Between final exams, calculating grades, and writing student comments -- not to mention various award ceremonies and graduation -- the end of the school year can often feel like an exhausting sprint to the finish. For better or worse, this is also when self-reflection works best, when the year's triumphs and struggles are freshest in the teacher's mind. Don't skimp on this essential practice, which can renew your sense of purpose while helping to make you an even better teacher.
Face-to-Face Student Feedback
I encourage all of my students to offer face-to-face feedback about my teaching practices. When done thoughtfully and respectfully, this always results in a positive exchange -- especially after final grades are entered in the spring and students feel less cause to hold back sharing their genuine feelings. Last year, several of my history students told me that though they appreciated my detailed feedback on papers, I gave insufficient time for revisions. Upon reflection, I agreed with them and made a reasonable change for this school year, which I feel has proved beneficial.
I also advise The Gator, Brimmer and May School's online student news site, where my budding editors frequently give me helpful feedback. I make a concerted effort to stay in the background as much as possible, as I care deeply about preserving the authenticity of the student-driven publication. Still, I need to do a better job of intervening when certain issues arise, like backing up editors on enforcing deadlines.
Anonymous Student Feedback
Throughout the year, including after final exams, I have students complete an anonymous electronic survey. I include questions about my teaching practices and what I might have done differently to enhance everyone's learning experience. I prefer face-to-face feedback, as I strive to encourage students to find a respectful way to confront authority figures and role models, without lessening the impact of their message. Still, I respect that some students would prefer expressing their thoughts anonymously, and however I can manage, I want to hear from as many of them as possible.
Last year, my history surveys revealed almost universal disappointment at too much time studying early America (which students found less interesting), leaving too little time for the Cold War (which students found engaging). I responded by tweaking the curriculum to begin with the Revolutionary War, not the Age of Exploration. This year, my students have expressed gratitude for the change. They are about to delve into the Cold War for the final six weeks of school.
Last year, I started an end-of-year ritual that I will continue for as long as I teach. Before taking off for the summer, I wrote a one-page self-evaluation of my teaching. I did my best to be as objective and dispassionate as possible. To help achieve this, I wrote in the third person. "David did a terrific job of helping students launch The Gator, which received award-recognition in its first year of existence," I wrote in part. "He also did a great job of assistant-coaching cross country, and advising Model United Nations and Upper School Senate. However, in history class, he did not spend enough time covering topics that students often find most interesting, like World War II and Cold War. He would be wise to use the summer to rethink how to maximize student engagement, while stressing skills over content." Interestingly, I wrote this self-reflection before reviewing the student surveys, which reinforced my conviction.
When reflecting on the year, I also do my best to speak with at least a few parents. I want to know what, if anything, I could do differently to help them support their children. When I began my career at Palmer Trinity School just outside of Miami, Florida, parents praised my caring nature, but they suggested that I post assignments even further in advance -- at least two weeks. This was also wise school policy that I had at times failed to follow. The following year, I made a vow not to falter here again, and over the ensuing six years, I have kept that vow.
Upon finishing my third year, I also recall a father who half-jokingly suggested that I try calling home with good news, not just bad news. Whatever his intent, I took his advice to heart. I want parents to know that I care just as much about successes as I do struggles, especially when the successes are truly extraordinary. Each time I call home with good news, the parent expects to hear the opposite, and he or she is all the more grateful when I offer nothing but praise.
Personal Learning Network
Throughout the year, including the summer months, I seek advice from my personal learning network. I engage teachers from all kinds of schools to exchange ideas regarding best practices. Two summers ago, to improve my skills as a writing coach, via Twitter I reached out to fellow Edutopia blogger Vicki Davis, author of Reinventing Writing: The 9 Tools That Are Changing Writing, Teaching, and Learning Forever. In fact, her book inspired me so much that I have shared more detailed reflections in one of my blog posts. The summer is an excellent time to strengthen your personal learning network. Take advantage. Reach out. In my experience, teachers love speaking with teachers to improve outcomes for all students.
How do you reflect on the year? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.