These six questions can help answer that one big question- "How can I get better as a teacher next year?"
The last day of school is bittersweet for me. I’m hit with a mix of nostalgia and excitement.
I can’t wait for the break but I know I’m going to miss these darn kids and kind of wish I had a few more weeks to sneak in more awesome history lessons! Is that sick?
After the goodbye, but before I really kick into ‘summer mode,’ I always spend some time reflecting on my year and thinking about how I can have an even better year come August.
Taking time to pause, look back, and gain insights from our year is a powerful practice that can really help us grow as educators. Its the reason we have our students reflect on their learning and set goals for the future- because it works!
These six questions really help me reflect and consider improvements I can make come August to ensure I have an even better year with my new batch of students.
1. What would be on my Highlight Reel?
What lessons just absolutely killed or what new strategy really helped make learning come alive in my room? I also consider the relationships I made with students or other professionals, the culture of my classes (why was period 5 so awesome!?), and what really lit me up and filled me with energy and optimism. Years of considering this question led to a lot more of those amazing moments that make it all worth it.
2. What would be on my “Epic Fail” compilation?
It might not be pretty, but reflecting on the things that failed or where you struggled will really help you grow. One thing I love about teaching is trying new things which means I will probably fail and fumble at times. Why did that new World War II project flop or why was there sometimes palpable tension with period four, or why did I not make enough time for our unit on the Holocaust? Should I ditch that project or lesson or work to improve it? Lastly, having students complete surveys during the year asking how you could do better as a teacher, can really help here.
3. How well did I empower students take ownership of their learning?
It was really hard for me to release the reins in my classroom but realizing that we need to prepare students to be life-long learners who can take charge of their own futures, made me put a greater emphasis on student choice and student ownership. I know I need to improve this area and am left thinking how can I empower students to jump in the driver seat more often, even if that means (and it does) that they take the lesson off-road and get lost along the way.
4. How well did I create a culture of curiosity and excitement in my classes?
Curiosity is the lifeblood of a 21st century classrooms. If I get students curious and excited, the rest will take care of itself. Reflecting on how well I inspire students to ask their own questions and how I am cultivating a genuine thirst for knowledge led to such higher engagement in my room. This question transformed how I did my bellwork, how I organized my units, and why I began to emphasize making history more relevant to my students’ lives.
5. What procedures and routines helped my classes run smoothly and efficiently and do I need to implement any new ones next year?
I overlooked this for years and paid for it in headaches, frustration, and a lot of wasted class time. Doing a serious audit of your routines and procedures and how you teach them will totally transform your teaching next year. From entering and exiting the classroom, how to get help during a lesson, transitions, small group activities, turning in work, and everything in between- improving your procedures and how you teach them will lead to more learning, more fun, and way less headaches so you can live your best life after the last bell each day!
6. What can I cut out to simplify and improve my instruction?
The first several years of my teaching, I asked the opposite question- ‘what can I add to improve my instruction?’ But, now I realize the answer is often not more but better. For the strategies, routines, and activities that are really working in my room- I want more of that and less of everything else. Cut the noise and elevate the essentials.
When I reflect on these questions for a while, I know I'm setting myself up to grow as a person and professional. When it comes time to do some summer planning, I let these questions and my answers guide me.
I do hope these questions help you to reflect, grow, and have your best school year yet come August or September.