One thing I appreciate about the teaching life is its provision of dependable seasons. What I mean is that, dependably,
- May is a month for looking closely at the fruits of the school year that is almost over and deciding on what needs to get better in the year to come;
- June and July are months for enjoying the non-teaching life, all the while exploring and reflecting and connecting in ways that will make us stronger teachers in the year to come;
- August is a month for gearing up;
- Thanksgiving break is a time for detaching and decompressing;
- and, importantly, I think December is a time for reflecting back on the calendar year and looking forward to the one to come.
Unfortunately, that last one isn't a reality for many teachers. For one thing, we allow the teaching calendar to dictate when we'll reflect — which means that when there's time for reflection at all, it's at the end of the year or during the summer (because Survival Mode). For another thing, at this time of year every marketing message we receive (which is bajillions, especially if you are watching TV) is telling us CONSUME! MORE! DO! ENJOY! ENJOY AND CONSUME AND DO MORE! These messages are not helpful in producing… well, anything really, except for sales profits.
So rather than letting yourself get sucked up into the December Vortex, allow me to encourage you, first, to make space for reflection, and then to focus on several Annual Review questions this month.
Questions for Annual Review
These are meant to get the gears turning:
- In terms of work-life balance this past year, what worked well? What needs to improve?
- In terms of family relationships this past year, what worked well? What needs to improve?
- In terms of my personal finances this past year, what worked well? What needs to improve?
- In terms of sustainability, what habits, patterns, or trends from this past year could I see lasting for years to come? On the other hand, what habits, patterns, or trends from this past year are not sustainable?
- In terms of my internal life this past year, what worked well? What needs to improve?
- In terms of how I treated other people this past year, what worked well? What needs to improve?
- In terms of habit formation this past year, what worked well? What needs to improve?
- In terms of [insert thing that is important to you that I haven't listed] this past year, what worked well? What needs to improve?
Now we get into the meat of things:
- What are my priorities in life, and how have or haven't I lived accordingly this past year?
- Do I exemplify the attributes that I hope my students will develop? Is this true of all parts of my life or only some parts? (See character switching.) Why or why not?
- If I were to find myself in the future at the end of a long life and was able to look back on some film from this past year, what would I be grateful for? What would I regret?
- What is my purpose in life, and how does this line up with how I spent this past year?
The final questions
And finally, we get to the work ahead:
- What does all of this reflection suggest that I might do in the year to come?
- What might I change, and how might I do that?
- What might I keep the same and how?
- How do these proposed changes and continuities align with my priorities and purpose?
I hope this all helps, as it is my firm belief that saner teachers do better work.