I recently had an amazing coaching session with a teacher, who talked about how she recently realised that if she stopped and looked around, she could see the results of her hard work with the learners over the year so far. And I thought, what a meaningful realisation. With term 4 ahead of us, the moment is opportune for all teachers and learning support assistants to take time to consider the impact they have had on their students. This sort of reflection isn’t just an exercise in self-affirmation; it is also a reminder of the vital role we all play in shaping the future, one student at a time.
One of my favourite memories from over the years was when a student with quite significant additional learning needs asked if they could read to the class after morning tea (something that till then only the most confident of readers had ever asked). They chose to read one of their very simple readers to the class, in their very halting style. At the end, the whole class, with many who regularly read chapter books, applauded their classmate in a really authentic way. The joy on the student’s face who had read the book was unmissable, and the continued lift in confidence from that day on positively impacted all of his learning. The time and effort that had gone into creating a warm, positive and supportive classroom culture definitely paid off!
Of course, the creation of a culture like that doesn’t occur in a vacuum, so taking the time to unpack what had gone into it, meant that I would be more likely to repeat it. I think it is important to realise that this process - and it is a process, setting up systems and cultures - needs to be repeated with each new group of learners you have. It is a funny old thing, but I know that at the start of every year it was always a little bit of a surprise at what the learners are like when they begin in your class, versus where they get to at the end, even if you do try to remind yourself that they are a year younger than the bunch that just moved on from you!
So what specifically should you think about as part of your ‘look how far we’ve come’ reflection?
This is a no brainer, as of course you are doing this regularly, and with Term 4 being about formal reporting, uploading of specific data and a lot of summative things going on, you will naturally be looking at this area. The extra piece you want to do to really reflect on YOUR impact though, is to identify any unusual patterns in the data and progress. Was there anything in particular that learners excelled in above expectations? Or the opposite - anything that you were surprised to see lower results that you might expect? This is where you will find the information that you can use to change.
What was different about the unit preceding this assessment?
If the results were better than expected, what were the things that I did differently that might have caused this? Was it my teaching methods? Was it new material that motivated or engaged learners more deeply? Was I accessing support for learners that I haven’t previously?
Was there a change in the way the learners could access the learning - more opportunities for collaboration, for example.
Is there something about the relationships between you and the learners, or the learners with each other that has created a more effective learning environment?
Is it that you have developed more effective formative assessment that has allowed you to give that timely, constructive feedback that supports and encourages learners?
And of course if the learning is less effective, a lot of the same questions apply, just frame them differently - was it lack of engaging material/formative assessment/less effective classroom management etc. Am I able to easily see the gaps my learners have and act on them effectively, likewise, can I see how to extend my learners?
By identifying your role in the results, you are more likely to be able to repeat the things that create positive change, and less likely to repeat those that didn’t support improvement.
Collecting student voice is crucial as it provides valuable insights into their experience of the learning environment. It enables you to identify preferences, challenges and perspectives, which ensures a more inclusive and equitable learning environment. It might be that you don’t have systems in place to easily do this (check out the link at the end of this blog for the perfect tool to regularly gather feedback from your learners!), so perhaps your reflection will be around how you can change this. If you do have systems, this is the time to make sure that you are really thinking about what they are telling you - it isn’t enough just to listen, you actually need to hear what is being said.
Often it is about this time of the year, that you look around and notice things are just humming along. Ideally, routines are down pat, interactions are positive, learners know how to access support, they get your jokes - you have your way of being as a class all sorted. You did not get to this point by chance. So take a moment to ask why. Why is your classroom such a wonderful place to be? What went into creating this atmosphere of respect and mutual support?
What you have done to promote respect, collaboration and empathy among your students - what teaching have you done, what do you model, what actions have demonstrated these values to your learners?
Think about how you have formed groups for different activities or collaborative tasks, were you encouraging diversity, participation and a positive peer-to-peer environment?
How do you manage conflict between classmates, and how have you supported conflict resolution skill development?
What do you do to celebrate the diversity of your students, and to ensure inclusion?
Taking time to check in with learners on a one-to-one conversation can help you identify if your actions have helped impact relationships and community in your classroom, so consider asking your learners why they might feel the way they do.
Reflection enables you to celebrate your achievements and recognise the role you play in shaping the minds and futures of the learners entrusted to your care. Thinking about the effect you have had on your class over the course of the year so far allows you to gain valuable insight into teaching methods, classroom dynamics and students’ growth. Ultimately, this process not only enhances your effectiveness as an educator, but also ensures that each academic year can be a success and that no one is left behind on their educational journey.
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