The end of the year has finally approached us. Before you know it, the walls will be bare, the halls will be quiet, and you might not know what to do with yourself! Before closing your laptop for good, check out these tried and true practices to help you reflect on the school year and prepare for the next!
Reflecting on The Past School Year
If you’re a fan of John Dewey, then you are no stranger to his ideas about reflection and teaching. Nearly all educators, at some point in their career, have read his quote, “We do not learn from experience…we learn from reflecting on experience.” I am certainly in agreement, reflecting is an important and game-changing aspect of the work that we do. However, it is often easier said than done. Our metaphorical plates are full! Trust me, I get it.
That is why the end of the year can oftentimes be the best time to reflect on the past school year. You have all the hindsight and can now look back at what did and what didn’t work well. One way that I have found to be most helpful in doing this is creating a list of categories that are important to ME to reflect on. It is important to center your reflection around what you value in your classroom. Here is an example of the reflection categories that I’ve used for the past few years.
Unit Standards and Activities
What went well and what didn’t? Why is that? What ideas do I have to change things for next year? What key standards should I prioritize more next year in my instruction?
What strategies worked really well this year? What were the challenges I experienced? What classroom systems did I have in place that I should keep or scrap for next year?
How did I build relationships in my classroom this year? How would I describe the culture in my room? What do I want it to look like next year?
Classroom Setup & Systems
What about my classroom setup and systems worked well? Did student seating foster collaborative learning and discussion? Did students have designated spaces in my classroom where they could take ownership and learn independently? What do I need to change for next year to make transitions more smooth and help students take more responsibility?
I hope that these questions give you an idea of where to start with your personal reflection! I know that it can be hard to remember things from August. I recommend creating a place to jot down reflections throughout the year so that your end-of-year recap feels strong. That way, when you are gearing up for the next year, you will feel like you’re starting anew.
Activities for Next Year
I have a bookmark virtually everywhere of saved ideas for new activities for the upcoming year. I love that social media, whether it’s Instagram or Tik-Tok, has broadened my fellow educator community. Take the time before summer truly starts, grab a coffee, and kick your feet up. Scroll through all of those saved items that you promised you’d look at later. Then, create a special document of new activities that you want to try. Make sure to include:
Where in your unit you’d like to use it and how to it would contribute to student learning outcomes.
Where to access this resource
Any notes to your future self that might be beneficial in the fall for how to access this resource and implement it with fidelity.
I started doing this when I began teaching 5th grade a few years ago. It was incredibly helpful to have on hand, especially when things were busy at school and my brain was occupied by a million other things. You’ll thank yourself for taking the time!
As educators, we don’t celebrate ourselves as much as we should. Maybe it’s because we are a humble bunch or maybe it’s because we have been made to feel like all of the extra amazing things that we do each and every day are an expected part of the job. We are wrapping up yet another “unprecedented” year, so what better way to end the year than with a celebration of yourself and your incredible work this year?
The first way that I tend to celebrate is by spending time with my team. Our last PLT meeting will be spent talking about the awesome successes that we experienced this year. This will include breakthrough/lightbulb moments with students and how I accomplished it, engaging projects and writing topics and activities that my students loved, memories that I had with my classes, and the joyful moments that lit up our day.
The best part about celebrating during PLTs means that it’s written in your minutes and you can go back and look at them!
Something else that I have done, since student teaching, is I keep a Sunshine Folder. My Sunshine Folder is a chaotic collection of notes, pictures, notes that I’ve written to myself, and notes from colleagues that represent my year of teaching.
I usually go to this folder on hard days, but my favorite thing is to spend a little while at the end of the year looking back at the year that I’ve had. It always leaves me feeling accomplished, proud, and ridiculously happy. If you don’t do this already, start it next year! You won’t regret it!
And last, but not least, I indulge in uninterrupted, shameless, me time. This brings me to…
Planning Self Care
We have all heard different variations of
I know I’ve definitely rolled my eyes when given this advice, so I am totally okay if this is your reaction too. But, the longer that I’ve taught, I have come to understand why it’s so important. Sometimes I feel like teachers have two selves, teacher us and regular us. It’s important to remember and nurture “regular us”.
So, before you work this summer or go back in the fall, plan time for yourself and the things that you love. This doesn’t have to be extravagant or cost a ton of money. Spend time with the folks that make you happy, read that book you’ve been putting off, paint that picture, and spend all day doing nothing productive at all! Whatever makes you happy, do that thing, and most importantly, don’t feel guilty about doing it.
Is this an area you need to work on next year? My colleague Anne Andrews has a great article about ways to plan self-care and create healthy habits- check it out here.
“Now Let The Music Play”
Put on your favorite song and close your laptop! Remember that you’re doing some of the most important work in the entire world! Congratulations on your year with students and I truly hope that the next is filled with nothing but positivity and joy!