When it comes to thinking about the end of the year, one thing that comes to mind is looking back over the year and evaluating how things have gone. No matter how long you have been in education, taking time to reflect is crucial for growth. Looking back over what lessons you have taught, what went well, what didn’t quite work out all makes for a stronger year next year.
Even more important than your own ability to reflect on the year? Being open to the opinions of others. It may be hard to put yourself out there, but when we are talking real growth and a desire for improvement, you need perspectives outside of your own.
Enter the plan: The Good, The Bad & The Funny
In the last week of school before the chaos of finals takes over, I assign one last reflection analysis. I ask for open, honest feedback and include safeguards to make sure that can happen. I begin with telling students that their comments can be completely anonymous. If they don’t want to own up to what they say, no name has to be included. Of course to make sure they do it, I have a bin at the front that they will turn the paper into. I ask them only to make sure they notify me as they place it in the bin so I can check them off that they are turning in a paper. Second, because they always remark that by this time in the year I’ve seen so much of their writing that I will know it is them regardless of their name, I assure them that I will not read the papers until school lets out. I have other teacher friends that assign something similar but they prefer to read the comments and have a class discussion about them. I think you have to go with whatever works for you best, but for me, I want time in the summer to take in all the feedback, right when I am ready to make plans for next year.
I include three sections because I want to prompt the students to really think. It is just like the compliment sandwich we teach them – find something nice, something to improve upon, then end with something nice again. It doesn’t matter if you are a student or an adult, criticism is hard to take. Pairing it with constructive ideas about what went well and what didn’t helps. I like to end the reflection with a funny section just because it gives students permission to not take the whole thing – my class and myself included – too seriously. I hope when they look back they don’t think of me as a comedian by any means, but I do hope that they can look back and laugh at moments along the way.
Finally, as I’m assigning this, I make sure students hear me say that this is an opportunity for them to be open and honest without judgment, repercussions or hurt feelings. I also tell them their reflections can be about anything in the past year – from the school experience as a whole to my course and my teaching style.
Think about it: we ask so often for students to reflect on concepts we have taught them and measure their own growth. What a beautiful way to wrap up your year by putting the same mindset into practice for your own growth as an educator. We still have plenty to learn too!