10 Things to Remember at the End of the School Year

  1. endofyearcatYou did not die.
  2. You did not kill any of your students.
  3. You are a better teacher now than you were at the beginning of the year.
  4. Your bad days are better than many other teachers’ good days.
  5. You care about your students – enough that you take your own time to read about teaching. And the students can feel that caring.
  6. Some of what you taught, the students will remember. Most of what you taught, the students will forget. But something you taught might have started a process – a journey – a new way of seeing the world — that stuff you may never know about. But trust that it happened.
  7. Next year will be better than this year.
  8. Nobody ever looked back on their life and regretted their time as a teacher.
  9. There was one student out there who needed you. And you were there for him or her.
  10. As a teacher, you spent the year working on the most important things a person can work on: being a better person, and making the world a better place.
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The hardest thing about professional reflection is doing it.

funny-fat-cat-looking-mirror-what-done-with-my-life-depressed-unhappy-picsTwo competing findings in the world of learning:

  1. One becomes a master after 10,000 hours of practice.
  2. Learning requires reflection.

We have a notion in our world that to get good at something, you have to practice, practice, practice. And if you think of your teaching as a craft like any other, then you’ll conclude that it will take a lot of hours in the classroom to reach mastery.

If you teach 4 or 5 hours a day, and your school has 170 or 175 days of instruction per year, you should hit mastery somewhere around year 13 or 14.

That, believe it or not, is the good news.

The bad news is that deeper research shows that it is not sufficient simply to accrue hours in order to learn a  body of knowledge or a skill set. The learner must reflect — that is, turn back, turn in, and ask: what am I doing? What did I do well? What did I do wrong? How do I fix it? And how will I know it is fixed?

And reflection, while important, is not usually fun.

  • It’s easier, after a successful class, to bask in the glory of a job well done.
  • It’s easier, after a class which flops, to forget about it and hope that whatever went wrong never happens again.

carl_cat_red_dot_mirrorBeyond this, the school day is set up not to allow you to reflect. Teachers dash from class to class with barely enough time for the bathroom, let alone five or ten minutes of reflection. And if you do have time, technically, then you also have a pile of other responsibilities to address, all with varying levels of urgency. So you don’t have time.

A beautiful quote from the classic the Mishna (a Jewish text) sums it up: don’t say “When I have time I will learn –” you will never have time.

So, too, for reflection.

The solution of the ancients was to build time for learning into each day. A few minutes, a few hours – whatever it is.

For us, we build time for reflection into our day – or at least our week – and ask: “How did I get here? Do I want to be here? Where do I want to go, and what will it take to get there?”

  • Do this in your head, walking out of class, every day. Jot down one “takeaway” when you get to your desk.
  • Do this over coffee, once a week.
  • Do this with a journal every Sunday evening.
  • Do this with a colleague every other week: take turns reflecting.
  • Do this with your department head once a month.
  • Spend an hour on this at the end of every quarter.

It takes 10,000 hours to become a master.

It takes 10 minutes of reflection to become better than you were.