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Make End-of-Year Reflection Matter

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Jason Lange

With the end of the school year quickly approaching, now is a vital time for school principals and administrators to begin their end-of-year reflections. A recent Harvard Business School study found that the most important part of the learning process is reflection. And taking the time to do so greatly impacts performance.

After all, you can't look ahead until you've looked back. By taking the time to reflect, it's possible for principals and administrators in leadership positions to set the stage for continuous improvement, determine what worked in the past year (as well as what didn't work well), and ensure the greatest ultimate success for the school as a whole. It can start with personal reflection; then, it can transition into looking back and evaluating the action plans that were made at the start of the year for both the school and the district. How did you do? Did you meet the goals that were set?

As you prepare for your upcoming end-of-year routines, there are a few things you'll want to include in the reflection process.

Take Stock From All Your Stakeholders

One important aspect of completing an end-of-year reflection is meeting not just with your school's leadership, but also with teachers, staff members, and higher-ups (such as superintendents). You might even consider leveraging one of the many school climate surveys to help create a better understanding of how your students or parents experience school.

Feedback is key for moving toward greater experiences and bigger improvements. Research shows that a continuous feedback loop leads to greater learning, so make it a priority to connect with teachers, staff members, students, and parents.

With staff and teachers, the best way to complete a reflection is to sit down with them in a one-on-one meeting. Most people deeply appreciate the opportunity to provide feedback, yet they don't often have the opportunity to do so. To get the most out of these meetings, it's helpful to send an email prompt or survey in advance to ask what each person sees as the biggest successes of the year and the biggest opportunities for improvement for next year.

Not only will this advance notice help your staff members structure their thoughts for the personal meeting, but it will also give you the opportunity to tease out any questions you might have. These meetings can be very productive for both sides because they inspire greater autonomy and allow great ideas to surface.

What about when it comes time to meet with the superintendent? This can be a daunting task for any principal or administrator, but it's usually a constructive and positive meeting. In most cases, a superintendent will simply ask for input from the school leaders and want to be briefed on any proposed changes for the upcoming school year.

Finally, reflect on what it's all about. At the 2014 ASCD Annual Conference, Dr. Russell Quaglia challenged teachers to think about what gets them out of bed and ready to work with children every day. Ask yourself whether you enjoyed the year. Don't just focus on the parts that went wrong. Research shows that it's crucial to reflect on the small wins, too.

Celebrate Your Successes

No matter what challenges you and your staff faced throughout the year, there are always bright spots to celebrate. And when you do celebrate it, make it very public.

Be sure to take a broader view of success. Your successes don't have to revolve around test scores and benchmarks. Think about the goals set for the school and the progress you've made towards them throughout the year. Maybe your teachers made significant strides in incorporating more technology into their classrooms or successfully increased parent involvement over the year. Big or small, it's important to recognize the accomplishments of your staff.

You can also take this time to let your staff recognize each other for times when individuals have gone out of their way to support each other. Not only do most people love the recognition, but it also helps reinforce for the rest of your team that there's precedent and encouragement to support each other.

Set Next Year's Plan in Motion

Armed with your staff feedback and your survey results, and coming off the fun of a good staff-wide celebration, you hopefully now have enough data to start thinking about what areas you want to focus on for improving next year. Are there any ways you can get a jump on these over the summer? Are there any teachers who are interested in taking on more leadership in key tasks or shepherding a new initiative that came up in your feedback?

Thinking through these types of questions and working to trigger the relevant conversations before the end of the year can help keep your staff engaged in creating the best learning environment possible, even through the summer. Additionally, the summer months leave plenty of time for more research or learning that might help smooth that eventual implementation or process rollout in the fall.

There's a lot that goes into a productive end-of-year reflection among school leadership. By following these steps, however, you'll be well on your way to improvements in the following academic year.

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Jason Lange is the CEO and co-founder of BloomBoard. The site enables educators to create personalized learning pathways and connects them with high-quality professional development resources to achieve their goals. For more information, visit bloomboard.com. Bloomboard is a portfolio company of Learn Capital where Tom Vander Ark is a partner.

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