Congrats on another semester on the books! Now’s the time to think critically about what went right and what could go better. Reflection now can bring big benefits later, such as clarity on your learning goals, course materials, and assignments, as well as help you streamline the processes you used to grade and give feedback. And if you are going up for promotion, tenure, or have an annual review to plan for, reflection helps you collect the documentation you’ll need to make your strongest case.
As you think about your courses for this semester, consider some of the following questions as part of your own, personal “teaching debrief.” You can record your thoughts now, and review them as you prepare to teach this course in the future.
- What did my students accomplish that they were particularly proud of? What was I particularly proud of?
- Where did we all struggle as a class to maintain interest, motivation, and focus?
- What assignments did I spend the most time grading?
- Where in the semester did I get behind on responding to student emails or giving feedback?
- What unanticipated challenges did we encounter as a class?
- What course content just didn’t work well this time around?
- What did you learn about your students in this class?
- What new ideas did you get for teaching this class this semester and where did you get them from?
- What supports, if any, do you feel would help you continue to be successful as an instructor?
- What have you learned or confirmed about your approach to teaching in this course?
There are many ways to record these reflections. Some instructors annotate a hard copy of their syllabi, indicating which weeks were successful and which readings they’ll skip next time. Others create a kind of “debrief template” and type up answers to the same sets of questions for each class. The mode matters less than the practice; however you choose to reflect, try to commit to trying it out a few semesters as part of your regular routine.
In considering these questions, try not to focus on future solutions, but rather capture your reactions and reflective feelings. When you return to these notes in a few months, you may find a fresh perspective that helps you address challenges more effectively. Some of your reflective responses may be very useful in revising your statement of teaching philosophy, as well.
Once you have reflected, consider collecting or archiving any feedback or documentation you received that you feel may be helpful in cataloging your successes for future review. Keeping track of those things while they are fresh in your mind will save a lot of time when you need to produce a dossier. These kinds of documentation could include:
- Unsolicited thank you emails from students
- Documentation of an observation by a peer or CTAL staff
- Letters or certificates of participation in professional development activities such as workshops or conferences
- Exemplary student work for a course
PRO TIP: UD’s School of Education’s Professor Bob Hampel has a great tip for getting and using student feedback at the end of the semester. He emails several of the students who performed very well in the course and asks them what helped them be so successful. He tells them he’ll anonymize their comments and share them with next semester’s students to help them do well too. Great tip, Bob!
Reflection is an iterative (and often a recursive) practice that will help us see aspects of our own professional development that need attention. And it can often be challenging. Make sure you give yourself ample time and mental space to engage in reflection, and talk to your colleagues who are doing the same. As one of our teaching colleagues says, your future self will thank you for the the attention you put into this process now!