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The end of a school year is a good time to pause, reflect, and glean important learning from the past year’s experiences with students, instructional strategies, curricular challenges, and other aspects of our practice while they’re still fresh in our memories. Now is the best time to capture what we have experienced and turn that into learning.  

We might think that having the experience is enough to build our learning. However, learning is not the result of experience. After all, experiences can be repeated endlessly and with little gain. Learning, on the other hand, results from reflection. Here are seven questions to stimulate reflection and transform your experience into learning. 

How did your most challenging student(s) frustrate you this year? What lesson(s) can you learn that will prevent reoccurrence of the experience next year? There is a philosophical view that in life, we will continually experience frustrations or failure until we learn a lesson that shifts our thinking and behavior, and once the shift is made, we are no longer challenged by the situation. If you discern the lesson your students’ behavior can teach you and identify ways to implement potential solutions, your frustration will likely diminish. 

What student(s) surprised you, and how did that experience change your expectations? What we expect is often what we choose to see. However, occasionally something happens that challenges what we expect and changes what we experience. Over the course of the year, it is likely that at least one student’s insight, behavior, or observation challenged what you expected. What can that experience suggest about adjustments to what you expect?  

What learning activity or activities did not go well? What was the cause? Might your approach be recast, redesigned, or recontextualized to have it connect with students the next time? In most cases, something might be salvaged, adjusted, or otherwise repurposed to provide value. Even if you conclude that the activity should not receive more attention or be repeated, you have learned something to avoid in the future. 

What curriculum content did not connect with students? Curricular items present a different challenge than a strategy or activity that did not work. We can abandon a strategy, but curricular content is part of what we promise to students and for which we are accountable. It may be time to find new examples, concrete applications, or other ways to help students see the value and purpose of the content for next year. Of course, consulting colleagues who may teach the same curriculum or similar content can help to generate ideas and options to consider. 

What advice did you receive from a colleague that you need to accept and act on? How will it change your approach or practice? Over the course of the year, you probably received much advice, some of which may have held little value for your work. Other insights and suggestions, though, may be worth keeping and even improving upon for future use. Making a note of what you want to recall and how you might apply it can preserve it for use during the next school year.  

What did you discover about yourself this year that is worthy of note and implies an adjustment in how you view yourself? The challenges, surprises, successes, and even setbacks contain important lessons about our own selves. Take a few minutes to reflect on the high points, low points, triumphs, and missteps you experienced. What can you learn and apply to your planning for next year?  

How did you typically spend your time each weekly cycle throughout the year? Did your use of time reflect your priorities and provide enough balance to be productive without being exhausted? Where do you need to decrease your time investment to create opportunities and energy for other endeavors? Do you need to find more and better times to disconnect, clear your mind, and refresh your soul? Where will you start? 

The end of the year can be an incredibly busy time, but failing to pause, reflect, and learn is a mistake. Some of your most important learning can happen now. 

Thought for the Week

Simply pulling a strategy “off the shelf” or defaulting to the most recently read article or staff development session topic may not generate the results we seek.

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