The Ignition of Metacognition

With grad school finishing up and a new season well underway, I figured it high time to throw down a few thoughts to reflect back before looking ahead. There certainly is a lot to unpack. As much as I’ve enjoyed Abby holding down the updates, I suppose it is time “We” Williamsons lived up to its name.

My master’s dissertation (British thesis) revolved around a few central concepts, namely: metacognition, problem solving, and lateral-capacity building. That’s quite a mouthful. Basically, I’m interested in teachers getting students to take ownership of their learning process. Metacognition, a rather confusing term that scholars can’t even agree upon, deals with how we monitor and regulate our own thinking process. In other words, it involves reflecting on how we think and make adjustments based on our self-awareness. Although, my work was concerned with elementary students and teachers, I found myself taking an introspective gaze upon how I fall quite short in applying metacognitive strategies to my own life.

My personality rarely lends itself to take enough quality time to reflect on failure and instead I move quickly to “improve” by adding more to my life. Being recently fascinated by the Enneagram (an ancient personality system) and identifying a great deal with Type 7, “The Enthusiast,” I realized how prone I am to move from one experience to another without properly acknowledging the struggle. I am the guy who runs around with my silver paintbrush, looking to turn rain clouds all puffy, bright and shiny. If you’ve watched Inside-Out, I am Joy, filling the world with spontaneous fun as I push out sadness. This becomes difficult when I live life with a unique “Individualist” of a wife (aka a Type 4) who I’ll just say, “enters the darkness.” Her refrain spoken over me is captured in Russ Hudson’s words that,

“it’s not in the content of experience that I’ll find happiness, but in the quality of my attention and presence in any experience I have.”

This hit home on a fateful summer I spent traveling on my own from Asia to Europe via the Trans-Siberian Railway. I planned to pack my trip full of friends and family on my way to begin grad school in England (not to mention meeting my bride-to-be). I was giddy to watch the country count quickly rise. However, sitting on a train with no English speakers, internet, or shower for two weeks forced me to step back and pause, quite literally in all my filth. On top of that, I had a Dostoyevsky novel that also did not fail to “enter the darkness.” In that space, often staring out the window, or laying in my bunk, I could reflect on a lot of struggles and how those shaped what was ahead. The steady cadence across the roving landscape helped establish how moving forward requires processing the past.

In my stillness, I realized the emptiness of my busyness. This is nothing new. I’m sure this same lesson rings true to others as we go against the pull of the world. But for me, I needed to come back to identifying in simply being. In fact, I realized how I made religion what I most hated about it. I told myself I needed to do more, instead of simply knowing and being in His presence. I wanted to soak up life without stopping to first let Him fill me up.

That lesson proved critical in this last season of life. With the demands of having our first child away from family, teaching full-time, and completing a small-scale research project, Abby and I nearly broke. The struggle appeared unescapable. Balance was a far off glimmer. Only by waking up at 4 a.m. in the silence (if I was lucky) and surrendering my day to God, could I stay afloat.

Now, here we are. Although we find ourselves in more transition stateside, we are seeking to first be. We have a chance to let family enter our lives and lift our burdens. We can breathe deeply, reflect on the dark clouds together, process what happened, and remember who brought us here and who continues to lead us. That’s not all.

Here’s what really gets me pumped about metacognition: reflection does not end in self-awareness, but a procedural component is stimulated, where proper changes occur. Neuro-science shows how a part of our brain literally regulates the rest of our thoughts. Unfortunately, we don’t always engage it. The skill of being able to engage that area of the brain is critical for solving problems of all sorts. When teaching students, metacognition is best stimulated in groups in which children have the chance to discuss their process of solving problems. I found teachers require the same thing. They need a community of practice to reflect and make proper changes.

Beginning grad school was not just about getting to voyage across Russia and Europe. There was a deeper pull. I desired to walk with other teachers and help them engage students with strategies that lead to improved problem solvers in their community. Through the school I attended as a child in Nepal, I will be able to make this vision come true. I am thrilled to be able to work at KISC EQUIP as a teacher trainer next year that is already doing great work in this area.

This season offers a chance to re-evaluate and re-tool as look toward Nepal. Hopefully, I can use this space to discuss points of interest along the way. Ultimately, I pray this season allows our doing to come from a place of being.

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