Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines the the word reflect as “to think quietly and calmly”. I’d go a step further and add that reflecting also involves some analysis of the topic: what went well? What didn’t? How could we improve? Reflection is the process of taking a critical look at the things that we do and deciding if what we are doing is working or not.
As teachers, reflection is key to determining how successful we are at reaching our students both as learners and as people. Are the students grasping concepts? Are they inspired to push topics further on their own? Are we presenting the material to them in an engaging manner? Are we building meaningful relationships with the kids in our room? These are questions that I cycle through on a daily basis: during lessons, after lessons, between lessons, in the car, while running, while hiking, while sleeping. Reflection is a sign that we are invested in learning how to get better at the things that we endeavor in.
As we approach the impending winter break, I wanted my students to engage in some reflective writing. In English classes, we regularly reflect on books, essays and current events, but we rarely ask the students to reflect on themselves and the lives they are living. On Friday, I had each of my Language Arts classes begin class with 5 minutes of reflective writing on the following topic:
“Think about the year 2017: what did you do or accomplish that you are most proud of? What could you have done better? What did you want to accomplish, but couldn’t? Finally, what is something that you want to achieve in 2018?”
In an attempt to show solidarity and take part in the activity as well, I told each of my classes that I summited three 14ers (14,000 foot peaks) last year while hiking in Colorado, and my goal this year was to do five or more. Most of my students have never been hiking in the wilderness, so my response of course led into a longer-than-intended discussion about steepness, elevation and the time it takes to summit a mountain. Also, a lot of kids wanted an explanation as to why anyone would WANT to hike a 14er.
Eventually I got them back on track and writing about the aforementioned topic, and I allowed students the opportunity to share their reflections. The overwhelming majority of the responses were things like:
“I made A/B Honor Roll.”
“I made better grades this year.”
“I improved my behavior.”
“I want to make all A’s next year.”
“I want to get in less trouble.”
Other than a few kids who mentioned goals related to sports, almost all of my students focused their reflections around issues concerning school. I was a little surprised. I suppose I had forgotten that a 12 or 13 year-old’s world is still relatively small. The main focus of their lives at this point is school. Because of their age, many of them haven’t yet developed outside interests like traveling, running, hiking, biking, sewing, cooking, dancing, yoga-ing and all the other things that we (adults) aspire to do during our free time.
As they grow older, my students will hopefully find time to explore hobbies and interests that will help make them more well-rounded people. But right now, at this moment, school is their main squeeze. And I have to remember that. Teachers have to remember that. For these kids – whether we like it or not – we play a significant part in their lives. They are awake for 12 to 14 hours a day (hopefully not too much more than that), and we get to see them for 8 more hours of that time frame. While I have a number of outside interests and personal goals aligned with them that I want to achieve, I have to remember that my students aren’t there yet. They have dreams and goals and aspirations, and they depend on my colleagues and I to help them reach them.
I realize it’s cliche, but this week reminded me of just how important teachers are to their students. I know as teachers we all have crowded classrooms packed full of students, but we must not forget that they have only one of us.
As I look forward to 2018, my students’ reflections have led me to reflect, and I now have another resolution to add to my list for the upcoming year: be mindful every day of the role you play in the lives of all of your students.