“Let’s do what works and make sure none of our children start the race of life already behind,” President Obama urged Americans in his State of the Union address Feb. 12, 2013. Each year our politicians take time to reflect on progress, change, and evaluate what needs to happen for America to grow and thrive. We as educators must take the time for this important reflection in our classrooms as well. As we finish the first semester, come back from Christmas break, and start down the path to the end of the school year it is important to take time to reflect on your teaching, lessons, students, and attitude in the classroom.
Thinking about your thinking (metacognition) is an important Habit of Mind and something we are taught to include in our lesson plans. However, in our too busy schedules it is easy to skip this step of teaching. When I began teaching I would often jot notes to myself on the bottom of lessons. I included things that went well and I wanted to be sure and do again as well as things that bombed and what I thought had gone wrong. The notes are not as important as the time spent reflecting and making adjustments. As I continued teaching this became part of my internal procedure. I am now able to change a lesson half way through implementation when the standards are not getting across or I am getting the blank stares of underwhelmed or overwhelmed brains. I do not, however, make the time I did in the beginning to reflect.
Reflecting is no longer a daily occurrence as it once was in my teaching, but there are times in the school year I still find myself reflecting: conferences, before state assessments, and at the end of the school year. The hustle of gathering evidence and completing grade cards at conference time can be stressful, but I always find it refreshing to look at the growth and progress of my students. There is always a moment during this paper process that I find something from a student and get a smile, we did this! We made great progress! We made a small step! It is important as an educator to reflect from your end too. What has been accomplished this quarter? What were your goals for the quarter? What projects have you not completed? What happened? Will you do it this quarter? Next year? What one new thing did you want to try? Did you? How did it go or why didn’t you try it?
It is also a good practice to have your students reflect. I have fourth graders write letters to their parents explaining the things they have enjoyed, what they have learned, and what goals they are still working on. Talking with parents gives me a refreshing look at what my students are doing, especially those students I feel I am not reaching. This form of reflection allows me to see the needs of my students and therefore know what teaching needs to happen next. During your parent teacher conferences be sure to keep a list of the successes and the goals you have yet to meet. This will help you make a plan to reach those goals.
State assessments are stressful and there are many opinions about their worth. As an educator I know this is one piece of the puzzle for my students and it is my responsibility to implement state assessments with integrity. I take this time before assessments to review critical thinking skills and good test taking strategies in the classroom. I know my students have been taught to think. It is also a chance for me to see the standards I need to focus lessons on and what needs to be done in my teaching. This year inferring skills and fact/opinion were our lowest indicators. We had a great time watching Pixar shorts to make inferences and using evidence from the clips to support thinking. Tuesday we will take our first round of testing and I can look at my kids and think I have done well, they can work hard, and they are thinkers. When we have our scores I can see what my lessons should focus on for the next quarter. As you are looking at your test scores think about these things. What standards are lowest? What lessons have you done with your students on these indicators? What standards are the highest? How does the time spend on these indicators compare to the time spent on the lowest indicators? What can you do differently for lessons on the lowest indicators? State assessments are required so use the information to reflect on what you can do next in your classroom.
The end of the year seems to fly by from March through May. During this busy time reflect on your feelings and goals from August. What were your expectations for this class? What was your professional goal? What have you done to make these goals real? What have you not done that you still want to try? Take this time to look back at the year through pictures, student work, projects, and activities you have completed. Have students look at beginning of the year and end of the year writings. Teach them to reflect on their own thinking and learning. Model this by talking with students about your goals for the year and how you met those.
“Let’s do what works and make sure none of our children start the race of life already behind,” President Obama. Reflection is an important part of teaching. Take time out of your busy schedule to reflect on something from the year. Find the good and be honest about what you can do to change or make it stronger. This time spent will make your teaching stronger and that will give our children the best. Our state and national leaders take the time each year to reflect and share their ideas with us. As we finish the first semester, come back from Christmas break, and start down the path to the end of the school year take time to reflect on your teaching, lessons, students, and attitude in the classroom. Enjoy the walk down memory lane and learn from the best: yourself.