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A note to myself about reading, writing, and reflection, or: why it went wrong last time and how to make it not go wrong again.

A couple of years ago, I set myself a challenge to read one book every week, followed by a review that I would then post to this website. This was, as with most arbitrary challenges of this nature, short lived. I burned out after about four weeks, not because I was struggling to read, but because I very quickly perverted the challenge into “how quickly can I read these books?” rather than “what can I get out of this experience?”

If I am being honest with myself, it was a vainglorious attempt at “content creation.” At the time of this challenge, I was a soon-to-be graduate with a master’s degree, and I felt the pressure of quickly securing appropriate work. I bargained with myself that somewhere out there was a recruiter who would stumble upon my website, and see that I was a learned man, someone with the capacity to inhale books in a single week and exhale knowledge and comprehension into a deftly written review. Yes, surely reading books, that most novel idea for the post-graduate student, would make up for my utter lack of real-world experience.

I am, perhaps, being a little facetious and self-deprecating here. I hold enough pride for one of those reviews that I included it in my “writing samples” packet that I would submit alongside job applications for a while. The truth of the matter is simple. Reading is good. Reading for the simple purpose of broadcasting to others, or, if you will, virtue-signaling, is not. The same could, and should, be said of any activity.

Before I was a planner, I was a teacher, and a large part of the training of teachers centers around the concept of the ‘reflective practitioner.’  The notion of reflection is that somewhere amongst the lesson planning, essay marking, resource creation, training courses, phone-calls to parents, in-person meetings with parents, open evenings, morning meetings, emails, marketing, conversations with students, catch up sessions, essay re-sits, and actual teaching itself, a teacher is supposed to find time to review their own work. Practically speaking, much of this happens subconsciously. You notice your first period class did not quite pick up the idea of dialectical materialism until the third time of explaining it, so your second period class receive that third explanation, first. As a trainee teacher, however, you are expected to show your working, and so 100 hours of teaching practice must be accompanied by 100 reflective reports, proof that you have mediated upon your success and failures, and grown as a person and a professional.

All of this is my way of saying I am about to start writing about books again, but as a journey and not as a destination. There will be no specific number of books I am intending on reading. There will be no formula, theme, or outcome in mind. Nor will there be any corrupted intent to impress. Instead, I am just going to read as I normally would, and then write as an exercise in self-improvement. I do, of course, hope that publishing these thoughts and writings will inspire others to read more and reflect more. Ultimately, though, I think publishing creates accountability. If I allow this work to go unseen, it becomes easier to just stop.

If you have stuck with this self-indulgent post so far, thank you. I hope you will join me for the rest of them.

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