Sunday, March 21, 2010

Try This Teacher Reflection Exercise

Around this time last year, I wrote a series of posts entitled On Success and On Failure.  I shared my five greatest successes and five worst failures of the year up to that point.  This deep self-reflection helped me gain some much needed perspective.

Most of us are just finishing or just beginning our spring breaks, which means the end of the year is just beyond the horizon.  This is a good time to take stock and mentally prepare for the last few months of school.  Here's what I want you to do:
  1. List your five biggest failures.  These could involve anything related to your teaching: classroom management, lesson planning, time management, systems and procedures, assessment design, and so on.  If you're finding that you have a longer list, as I did, you have to pare it down to the most serious issues.  Think about what you regret, what you wish you could change, and/or what had a negative effect on your or your students.  Scale is not necessarily an issue; a failed relationship with one student could be as big to you as having too few fun and engaging lesson plans.  See my series On Failure for an idea of what to think about.
  2. List your five biggest successes.  I suggest you do this list second so that you can temper all the negativity you built up with your first list, and end this exercise on a high note.  Remember that this exercise is for you, not for a job interview or formal evaluation, so don't restrict yourself to their criteria for "success".  See my series On Success if you're struggling with what sort of things should go on the list.
  3. A few days later, revisit both lists.  Looking back, were you fair to yourself or far too harsh?  You might find that you have successes that seem to contradict what you listed as failures, and vice versa.  That's okay: nothing in this exercise is truly black and white.  If you have a trusted colleague who has observed you on multiple occasions (or who would be willing to do so), ask them to discuss what you listed.  Getting some objective feedback will give you an even better perspective than you could get yourself.
  4. Finally, get student feedback.  No one will be more honest with you than your students.  Ask them for feedback in the form of a short survey you could fit in anytime.  You really only need three questions: What is one thing [Mr./Ms. Teacher] has done well this year and should keep doing?  What is one thing [he/she] should change to help you do better in class?  Anything else you want to tell [him/her] about this class?  Compare the results to what you listed, and what your colleague told you.  Did your students identify the same failures and successes that you did, or did they give you more to think about?  Why?
In the end, you'll have a lot to help you plan out the rest of the year and beyond.  It never hurts to do self-reflection or to get outside feedback--these are essential to the growth of every teacher.

If you try this exercise, share what you learned in the comments.  I'm looking forward to it!