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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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A Mid-Year Reflection for Teachers and Students

Maurice Elias

Professor, Rutgers University Psychology Department and Edutopia Blogger

As we edge towards the end of the calendar year and the first half of the school year, we can benefit from taking stock of what has happened thus far and also, put aside regretful events or actions that might hold us back from a good start in the new year. I have explored these aspects of reflection with staff members, and my dear colleague, Rachael Kessler, of blessed memory, used it with students.

Here is a reflection activity for school leaders to facilitate with faculty, and one for teachers to use with students in secondary schools:

Faculty Reflection: Send Your Regrets

This can be done as an individual staff member, within a Professional Learning Community (PLC), in a department, by grade level, or as an entire faculty. The orientation for the activity is as follows: "Today, we are taking a look at what we have and have not accomplished this school year. Take a moment and reflect on what you hoped would happen as we started the school year. Now take a moment to consider which of these has not happened as you hoped."

Once you have identified this, answer this question: "What is something that is holding back your success?"

"After you have identified this obstacle, write it down, put it in an envelope, address and stamp it to Santa (or the North Pole), and mail it." Sending your regrets -- identifying what has gotten in the way and committing to get past it as we start the New Year -- is a powerful activity that can help move us forward.

These directions are geared for the individual. If you do this in a group of any kind, then you can share the hopes, what has not happened, and, especially, what are the factors holding back success. Sometimes, you as an individual may change what would write as a result of hearing the reflections shared by the group. But at the end, everyone individually writes their own regrets and they get sent in one large envelope.

Student Reflection: Package Your Past

This is a variation of an activity in which my colleague asked students to bring their most important memories and reflections as they transition from middle to high school and from high school to their next step. Here, we are going to ask middle or high school students to review the school year so far. This is best done in an advisory or group guidance period, particularly if you want students to share with one-another. There needs to be a safe environment in which students know their feelings and observations will be validated and treated in a caring way.

Here is the script:

We are going to share with each other something positive about the school year, and something that we don't like that is holding us back. As we get ready for the start of next year, there is time to make sure we put behind us some things that might keep us from the success we would like.

First, take a moment to think about what has been positive for you during this school year so far. Write it down. Then, share it with one of your classmates for a minute, each reading your idea to the other. Then, join up with two other classmates and share your ideas. Come up with the best two things that have been positive for you this year, and then we will share them all.

As students share their ideas, put them on a piece of newsprint or poster paper that you will continue to keep on display, with a title like, "Things We Want to Keep Going in the New Year."

After this, with the remaining time or on another day, tell students that you now want them to think about things that are holding them back from success, from reaching their goals, and/or from having the kind of school they would most like to have. As before, ask them to think about what they feel is holding them back and write it down. Then, have them share it with one of their classmates.

After that, you can proceed in one of two ways. You can have students share their ideas with their classmates and then write down their final ideas, or you can move directly to having them write down individually, on pieces of paper, what they think is most holding them back. As they are preparing to write, tell them that they are going to take all of the things that are holding them back, and send them away. You are going to put them all in an envelope and mail them to the North Pole. You are not sure what is going to happen, whether anyone will get them or not, or do anything with them or not, but that does not matter. You are sending them away, so that they will not be such problems in the New Year.

After everyone has written their idea, have them put it in the envelope and make a point of sealing and addressing it so that they can see it, and tell them that you will mail it the next day.

Why Reflect?

We know there are many things in schools that can be changed, but there are many that cannot, or at least we are not sure how to change them. This includes, in particular, a history of failure. The symbolism of sending away what we can't change can be very powerful and liberating for your students -- and for you and your colleagues.

What activities have you used to inspire students to let go of the past and look to the future? What regrets and plans for the rest of the school year are on your mind? Please share with us in the comment section below.

Maurice Elias

Professor, Rutgers University Psychology Department and Edutopia Blogger
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