The ThinkerThe end of another school year has arrived for most educators, bringing with it a flurry of closing activity.  With summer enticing and vacation beckoning, it’s easy to understand how teachers often fail to conduct deliberate reflection on their past year’s performance. Reflection provides valuable insight into your performance and allows you to create a schedule or road map for change. Not conducting deliberate reflection quickly leads to stagnant teaching with ineffective lessons and the teacher being little more than a highly paid baby-sitter.

Effective reflection should involve four steps: Assessment, probing deeper/looking for meaning, planning and review. The act of reflection becomes tremendously powerful when we couple it with the discipline of taking action and checking for results. We will look at each of these steps and offer a set of simple tools to help you improve your reflection practices.

Now, while the memories are hopefully clearer, is the perfect time for you to conduct intentional reflection on this past school year’s performance.  These questions should provide a systematic questioning or assessment of your performance in several key areas. To give you a starting point, four key areas have been pinpointed and several questions to ask yourself are provided. As you answer these questions, be sure to record your observations in a special notebook or computer file for later reference. If you have questions that you feel will serve you better, feel free to replace the ones provided  with your own.  What’s vital is that you answer the questions honestly and as fully as possible.

  1. The Big Picture (school year as a whole).
    • What is my overall view on the school year?
    • In what situations did I or did I not really succeeded this year?
    • Have I been more tired  or spread thinner than in the past?
    • Does this fit with my personal mission?
  2. Planning/Instruction
    • How was the pacing?
    • What lessons seemed less effective this year than in the past?
    • Am I teaching a specific lesson out of laziness?
    • Are there any students that I am under-serving or having difficulty reaching?
    • How can I make my classroom better serve my students?
  3. Relationships
    • How are my relationships with the administration, fellow teachers, students and parents?
    • What could I do to improve these?
    • In what ways could I experience growth in my relationships?
  4. Professional Development
    • What would I like to learn to improve as a teacher?
    • What do I need to commit to learn in order to stay relevant?
    • What additional actions could I take to meet my personal mission?

Step two, consists of studying your responses and performing a deeper analysis of these responses. This is done with the intent of finding shared commonalities or previously unidentified connections. In the process of reflection, it’s quite common to identify the surface symptom rather than the less visible core cause. By digging a little deeper, this misdirection can be significantly reduced and allowing for the crafting of solutions that will be more effective. Several questions that will help in this process are provided below.

  • How are these successes/problems connected?
  • Could this be a result of classroom management?
  • Is this connected to scheduling or planning?
  • Is this a result of teaching methods?
  • Could this be caused by my limited knowledge of a subject?
  • Is this a failure of technology?

Following the deeper analysis, it’s time to create a plan of action. With the core causes identified, rank the identified solutions in order of importance. It may help to separate these into three categories based upon urgency. Those needing a short-term response (one month or less), longer-term  attention (greater than one month), and those of questionable importance. From these groups, pick the actions to which you are most committed and determine the logical time necessary for their accomplishment. Use a calendar and set a target date for completion of these actions. Hint: Make sure that you set clearly definable actions as your objectives (i.e. Read The Elegant Universe by August 1st or create a good writing habits poster by July 17th). Furthermore, it is very important to select reasonable completion dates.

The fourth and final component of effective reflection is to review your progress. Often goals and deadlines are set but there is no follow-up to see if they were achieved. To minimize this, pick at least one day each month and set half an hour aside to review your progress (try and make it the same day every month). Goals that are met may be crossed off the list, while those that haven’t been achieved will need a little more attention. As you examine these, see if you still believe in their importance. If you still feel that they are vital, go ahead and revise your process or completion date in the manner that makes the greatest sense. Those that no longer maintain relevancy can be dropped. Reviewing your progress on goals not only brings great satisfaction from seeing the progress, it will make you a better educator.

So take an hour or so and put these tools to use before you find yourself saying, “I can’t believe I let another year go by without really reflecting.” There’s no better time than today to reflect on your past year and begin crafting the future.

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