Education Opinion

Reflecting on a Year of Learning

By Elena Aguilar — May 07, 2014 2 min read
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The end of the school year can feel like a mad dash for the finish line as we wrap up projects, PD strands and coaching cycles. I want to encourage you--strongly and enthusiastically--to carve out some time for yourself during this period to reflect on your work this year: on the impact you had on individuals, teams, organizations, the learning you experienced, and the growth you made. This reflection is invaluable because it usually leads to insights about how you worked and what was effective, insights into who you are and your strengths and areas for growth, and insights into what’s next--into how to direct your time and energy into the highest leverage, most impactful areas. The pace of our education world these days is frantic and I know there’s so much to do for next year, but don’t succumb to the madness. Draw a boundary. Insist on your right to reflect and therefore learn and grow.

How To Reflect: Write, Talk, Draw

Ok, so let’s say you’ve carved out the space--ideally, a day--what do you do in that time? Here are some ideas.

There are two primary ways that we process our thoughts--through talking and writing. The act of articulating our experiences pushes us to focus, synthesize and make meaning of otherwise seemingly random events. Think back on your year. If it was like mine, it was a blur of meetings, people, places, feelings, thoughts, readings and writings, tasks and activities. If we leave our experiences in that jumbled state, we’re not likely to learn much from it. Those experiences won’t inform where we go next or what we do.

Some people like to talk more than they like to write; some like to write more than talk. Most of us benefit from a mixture of activities. Find at least one other person who will engage in this reflective process with you (a team or small group is ideal--but if you can’t find anyone else, reflect anyway). Write, talk, write some more, talk some more.

And then consider throwing some art into the mix. See if you can represent your experiences visually. You can think about creating a journey line of your year or generating symbols that reflect your impact or learning. There’s no right or wrong with art--just see what happens if you put some colored pencils or markers into your hand and try to visually represent your year. Stick people are totally acceptable!

What to Ask Yourself

I have lots and lots of suggestions for questions that can prompt reflection. Many of these I offer in my book in the chapter on professional development for coaches (see page 284-85). You can also find those questions here, on my website. In addition, here are some more questions to ask yourself about this year (End of Year Reflection Questions), this summer, and next year. My intention with these questions is to prompt you to plan and prepare for next year--so that next year is your best year ever!

I just spent a day with a wonderful group of secondary coaches in Salem, Oregon, guiding them through a reflection on their year. A common reflection at the end of the day of reflection was “I hadn’t realized how much I did or learned,” “I really needed that! I had no idea how badly I needed this time to reflect,” “I’m so much more excited about next year now. I think I’ll be even more effective, and therefore, help more children.” I hope you enjoy a few of the images of the work they created--and happy reflecting!

The opinions expressed in The Art of Coaching Teachers are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.