June is a Good Time for Reflection
Okay, teachers, you have made it to June. If you are a first year teacher, you are feeling pretty good about getting this far and think it’s almost over. You know you are fortunate because some first year teachers do not make it past Christmas. If you are a veteran teacher, you have been through this all before. You have the routine down, and as the warm air fills your room and the kids fidget, you look out the window and know your time is coming. Two months off and, even though everyone who is not a teacher thinks that’s crazy, you (and every other teacher) know better because you really do deserve that time off.
Still, as the month of June winds down, and you do all those things to get your classroom ready for the cleaning and painting the maintenance staff will do while you’re gone, it is a good time to think about the last ten months of the year. Whether you are a novice or a veteran, this is the time to take stock of what has happened, to make note of what has worked, and to think about next year.
Many teachers probably feel they are too busy in June to think about these things. This is understandable, but it is better to reflect now than to wait until the end of August. No matter how seasoned you are in your subject and the ways of the classroom, the end of August and beginning of September are far too hectic for you to be getting into a reflection about the year before. Also, too much time has passed for the reflection to be meaningful. Now, when things are winding down, it is good to sit and meditate about what you have done. It is the perfect time for reflective practice.
If you know anything about reflective practice, you probably had to read Donald Schon’s amazing book The Reflective Practitioner in one of your courses. Reflective practice involves many different things for educators, and you can adapt it to suit your needs, but the most important thing is to “reflect” on what you have done in the classroom. You want to think about three crucial things: what you did, how it worked, and what were your results. What happened during the lesson or lessons? How did you assess the outcome? Are you happy with the way things turned out?
Actually, reflective practice is best used on a daily basis, but can also be a weekly or monthly process. Schon’s goal was for it to be continuous in order to improve instruction. The teacher is refining his/her own process by teaching, observing, and reflecting. Basically, it consists of taking stock of a lesson or a group of lessons and thinking about how it played out. You can make up some kind of rubric for yourself, giving a score of 5 when something went really well, 3 when it was satisfactory, and 1 or 2 if you are unhappy with how it progressed.
In my experience no teacher is always a 5 or always a 1. In essence, most of us fall into the 2, 3, or 4 categories. When we hit a home run, then we should give ourselves a 5, but this basically indicates perfection, so I would limit those scores to those stellar moments. Conversely, most teachers never fall to a 1 performance. Sometimes we all have a bad day, and that can happen and we need to be honest with ourselves when it does.
If you don’t like rubrics, evaluate yourself with a narrative. You can write up what happened in that lesson as if you were telling a story. You basically are observing yourself (I’ve known teachers who have taped their own lessons with consent of the administration and parents) and reflecting on everything that happened. When done, read it over and “reflect” on the events that took place. You can also use class notes and/or your lesson plan to help with this.
A good way to keep a running tab on yourself is to briefly reflect at the end of each day. You can do this right in your lesson plan, or (if you hand it in to your supervisor or principal on a weekly basis) you can do this in a separate place or copy your plan and mark it up. When you are ready to go back over the day or week, you can reflect on the scores you gave yourself. For reflective practice to be effective, we have to be honest with ourselves about how well we did or didn’t do. Think of it as talking to your doctor. If you are not truthful about your aches and pains or symptoms, you are not doing everything you can to keep yourself healthy. The same holds true here in a sense of academic well being. You are using reflective practice to gauge your performance, tweak what needs to be changed, and overhaul the big problems if you think they exist.
You will probably be getting an end of the year evaluation of some kind this month, and in that document the principal or your supervisor will be summing up your year from his/her point of view. Now, if you want to wait for this to happen, you can then use that as a sort of skeleton of ideas to think about, but I prefer being proactive and reflecting well before that evaluation is put into my hands. You can even (depending on your relationship with your administrator) share your thoughts with someone who has observed you or is going to observe you. As an administrator, I always have admired those teachers who do something like this because I know they are always trying to improve themselves and their methods of instruction.
In the end reflective practice is a way to think deeply about your career as a teacher and your own performance. No one knows better than you how much you prepare: the hours of research you do, the time you put in to marking papers, and the effort you invest in planning. If you continue to be honest with yourself, and allow honest feedback from others too, reflective practice will help you fine tune your teaching into a well-oiled machine.
So as the days of June go quickly by, start finding some time to really think about how things have gone this year. If you give reflective practice a chance, you will be really glad you did. Good luck, and enjoy your summer vacation.