Most teachers end the school year with a reflective activity with their students. In some classrooms, students work on portfolios or posters to reflect on what they have learned that school year. Other classrooms hold individual conferences with students and their families or have students reflect in small-group conversations. This act of reflection, regardless of the structure, is a crucial step in the learning process to make visible all that has happened, and so much has happened.
This crucial step is essential for teachers, too. When May and June roll around, everyone is exhausted—there is no disputing that—but taking just a few minutes to pause and reflect and create your own version of a “portfolio” or “poster” can help you see and feel success, especially after the unique and challenging school year teachers just had.
A Guide to Reflecting on Your School Year
Step 1: Review your materials. Take 5 to 10 minutes to look over your materials. Materials can mean many things in our classroom: lesson plans, student work, phone call logs, or simply our four walls.
My favorite method of review was to sit in my classroom when it was empty in the morning or afternoon and scan the walls and observe the following:
Student work: What student work stands out to you? Or what student work isn’t present that you wish were based on your and your students’ experience?
Anchor charts and classroom decorations: What anchor charts did you make that you want to remember or save to have day one next year? Which do you want to build again with students? What do you love on your walls, and what’s missing? What would you like to keep, add, or remove for the next year?
Structure/set up: What do you want to set up differently or the same to support student flow and access to materials as well as belonging, safety, and trust? What spaces in your room best support student learning?
Step 2: Write down notes in a place you’ll remember. Research has proven the power of writing things down for memory and reflection. For some teachers this takes place in a journal. Others use an email scheduled to send to themselves in August, while some choose a Google Doc.
Find the strategy that works best for you. Each school year is unique, and this past school year was unlike any other teachers had ever experienced. Writer adrienne maree brown in her core principles of emergent strategy reminds us that it’s “never a failure, always a lesson.”
Below are some questions to spark your reflection:
- What was a goal or hope you had for students or yourself at the start of the school year? Why was this goal important to you, and why was it important to students?
- This past school year was not typical at all, so what were some moments of success you had in your classroom, and what were some moments of challenge? From each, what did you learn about yourself as an educator?
- What do you know now, compared with August? Another way to think about this is to complete the frame, “I used to think… but now I think…”
- What is a hope, goal, or wondering you are holding for next year? What are you curious to think differently or deeper about?
Step 3: Share with a colleague. Learning is individual, but transformation and change is collective. Collective efficacy is a powerful force in schools, not only for educators to feel passionate and connected to their teams, but also for student success. By sharing your reflections with your colleagues, you build solidarity and accountability buddies within your system for the following school year. You also affirm for yourselves and each other that you are not alone in your struggles.
When you share your hopes, goals, challenges, and curiosities, you are also building a culture of public learning to support you and your colleagues to move through and figure out the new and perpetual complex realities of education together.
Step 4: Celebrate yourself. You made it. Each school year is a marathon, not a sprint, and this past school year was an ultramarathon. I recently reflected on this school year with a group of educators, and I asked them to share one word to describe their year. Educators shared the words tumultuous, exhausting, resilient, and bananas, to name a few.
What one word would you share? Regardless of the word, it’s important to give yourselves a metaphorical high five or pat on the back and the time to rest and recharge.