When I was student teaching, we were told to keep daily reflections about what we were learning. I graduated and got my first teaching job and still kept hearing about how important it was to reflect on my teaching. For several years we were also supposed to put reflections on our lesson plans each week. I was one of those people that would roll my eyes and think yeah, yeah. I would also just scribble something in my lesson plan margins to look like I was reflecting.
But you know what? They were right. In order to grow as a teacher each year I needed to reflect on what worked and didn’t work so I could fix it for the next year - except - I had to learn do it in my own way.
I’m coming up on my eleventh year of teaching and no two years of lesson plans or center activities have ever been the same. While I may not have been formal in my reflective practices, I was still reflecting and tweaking things along the way. I’ve put together some year end teacher reflections here about what to think through when planning for your next successful school year. Don't forget to download the accompanying worksheet to help you jot down your reflections.
I will be honest with you – I had a pretty rough year. Now that it’s the year end and I’m not in the middle of all that chaos I can recognize that my classroom was lacking in defined procedures. I just assumed (you know what they say about that) the students knew very simple things about how and when to sharpen pencils or the appropriate times to talk. Never assume. Teach your class every little thing you expect. Even if they are high schoolers. Probably especially then.
Students need clear procedures taught from day one. Let them know your expectations right away.
Think carefully about your deal breakers. Will sharpening pencils during class time drive you over the edge? What about papers with no names? Can you handle students talking during centers? Come up with a solution that you can live with and make it a point to teach it to your class during the first weeks of school.
I don’t mind students sharpening pencils but they are not to do it when I’m talking, only during seatwork. Other teachers might only allow pencils sharpened before or after school so they have a container ready to go each day. Decide what drives you bonkers and then create a solution you can live with.
What drives you bonkers may not even be the pencils. Maybe it’s your need to have the desks perfectly straight but most of the class just can’t seem to figure it out. Will you zip-tie the desk legs together? Add a sticky dot on the floor for where the right leg of each desk must go? Even something as small as where the desks need to go at the end of the day is a procedure that must be explicitly taught. And re-taught. A bazillion times all year
It seems that every year I clean up my classroom and tuck it away for the summer that I end up finding lots of supplies that were hidden away. (Clutter problems? Click here to learn some decluttering tricks). This is the perfect time to take note of those extra supplies so when it’s time for the back to school sales you are not buying more than you need.
Once you’ve taken stock of what you have it’s nice to decide how you are going to get the remaining supplies you still need. Does your grade level create a supply list for parents? Will the school provide some of the items? Will you be shopping back to school sales? The dollar stores?
Next think about how you organized supplies this year. Does something need to change? Did you have a system that worked? Were supplies easily assessable to all students? Were students in groups and each group kept their supplies at the table? Were there quite a bit of fights or bickering over misplaced supplies? Do you need to individually label each pencil, marker, and tub with table or student numbers? Will students be responsible for their own items?
Will there be a group leader responsible for checking supplies? I like to have a group leader that changes weekly and is appointed by good behavior for my table groups. Then they are responsible for counting and checking all supplies are returned to the group container before placing them on the counter where they are kept when not in use.
Take note of your classroom this year. Did you have your tables or desks set up for easy navigation throughout the class? Were you having to constantly crisscross your room throughout lessons to grab what you needed? Was your document camera and all related materials stored together? Did you use a teacher desk? Was it placed where you could easily see students when you were seated?
Are your center materials easily assessable? Were students asking you to get things for them and interrupting your small group time? Do you have your teacher materials organized? Do you have a filing system in place? Do you want to try a new system for storing your unit materials this year?
Every year is different because you have different students (unless you are looping) but it’s still important to take the time to reflect on the level of involvement you had with your students’ parents. Do you think there are areas you want to improve on for next year? Was there an activity or unit celebration that was very successful that you want to duplicate? My students and families always enjoyed my secret reader program and the digital movies we created. Plus, those are some of my favorite memories as well.
Maybe you had some difficulties. Are there some procedures you have in place that can prevent the same problems next time? Do you have a mentor or colleague to turn to for help figuring out some better ways to communicate? Don’t be afraid to reach out.
centers and groups
I think centers or work stations is one of my favorite topics. I could talk about them all day! If you struggle with centers or are not even sure where to start you will want to go here to sign up for my free email course that will walk you through getting started with centers.
Now let’s reflect about what happened this school year. Did you notice a lot of students struggling to remain focused the entire time? Were there lots of behavior issues or interruptions to your small groups? Did you have too many center materials? Not enough? Was the noise level out of control? Do you want to try a different management board? Were students able to do the centers independently?
Now, assessment is not something you might have total control over but you should have some flexibility. Some things to consider as you are reflecting is the amount of time you spend assessing. Are there some activities you can offer immediate feedback for rather than a lengthy grading process? Can you teach your students how to grade some papers as a whole group? Would some activities translate well as an observation assessment rather than a pencil and paper one?
Can you create a specific class checklist to cover some assessments? For example, for my money unit much of the outcomes were based on observation so I created a spreadsheet for the class that I could carry with me and mark as I observed students in centers or class activities.
Let’s think about an often neglected area in our teaching (at least for me) …transitions. If you are an early primary teacher (think kindergarten or first grade) then your day is chock full of transition times. Are you using them wisely? Do you have a plan in place for transitions? Have you explicitly taught how to quickly transition between activities or centers? What would your ideal classroom look like during this time? How can you create that for next year?
Much of what is on the reflection worksheets I talked about in the classroom setup section. The end of the year is a great time to get organized for the next year. I always liked to have my students help me. The last few weeks of school were spent sorting materials and putting them back with the appropriate centers. They also helped me give everything a good dusting (first graders love helping you to clean the room).
Set yourself up for success by having students help you put things into new baskets or tubs now, before summer starts. The extra pair of hands come in handy (pun intended). Planning on redoing your classroom library and sorting books? Have students work on sorting the books for you – it’s a great skill for them and it saves you time doing it alone during summer hours!
Did you have a plan in place this year for a substitute? Will you be making a sub binder, sub tub or sub folder for emergency days? Can you write out your classroom procedures in advance to save time on doing sub plans?
Oh, boy. I think this is one of my weakest areas – or maybe it’s just the environment I was teaching in while abroad. The kids were TOUGH. Like I talked about in the beginning of this article, I think quite a few of the problems came down to me not teaching the procedures explicitly enough. Some of it was due to lack of time (2 ½ hours each day for English, math, and science and then the second class would come to me). Some of it was my own ignorance thinking that they would know what I wanted.
I saved this section for last because it is one of the most important. Really spend some time thinking about what worked and didn’t work this year. Maybe do a brain dump while you’re still teaching of all the things (big or small) that are driving you crazy each day about their behaviors. Then sit down and reflect. Can you do something about each item? Brainstorm some possible solutions.
Let’s say that you notice quite often that students are getting up, talking, or in their desks during test taking. Solutions could be an anchor chart listing what we do during a test (no talking, eyes on paper, sitting at desk, bathroom only for emergencies). Don’t forget to mark these things in your lesson plan for next year. Teach the rules very explicitly during the first weeks. Or make up a silly, fun test to do while you over exaggerate the importance of following those rules.
Taking some time now to do some year end reflections will set you up to have a more successful next school year.