How will you reflect on last school year and enter the new one?
Like many educators, right now reflection might be the last thing on your mind.
I felt the same way 15 years ago after my toughest year as an educator.
I hadn’t connected the way I would have liked with my class. Many of my projects fell flat. My students’ parents seemed out to get me. And on top of that, I was also dealing with several personal issues.
I wasn’t just ready to finish the school year, I was ready to quit education altogether.
But on the way out the school doors, my principal stopped me and told me something I will never forget.
She told me how grateful she was for me, as well as the positive difference I made in the school. She listened empathetically as I shared my plethora of challenges, and helped me reflect on as much of the ‘highs’ that year as I did the lows.
Without that reflective conversation, I probably would have quit teaching that year. Instead, I left school that day with new resolve and perspective.
How might a reflective conversation help you, your colleagues and students find new resolve and perspective on the 2021-2022 school year?
Here are three reflective activities that might help start the conversation:
Reflecting with Staff: The Empathy Graph: This activity designed by my friend and school leader coach Daniel Bauer helps strengthen culture, build empathy, and surface stories that unite. Here’s how to use it:
First, draw out the empathy graph to the left on a large whiteboard or chart paper. Next, team staff in groups of 3-5 and ask them to think of five significant milestones throughout the school year (ie. move to virtual learning, exhibition night, parent/teacher conferences, etc.). After writing out each milestone on a post-it note, have them place the milestone in the relevant place on the graph according to its perceived ‘positivity/negativity.’ Finally, invite a larger conversation to see if others had a similar perception.
Reflecting with Colleagues/Teaching Teams: The Shape Reflection: This simple reflective activity is best for teaching teams that collaborate on a regular basis. It poses three important questions using three shapes: What are your three biggest ‘takeaways’ from this school year/learning experience (Triangle)? What about teaching/learning in this way ‘squared’ with your beliefs (Square)? What questions are still ‘circling’ your mind (Circle)? Allow individuals time to reflect on each question before sharing, and then build team consensus by grouping similar ideas and thoughts. Here is a full run-down of the activity, with template, norms and framework.
Reflecting with Students: The 10 Reflective Questions Gallery Walk: We often lament that students are not thoughtful with their reflections; but usually that’s because we haven’t asked the right questions, and/or created the environment that elicits thoughtful answers. For this activity, tape 10 reflective questions on 8×11 sheets around the classroom.
- What surprised you?
- What’s changed for you?
- What challenges did you encounter and how did you overcome them?
- I used to think…but now I know…
- If you could talk to yourself before this year started, what advice would you give him/her?
- What was a highlight for you?
Give students one minute to circulate and review each question. After the one minute is up, ask students to stand next to the reflective question they would like to answer. Have them first pair/ share with a partner, and then conduct a larger conversation with the whole group.
Let’s be real…
Last year has been undoubtedly tough. Many of our beloved colleagues have left the profession. We’ve been asked to work in impossible conditions. The pandemic has taken a toll on our social/emotional health.
But 2021-2022 has also been a year of incredible growth, if we choose to embrace it.
With thoughtful reflection, I’m hopeful we can find the bright spots to the new school year that remind us of why we committed our lives to working with kids.