Teacher Wellness

How Teachers Can Benefit From End-of-Year Reflections

A teacher mentor shows why reflecting at the end of the year is so important for growth, and shares a worksheet for getting started.

May 23, 2024
Nic Staveley / iStock

Wander through classrooms in almost any school at the end of a major assignment, a project, a unit, a grading period, or the entire year, and you are likely to see a teacher facilitating student reflection. Reflection in any endeavor is a powerful part of learning from mistakes, missed opportunities, and also maintenance of success.

But reflection isn’t just for students. Teachers can also benefit from practicing this invaluable approach for themselves and should be encouraged to do so. 

Are you practicing reflection? Helping your colleagues to do this? If you’re an administrator, are you building in structures for your schools to accomplish this? If yes, keep it up, help more to do so, and see if this article gives you any additional ideas. If no, consider starting right away before you wrap up the year, park your school stuff, and put your brain in summer mode.

A Reflection Tool for Getting Started

In my work as a new-teacher mentor for our district’s three high schools, I created a Reflections and Directions exercise to help my new-to-the-classroom teachers with this process. Some parts of this may apply to you more than others, and it really is less about a given form than it is about the process, but sometimes an example framework is all you need to get started. The “Areas for Consideration” section has categories that include topics I’ve discussed with mentees throughout the year, areas of focus of their department or school, aspects of teaching that everyone finds valuable, or possibly areas that administrators are looking for in a future evaluation.

What’s most important are the benefits that reflecting and planning can generate for you and your students next year. Whether you use this form or some other process, here are some areas to reflect upon.

  •  What has gone well from day one? Even though personal connections, organization, and content knowledge may come naturally to you, and you can’t imagine doing what you’re doing any differently, you should still identify these strengths so that you can be intentional in keeping that aspect of your teaching while you’re tackling any changes that might arise.
  • What are some changes you have already effectively made during the year, or what changes are trending in the right direction? This is often something you’ve “fixed,” and  you probably need to figure out how to start the next school year so you don’t have to fix it again. This frequently relates to clarity of some aspect of your practice or consistency in follow-through, or it may be a technique you picked up from a colleague or research that will be nice to have from day one.
  • What is a practice you’d like to try but haven’t had the time or bandwidth yet? Plenty of times we see, hear, or read about something we’d like to try but just can’t work it in during the press of the school year. With a little more time to think about it, you can come up with where this new practice might fit in your year and then plan to give it a go.
  • What are some things you’re still struggling with? Identify someone who can help you come up with a detailed plan for solving these challenges. Consider writing out a step-by-step approach, even to the point of including scripts. The closer you can describe precisely what you want to do and how you want to do it, the better. 

Use the four questions to self-assess where you see yourself currently and provide a starting point for developing an improvement plan for the following school year. This can also give you a great head start for goal-setting conversations with your administrators for your next evaluation cycle.

Additionally, as you look forward, explore other ways to use reflection throughout the year to continue to fine-tune your practice and your students’ growth and success. 

Whether your reflection work is end of the year, throughout the year, or both, I would encourage you to find a partner to include in this work and support each other in the process, especially if that partner is a marigold. Marigolds are, as Jennifer Gonzalez writes, those who are “encouraging, supporting and nurturing growing teachers on their way to maturity.” If you are familiar with the marigold concept, you know exactly what I’m talking about; if not, it’s well worth reading Gonzalez’s post.

With reflection, timing really is everything. If you don’t do it right at the end of school, or right at the beginning of summer if your school is already out, there’s a good chance that a lot of great ideas will dissipate as your brain engages with however you fill your summer. If that happens, you will likely find yourself at some point next year, as I experienced myself many times, exclaiming, “Doh! Now I remember that I meant to…” It’s way better to stroll into the start of the new school year amid all the meetings and preparation and be glad to have a plan to continue to improve your practice—you and your students will be glad you did.

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