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Celebrating the Year: Growth, Reflection, and Closure by Kimberly Fox

Teaching has never been an easy gig. The hats we wear: counselor, service provider, researcher, conflict negotiator. Oof. But this year has been even trickier between current events, pandemic challenges, and dwindling resources, to name just a few. Many of us feel overwhelmed and underappreciated. And those feelings are absolutely valid. One of my favorite parts of being a consultant is the ability to visit schools to see things from a different perspective and share the magic I am witnessing across classrooms. The truth is, in all of our buildings, so much is going so well. Kids are growing, as learners and as people. Because of YOU. I remember the anxieties many of us shared in the fall: Will these kids be able to access the curriculum? Will I get to everything? And perhaps many of us taught in ways we never have before. We taught self-regulation, problem-solving, and pencil grip work. And also reading, writing, and math. But it’s working and your kids are ready for what’s coming. Because of you.

The end of the year is a great time to reflect on where you’ve been, what you’ve learned, and where this knowledge will take you. This break is a well-deserved chance to look back on where we’ve come from and make plans for where we are going. Below, I have shared a few ways you and your students can take this work on.

Get kids to reflect. Take a few minutes to set kids up to look back on what they were doing in the fall vs. now. You might even have them hold a piece of writing from the beginning of the year and a recent piece to make comparisons. Talk to them about how to look at their work in specific ways: drawing, spelling, elaboration, or volume. Some students might benefit from language supports, so you might have them say, “I used to… (do, think). Now I know…” This can be done with students in your classroom, but I’ve also been doing some of this with my own child! My daughter is four and just finishing her first year of pre-k, so a lot of these conversations are around hopping on one foot, drawing, putting on jammies all by herself. She has expressed thoughts like, oh I could always do these things, but over a few conversations, I’ve helped her see and verbalize the way she’s grown because she’s worked at it! Hopping on one foot feels easy now, but a few months ago, she was only able to hop once or twice. But she worked at it, and now she does a lot of this stuff easily! The same is true of the kids in our classes. They are the people they are today because they practiced, struggled, tried new strategies, took risks, and now some things that were once hard are easy or perhaps even a habit.

Reflection can be hard for kids, and really all of us, because it can be difficult to remember what things were like even a few months ago. It helps to see photos, look at work, watch a video, anything to make it more tangible. Our words help tremendously. As the year wraps up, keep the reflection work going! Celebrate how efficiently they are able to clean up or use a phonics tool. They have come so far this year!

Reflect on yourself. You have also spent the last 10+ months growing and changing, whether it was your first year teaching or your twenty-fifth. What have you learned to do well this year? Perhaps you learned a new curriculum or you found some read aloud you absolutely love. Maybe you got writing partnership systems going. How has your work become more precise, easier for you, and better for your students? Sometimes it can be something you ADDED to your day, but other times it can be something that you LET GO that can make all the difference. Maybe you found a way to plan more efficiently so you spent more time on weekends with yourself, your family, and your friends. Take time to look at how YOU grew this year in little and big ways. If you’re not sure, ask a colleague! Without a doubt, they can name ten things you’ve done well this year!

Plan ahead. Ok, you’ve grown so much. Your work is more efficient, you’ve found ways to do more of what matters most to you with your students. Magical! Now, with all these reflections, how will you live differently next year? Did you try a new routine in the spring that you’d like to start the year with? What books did you read with kids that you’ve just gotta get in earlier in the year? You might consider systems that worked well or resources you found powerful in your teaching. Make lists, write stuff down! Start a google doc or even a note on your phone or write in a notebook. Text a colleague to share theirs so you can build a bank of ideas for the coming year. Find ways to keep these ideas for the fall.

After all this reflecting is done, find some ways to take time for yourself. Colleagues, we are so grateful for all your work this year. Your students are grateful too.

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