Have you ever dreamed of visiting a distant land after seeing it captured in a documentary, cheering on your favourite sporting team in real life or seeing a certain acclaimed artwork or salient sculpture in person? Recently I fulfilled one of those long-held dreams. Viewing Auguste Rodin’s ‘The Thinker’ (Le Penseur) sculpture in Paris has been ticked off my Bucket List! Walking into the Grande Palais exhibition marking the centenary of Rodin’s death, there he was, larger than life – thinking. Quietly studying his features, it struck me how intentionally reflective he appeared and I immediately began making connections with my own life and what I had learned from the Families in Global Transition Conference (FIGT) in The Hague just a few weeks before.
Rodin’s most iconic sculpture, Le Penseur, is more contemplative than other famous sculptures such as the commemorative Statue of Liberty in New York or Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro. It came into being after Rodin had sculptured ‘The Gates of Hell’. You may notice some similarities between the man at the centre of ‘The Gates of Hell’ and ‘The Thinker’. Rodin used his past experience and understanding to create this new work, adding more detail to every facet of The Thinker’s body, to capture this quintessential introspective moment. Walking through the gallery in Paris that day, I observed that it was full of miniature plaster and clay sculptures, each one building on the previous until Rodin had it just right before sculpting in bronze or marble. I confess to being a little disappointed when I first saw this Le Penseur because it was in plaster and not the bronze I had hoped to see. Understanding his creative journey, however, I am now thrilled that I saw one of his early original works in progress – a stepping stone that led to the full realisation. Also throughout the exhibition were drawings depicting many of the sculptures from different perspectives, using a variety of techniques and mediums such as ink pen or pencil. “Seeking the sources of a renewed sculpture in the very process of developing form became a constant practice for Rodin. This approach, which was entirely original at the time, would go on to become extremely widespread among future generations of artists,” said the exhibition program. It was clear that Rodin valued the reflective thinking process and looking at things from different perspectives to improve his craft, creativity and the end result.
I too, believe in the power of reflection and looking at things from different perspectives. As a student I found reflective thinking helped me to learn from my mistakes and make sense of the world so as a teacher, I made it a priority to help my students develop their reflective thinking – both of their school-work and their personal life. As a parent, I do the same, every evening in fact, as we sit around the dinner table and reflect on our day, celebrating and learning from what was, in the hope of enriching was is and what will be. As an adult, I make time to reflect on my spiritual, personal and professional life and as a youth intercultural transition specialist, my work revolves around helping students to reflect on their past in order to enhance and bring meaning to their present and future.
That’s what is so powerful about reflection. It’s about looking back at what worked and what didn’t, why, what was learned and how this can be applied to the status quo, in order to adapt, improve and aspire. As I stood before Rodin’s sculpture I was taken back to my MEd studying days and the work of John Dewey – yes, the same guy who gave us the Dewey system for library cataloguing. Often seen as the father of reflective thinking, he maintains there are four elements for effectiveness:
- It is a meaning-making process
- It is intentional and disciplined
- It occurs in community, in interaction with others
- It requires the thinker to value the personal and intellectual growth of themselves as well as others. *
Standing in the Grande Palais, such reflective thoughts soon moved to revelation as I realized this is exactly what we did at the FIGT Conference a few weeks before. This year’s theme was Building on the Basics: Creating Your Tribe on the Move. Thanks to the program carefully crafted by Daniela Tomar, we intentionally went back to investigate the terms, concepts and frameworks associated with families in global transition, which have been developing for over 60 years. As our world continues to change, it was, and is, important for us to acknowledge those foundations and to build upon them in order to gain understanding whilst embracing the change. By doing so we remain relevant and effective to the very people with whom we work, live and educate. What resulted was a gathering of “researchers, educators, counsellors, relocation specialists, artists, humanitarians, entrepreneurs, students and parents”** to make meaning in an intentional and disciplined way, as a community, valuing the personal and intellectual growth of others and ourselves.
Ruth van Reken’s presentation during the ‘Finding Your Language on the Move’ panel was a meaning-making process for me. Stepping through the timeline of terms used to define and describe children in cultural transition, Ruth clearly depicted how our world has and continues to change. I was struck by the strong legacy that has increased our awareness and understanding and upon which we now build. Thanks to Dr Hill-Useem’s ‘Third Culture’ in the 1950s, David Pollock’s ‘Third Culture Kid’ (TCK) and Norma McCaig’s ‘Global Nomad’ in the 1980s, Ruth’s own ‘Cross Cultural Kid’ in the early 2000s, Michael Pollock’s recently updated ‘Third Culture Kid’ and more terms along the way, we have been given a language which helps identify, understand and support the many variations of kids crossing cultures in the 21st Century. Reflective thinking.
Intentional and Disciplined:
One of the reasons I attended my first FIGT conference was to hear the latest research on students in global transition. The research findings tabled at FIGT are methodologically robust, relevant and insightful. I rely on them to inform my work. This year, I particularly appreciated the intentional and disciplined research into
- the educational experiences of TCKs attending international schools presented by Anastasia Lijaldi,
- Katia Mace’s study of TCK Identity and the variables that make a difference and
- Ann Baker Cottrell’s investigation of the terms associated with Globally Mobile Children over time by asking the question, are they one tribe or many?
Each paper deserves their own blog post but all of them used the past to inform their research questions and build upon their understanding of the present and future, which in turn helps me/us too. Reflective thinking.
During the FIGT conference I tweeted the statistics – “288 delegates, 36 countries, 3 days, 3 keynotes, 7 Early Bird sessions, 70 Presenters, 33hrs of inspiration, countless connections”. Thanks to Twitter’s 140 character limit, what I didn’t have room to tweet was the 14 kitchen table conversations, 6 Ignite sessions, 2 panel discussions and the hours upon hours of dialogue, debate and deliberation that occurred outside the structured program. FIGT is a place where discussion is valued. Whether it’s the three days of the FIGT Conference, the Facebook group for FIGT Alumni or the regular FIGT Webinar’s, the perspectives of others are appreciated and respected and I come away from each interaction having learned something new. Reflective thinking.
Valuing the personal and intellectual growth of ourselves and others:
A prime example of this element of reflective thinking occurred on the last morning of the FIGT Conference, when over 60 people arose early, and enthusiastically joined the Safe Passage Across Networks (SPAN) Steering Committee to learn about the vision and what transpired at the inaugural SPAN Pre-Conference just days before. It was a time to review, debrief and to hear the perspectives of others not present on that historic day. SPAN delegate Claudine Hakim represented the thoughts of many when she spoke of her realisation that as educators, “we have a responsibility not to focus so much on ‘our’ program but to actually look at our community – the transition in and the transition out and our duty to work with other communities to ensure our Tribe are looked after when they leave our community.” Jody Tangredi, not present on the Pre-Conference day, asked important questions about SPAN’s organisational development that had us all thinking deeply and practically. Reflective thinking.
Back to Paris – I had no idea that seeing one of my favourite sculptures in person would evoke such deep thinking! Rodin’s life’s work was based on the reflective thinking process and resulted in him being praised as the man who brought sculpture back to life. “Each generation of audiences and creators view his work in a new way, and a different Rodin is discovered with each passing decade. Far from relegating him to a bygone era, these new perspectives constantly enrich the way his art is understood,” states the Rodin Exhibition program. In a similar way, the FIGT Conference helped me to view the work of our global transition pioneers in a new way, appreciate the intentional and disciplined approaches of our current researchers, use the perspectives of others to enrich my own life and those with whom I live, work and educate whilst also valuing the intellectual growth of others. Thank you FIGT for creating a safe space for me to think reflectively so that like Le Penseur, who appears to be on the verge of putting his ideas into motion, I am now propelled to put my thoughts into action.
* Rodgers, C. (2002) Defining Reflection: Another Look at John Dewey and Reflective Thinking, Teachers College record, v104, n4, p842-866
** Families in Global Transition (2017) http://figt.org/FIGT_Conference
Rodin: The Centennial Exhibition http://www.grandpalais.fr/pdf/Depliant-Rodin-GB.pdf