“We do not learn from experience...we learn from reflecting on experience.” John Dewey
Have you heard the “joke” that goes- What is the best thing about teaching? June, July, and August! I don’t take such a cynical view of education- I actually think September is one of the best months- so full of hope, promise, and opportunity. Yet in order to get to that place of optimism in September, it is helpful for school leaders (administrators and teachers) to spend time over the summer preparing by reflecting and planning.
Research and practice tell us that when we stop and reflect on our learning it synthesizes and solidifies our experiences into understanding and knowledge. We ask our students to reflect on their learning; yet do we as adults acknowledge and value reflection as an important part of our own professional growth? While it is important to weave reflection time into our schedules during the year, the summer months are an ideal time to take a big picture look at our performance, learning, successes, and challenges in order to plan for the upcoming year.
There are many benefits to spending time in self-reflection:
Emotional intelligence- Reflection leads to self-awareness, a key element in emotional intelligence. This, in turn, leads to the ability to practice self-regulation, another element. Without intentional self-reflection, it is difficult to develop self-awareness.
Recognize progress- We all need to feel like we have agency and impact in our work. While positive feedback and praise from others are important; acknowledging our own progress and success to ourselves is also beneficial.
Clarity- When we are “in the moment” in our work, we often lose sight of what we are doing, our impact, our mindsets, and the big picture. Self-reflection, both on an ongoing basis and in the summer, helps us to step back and gain clarity on the entire context of our work.
Increased confidence- When you have assessed your performance, you can move forward with the confidence that you know what you are good at as well as your “growth edges.”
Integrity- When you are aware of your patterns and habits of behavior, as well as your attitudes and mindsets, you can consider if they are in alignment with your values. After consideration, you can decide how you might alter your patterns moving forward.
Ability to plan- With the clarity and confidence gained through self-reflection you can establish aspirations and goals based on clear information and understanding.
Basic reflection includes looking back to think about and articulate what went well and what didn’t go as planned. We can also reflect upon specific details within our work. Writing down reflections and subsequent plans for moving forward helps to organize thoughts and can be a resource to look back on in the future. In addition, talking through reflections with a trusted colleague can help to further clarify thoughts.
By taking the time this summer to engage in intentional, comprehensive self-reflection, you will set yourself up for a productive school year.
I’ve developed both a brief reflection Worksheet for Heads of Small Schools and a more detailed Complete Workbook. Click here for a free copy of the Summer Reflection for Heads of Small Schools Worksheet.
“The most useful reflection involves the conscious consideration and analysis of beliefs and actions for the purpose of learning.” (Jennifer Porter HBR 3.21.17)
Parents choose independent schools for their children for a variety of reasons. One thing all parents share is a desire for their children to be cared for and supported in school. And I think it is safe to say that all independent schools aspire to care for and support all of their students. Each child matters in every school. Yet in small schools, each individual student has the potential to make an significant impact on the functioning of the organization in ways that are not seen in larger schools.