Reflection: Looking Back to Look Ahead

Reflection: Looking Back to Look Ahead

I can’t believe that in a few days I’ll close the books on my 29th year of teaching! The end of the school year has always been a powerful time of reflection for me. It’s as if I stand on a trail, looking back at where I’ve been, and at the same time peering into the distance - what will the future hold, and how do I want to shape it?

What is the purpose, or value, of reflection?

Reflection, if solely rooted in evaluation of what is past, is an exercise in futility; what use is an evaluation measurement if it does not lead to subsequent actions? In order to be valuable, reflection must contain honest self-evaluation and actionable goals for moving ahead, facilitating our growth in knowledge and skills. 

I have seen (and been guilty of) reflection done badly. We are all capable of manipulating reflective measurement tools to cull the data that we wish to see, enabling us to walk away self-satisfied and not feeling any need to change. Likewise, we can set ourselves up for failure with a reflective measurement tool that leaves us feeling defeated and unable to envision productive change. Neither of these responses holds any value for us. We must endeavor to design, or implement, a reflection process that enables us to evaluate ourselves authentically, and that empowers us to design a course of action that will push us forward.

One of my most valuable reflection tools is the NBPTS “Architecture of Accomplished Teaching” double helix. I have used this repeatedly, both for classroom planning and my own personal professional growth. This is an excellent tool for reflection and planning, and its cyclical design reminds us that reflection is continuous - as should be our passion for and commitment to growth.

So, as I wrap up the 2020-2021 school year, I am spending the final few days pondering these big questions:

  • How have I changed, and how have my teaching practices changed, due to the ever-fluctuating educational status during this pandemic? In what ways has this made me a better teacher? Why?
  • What teaching practices were most effective for my students? Why?
  • Which lessons/units met with the least success or engagement? Were there any circumstances that impacted them? What can I do to improve these for next year?
  • How did I connect with my students and their families? Which methods were most effective? What plans can I put in place to ensure that I connect more successfully with more students and families?
  • Who did not meet with success in my classroom? Why? What can I try to do differently next year to support my students?
  • How will I grow professionally during the summer? Which books/blogs should I read? Which conferences should I attend?
  • How do I want to be changed when I return for the new school year?
  • Based on these questions and answers, what goals do I want to set for the upcoming school year? How will I measure them? What does “success” look like?

So, how did I do this year?

A disappointing result:

This year I scrapped a lot of my projects and activities, and opted to focus mainly on simpler assignments. Part of this was due to the ever-changing status of school this year, but I know that I could have done better. My students need hands-on opportunities to experiment with the Spanish language, to interact with speakers around the world, and to create meaningful, real-world products in Spanish. Next year I will reincorporate these, and this summer I need to delve into my curriculum and unit plans to determine the best methods and resources.

A goal met and exceeded:

It is critical that we connect with students and their families. We need to call, email, send postcards, schedule meetings, attend their special events, and interact with them when we meet them in the community. Each year I set a goal of making positive, meaningful contact with at least 50% of my students’ families, and I keep a spreadsheet to document my journey. This year I contacted 100% of my students and their families!

I mailed dozens of motivating postcards, and called an equal number of families. Google Voice was particularly handy, enabling me to connect by text messaging with many working parents. Since our school was operating virtually this winter, I employed the help of family and friends for a very special project. All of my Spanish 1 and 2 students (approximately 80) received a Christmas goodie bag home delivery. The bag included everything necessary for a class party: decorations, snacks, crafts, noise makers, and prizes. In addition, all my Spanish 4 and 5 students (approximately 25) received an envelope by mail which included a note, a poem, a game, and an activity. I received emails from both students and parents in the following days; it was worth the effort!

Now, what will my goal be for next year? I want to connect with all of my students and families again, acting earlier to encourage good attendance, strong work habits, and academic support. I would like to find and share opportunities for the 9th and 10th graders to learn about the various clubs and activities available to them. How will I accomplish this? I’ll be working on my plan this summer.

As teachers, each year we have the opportunity to reflect on the past school year, and to set greater and higher goals for the coming year. So, as I clean my classroom in June, I am already eyeing the start of the new year in August. I’m looking forward to where the trail leads next!

I’d love to hear your reflections on this year: How would you evaluate your year? What evidence are you using for your evaluation? What will you do to ensure greater success for your students next year? What are your plans for professional growth this summer? What is on your reading list?

Barbara Kurtz has taught Spanish in grades 1-12, but happily resides at the 9th-12th grade level at Meadville Area Senior High School in northwest Pennsylvania. She loves to serve as a mentor teacher for new and preservice educators and has worked with the NNSTOY Mentorship pilot program and the NNSTOY-PA TEACH committee. Committed to continuous growth and learning, Barb is a National Board Certified Teacher and an avid reader. Barb presents workshops and conferences for educators and preservice teachers on topics of language education, classroom connections, professionalism, and technology in the classroom. Barb is the 2020 PSMLA (Pennsylvania State Modern Language Association) Teacher of the Year, and a 2018 Finalist for Pennsylvania Teacher of the Year. You can connect with Barb through these social media platforms:

Barbara Kurtz: Teacher Mentor (personal blog)

@BJKURTZ (Twitter)

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