Teacher Development

The Power of Summer Reflection

Taking stock of past successes and challenges can boost your resilience for the upcoming school year.

July 5, 2018
A woman sitting at her kitchen table with a cup of tea, writing in a notebook and looking thoughtfully out the window
©500px/Hero Images

You have settled into summer and are most likely tempted to turn away from all things school-related. But now is the time to delve into some reflection time on how the school year went. By engaging in intentional and structured reflection on the last year, you can uncover strategies to help you manage future challenges in the classroom.   

Mapping High and Low Points

Draw a line representing this last school year and include peaks and valley that reflect your emotional experience of the year. Then identify what happened in those peaks and valleys. Perhaps a high point was a performance your students did, or positive feedback you got from a supervisor. Perhaps low points included testing season or the week before winter break because you were exhausted and kids acted out.

Once you’ve done this, consider which of these high and low points might repeat next year. For example, testing season happens every year, so you can anticipate that challenge and better manage the stress of it. And it’s likely that the week before winter break will be hard for everyone. So what might you be able to do in the weeks preceding the break to replenish your own energy and help students manage their emotions?

One year when I taught third grade, in anticipation of that rough period of the school year, I planned an astronomy unit for the three weeks between Thanksgiving and winter break. Students were thrilled to start an engaging new unit, and I felt energized to explore this content. This helped us all get through those three weeks, and a lot of learning was done.

Unpack Success

Write about one or two moments when you felt really successful in the last year. Describe those moments in as much detail as possible and from different perspectives—your own and those of your students, your students’ parents and guardians, and perhaps your administrators. What did they see and experience? See if you can identify all of the elements that led to and contributed to those successful moments and make sure to name your role in them. Then see if you can identify implications for next year: What are the lessons for you? What do you want to remember? What can be replicated?

One of my favorite moments in the last school year was a training I presented on coaching for equity. I spent weeks preparing for it, I got feedback from colleagues on my plans, and I really dug deep into myself to find my purpose—and found a deep source of strength and commitment. This training was challenging for me—emotionally and cognitively—and I also felt like it was success. Going forward, I’ve learned that I need to allocate more time to prepare for work I anticipate will be consuming, and I need to remember that it’ll be worth the effort.

Reflect on Relationships

Our relationships with our students, their parents, our colleagues, and our supervisors can be sources of great support or strain. Create a document with three columns with the headings “Great,” “OK,” and “Improve,” and then sort your relationships into them. For example, perhaps your relationships with a few parents were great, and the rest were OK, except for the relationship with one student’s mom that could have used some improvement.

Do the same for your colleagues, students, and supervisors. Then look for trends and patterns. Maybe it’s a lot easier for you to relate to your students’ moms and to your female students and colleagues, but not so easy with dads, male colleagues, and male students. Maybe you notice that relationships with students are generally great, but you could improve relationships with colleagues. What do you see?

Take those reflections and think about implications for next year. What might you do differently? Who might you strengthen relationships with? We feel best when we’re in good relationship with the people who surround us every day, so this is an area that’s worth thinking about and working on improving—and just about all of us can improve in this area.

Reflection Boosts Resilience

Resilience is the ability to bounce back after adversity and be stronger than before. Although we all have resilience within us, we can all use more of it, and we can do things every day to increase it. Reflection usually yields deeper self-understanding and learnings we can apply in future decision-making moments. As you transition into the summer, grab a journal, some markers, and perhaps a bubbly beverage and find a tree to sit under and reflect.