources that we hope to offer through the NeXt School project.

In the end it is the fine balance between practitioner (Martha)  and academic (Mary). The academic is naturally reflective and does crave the opportunity to look critically at their own teaching and truly do enjoy learning for the sake of learning. The vast amount of education that teachers have is testament to that! The Practitioner is diligent and focussed on their work and understands the need for efficient and practical solutions to solve serious and immediate problems. The whole idea behind The NeXt School work is that a proper balance between practitioner and academic is found in the idea of a professional. A professional understands that to be a strong practitioner, one has to be reflective and critical but also understands that all the academic reflection in the world is fruitless until it translates into some form of tangible and substantial learning. This is what all educators and educational communities should seek to become and it is definitely what The NeXt School would embody.

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One Response to Active and Reflective Learning : Martha and Mary

  1. Solid arguement, Michael. It will be a huge challenge for administrators to provide teachers the support they need to find the time to be truly reflective. If teachers are to reflect on their practice somewhere between writing the 8th IEP, holding the second practice of the day, counting up the hundreds of dollars for the class fundraiser, and providing descriptive feedback on those essays for the next day, they will need their administration to step in and help find a way to lighten the load. And for that, the adminstration with need support from the board. And onwards up to the provincial government. It’s a critical change that will need far-reaching support to occur.

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