The end of the school year should be a time of review, reflection, and celebration. To me this is a time to reflect. The end of any academic year is always a time for reflection, but the end of this year brings much more than that. There has never been a year like this one and the past few weeks have certainly provided an opportunity for reflection, celebration, and for looking forward. We have all been through so much over the past 17 months and it appears we may finally have turned a corner and are headed toward brighter, more normal, days ahead.
This year, we need to be more intentional about creating opportunities for reflection. Questions to get your reflection process started may include the following:
- What did I learn about myself this year?
- What challenged me this year? How did I grow through those challenges?
- What am I proud of this year?
- If I could write myself a letter at the beginning of this year, what would I say?
- What am I excited to leave behind in this year?
- What lessons do I want to take with me as I move to the next academic year?
Whatever your position in education, think about your successes and areas that didn’t work out so well. And it is very important to end it on a high note. With everything that’s going on at the end of the academic year, it’s difficult to remember to pause so that we can refocus and regain balance. Taking the time to pause creates an opportunity to hit the reset button in our minds, to be more present, to more fully acknowledge the moments, thoughts, and emotions that are an important part of the end of the school year. This is also time to gather feedback from those you serve. Teachers could ask their students for ideas on their programs and their teaching. Principals could ask the same of their teachers. I have always found I gained so much valuable feedback by asking a few questions.
Creating, guiding, and nurturing a community of learners through a school year is an incredible accomplishment that we can sometimes forget is also worth celebrating. We need to take the time to celebrate our own successes and connect with colleagues to support the adult community. I always write a letter to myself listing some of the great moments of the school year that stood out; my top ten successes of the school year; and some of the challenges that yielded success. And before the start of the next school year, I read the letter and remind myself of the accomplishments. We move forward not by only looking to the future, but learning from the past.
Most of us are negative when we reflect or review, we focus too much on what went wrong as opposed to what went right. It is very important to start from a positive place by focusing on the strengths without neglecting the weaknesses. Check where do I need to grow. Ensure you ask what went well and why and apply them to the places where you need to grow. Although starting with strengths is crucial, we need to identify what are areas of growth and how you will address them. Instead of picking on several spaces that you can improve on, try to pick one, at most two, and think about ways you can adjust them. If you focus on every weakness you have, none of your deficit areas will improve. Find a point of emphasis and build on it. Setting some goals based on where looking back meets moving forward. What are some of the things that you will try next year that will push you out of your comfort zone? Not only would it be powerful to find those challenges yourself, but share how you are promoting your growth with colleagues, and more importantly, students.
Remember whatever we do is to create an impact on our learners. If it is not impactful, then it is futile. The importance of each person in education is that their growth should lead to the improvement and development of the learners around them. If it doesn’t impact the learners you serve, we are spending time on doing things that do not give us anything in return. This time of year is also perfect for reflecting on the learning and growth that took place throughout the school year. Teach students the difference between reflecting on growth and reflecting on grades. Encourage students to find growth in their actual work. At first, they notice neatness, handwriting, and spelling. As they have more practice, they begin to notice their thought process or new skills and concepts that they now know and didn’t prior. This reflection is the ultimate proof of that growth and mastery.
More often than not, a year’s worth of learning ends in an abrupt, unorganized way. However, with a bit of time and thoughtfulness prior to the last day, teachers can help students curate their work. Then, students will leave with a beautiful portfolio that samples their work from throughout the year. Not only is it a great way for students to reflect on how much they’ve grown, but it makes the parents’ job easier too.
No matter how well you plan, the end of the year is a challenge. Everyone is done. You do not need to add the work of sifting through student work from the entire year for an entire class to create something to send home with your students. Your time is much better spent planning and preparing engaging classroom experiences to counteract the pull of summer vacation. With some explicit instructions and expectations, handing the task of portfolio creation to the students gives them a meaningful activity to culminate their year. Portfolio creation allows students to be content curators of their own work. If we want students to be critical thinkers, we need to teach them to become curators. Curation of portfolios is easier if you have been planning with the end in mind. While it is not impossible to do this at the end of the year, the process is easier if you start guiding students to think about curation in September.
While the school year may not have exactly gone as planned, and the end of the year may feel very different from years past, the ability for educators to change the lives of their students for the better, and encourage their classes to aim for success, remains intact. I want us to release ourselves from the expectation that the end of this year will be better than ever. It probably won’t be. At the same time, I firmly believe we can use these very, very odd circumstances to make meaning out of the year we have endured. Soon, we will all be able to say we made it through the school year. That is something worth honouring.