Walt Disney once described his theme park by saying, “I want something live. Something that will grow. Not only can I add things, but even the trees will keep growing. The thing will get more beautiful year after year.”
Education is a living process. From year to year, we must try to make our classrooms beautiful, innovative, and effective. We must constantly reflect, reinvent and improve. Each year, our classrooms are filled with unique and different learners. If we continue to use the same tired practices year after year, we will see the same tired results year after year as well. This is why it is so important for teachers to reflect on their teaching, students, and classroom as they approach the end of the year.
Below are several ideas for injecting new life into your classroom and reflecting on the year as it comes to a close, while beginning to plan for next year.
Keep a “Things to Do Next Year” Journal or list. Any time I had an idea for how to improve our classroom, I would write it down in this journal. Then over the summer, I would decide how to implement the necessary improvements or bring about the new ideas. Sometimes, it was a simple activity to try with students, or a new wrinkle on classroom management. The journal helped to keep the ideas fresh in my mind as I got ready to start the next school year in September.
Involve students. Use a simple student survey to gain insight. Ask students the following questions: what did we do really well this year? What can I do better as a teacher with next year’s class? Getting honest feedback from students will help you improve your craft and the management of the classroom. Sometimes, students come up with the best suggestions for improvements, like when one of my students suggested that I allow students to pick their own seats on the first day of school. This helped set the tone that students were a part of decision making, and would be encouraged to show their voice by making choices.
Choose some summer professional reading books and commit to reading them. Amidst all of the pleasure reads that you can finally enjoy this summer, include a few that will help you improve your classroom or instruction. It could be a favorite of teachers like Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess or a book that draws inspiration from outside the education world, like Creativity Inc. by Ed Catmull, about the innovation strategies implemented by Pixar. (https://fouroclockfaculty.com/2015/01/become-the-chief-education-officer-ceo-of-your-classroom/)
Look back and eliminate anything that is not productive or efficient or making a difference for you or your students. There may be practices and routines that you’ve been using in your classroom for a long time that are not necessarily effective or efficient. Review your daily practices and ask yourself if they add to the effectiveness of your classroom or teaching. If not, get rid of them. Examine everything about your day- how you take attendance, how you help students catch up if they were absent, where you place different things in the classroom. If something is not helpful to you or your students, replace it with something that will be more beneficial.
Find time to connect with other educators over the summer. Schedule an #AppyHour where you meet with other teachers to discuss useful apps or websites. Bring food and make it a party. Have coffee with some other teachers once a week. Collaborate with colleagues. Expand your PLN on social media. Take every opportunity to share with current colleagues, or a former colleague who you haven’t talked to in a while.
Commit to learning one new thing that will improve your classroom next year. Try out a new app or website, like Google Classroom which may help you be better organized or automate some of your workload. Learn about a new classroom management technique and plan to implement it with your students. My goal is to explore the use of digital badges this summer for use with professional development.
What will you do to reflect on this past year? How will you plan to improve your teaching next year? Share your strategies and plans in the comments section below.