When I was a classroom teacher I had to write a SMART goal each year. I turned it into the principal at the beginning of the year, and no one ever referenced it again. In that role, I also tended to reflect “on the fly.” I’d take a quick assessment and make adjustments on teaching materials, strategies, and temperature of the class. I’d either reteach or make notes for changes for the following year. When I attended professional development opportunities, I’d often reflect through the conversations I had with colleagues at the event and/or after I returned to school. I rarely spent any lengthy time during the reflection process or linking it back to my goal.
When I moved into the role of curriculum director, I recognized a need to make this process more intentional. The role was brand new and I was forging it as I went. I decided that the easiest way for me to make intentional time for reflection would be to schedule it every Monday morning (when no other meetings were on my calendar) and to reflect through writing. This worked for me since it only involved me and I wasn’t dependent on another person having the same time free to talk. In those early days, my reflection often centered around new knowledge or practices I was learning to be better in my new role. Later, it morphed into including reflecting on the programs I was developing, initiatives I was implementing, or strategies I was introducing to the teachers and administrators in my district.
Now as a consultant, I am constantly talking with other educators about the importance of focused goal-setting and the role of intentional reflection. There are some basic guidelines for writing goals to make them meaningful and purposeful. I still like the SMART goal format for really structuring the wording of my goal to make sure it gets at the heart of where I’m wanting to go with my learning. After I craft that goal, the next important step is to write two or three action items and assign them a date by which to be completed. This provides clear “next steps” and immediately gets me moving toward accomplishing my goal. The final thing I do in this goal-setting session is to share my document with a colleague who can help hold me accountable. This doesn’t need to be a supervisor (unless you have that requirement in your district) but someone I trust so that we can have real conversations surrounding the work I’m doing toward this goal. This should be someone that I can set up regular debriefs with. These check-ins don’t have to take a lot of time. It’s really just a space to verbally reflect with another educator so that I can think through my next action items to set. Remember that goals need to be specific, but flexible. Both the language and the time frame you create can change and adapt based on the work you encounter and your reflections along the way.
Personal and professional growth comes in many forms. I’m a big believer in the necessity of continuous learning in order to be effective and successful. The best part? This learning can occur anywhere and everywhere through reflective practice.
Some reflection happens in the moment like I mentioned earlier, but the deepest learning takes place when we schedule time for intentional reflection. I first started scheduling time for reflection eight years ago. It was a weekly appointment on my calendar, set aside for me to think about the work I had done, was doing, and wanted to do. It was a way to study my own experiences in order to improve my performance and the way I was able to serve others while keeping my goals fresh in the forefront of my mind. My biggest takeaways from years of intentional reflection include:
- Mindset matters – This sounds basic, and people in education have been hearing about growth mindset for years. We want our students to have a growth mindset, but how often do we experience it with our teachers…especially two weeks before school starts, when being asked to learn a lot of new things? We have to walk the talk.
- Learning can be both challenging and fun – Again, nothing new, but a notion that is important for me to revisit and reflect on occasionally. Make sure that your own learning is both. How can you make it more challenging? How can you make it more fun?
- Limitation is a state of mind – Don’t complain about what you don’t have. Instead, sit down and get to work learning how to make the most out of what you do have to best benefit the students that would be walking through the doors. Don’t see limitations, see opportunities for learning.
How do you make time for intentional reflection? And what do you learn from it? Goals are only beneficial if you actually look at them regularly, set steps for accomplishments, and think about it all on a regular basis. This time of reflection about your learning and your work and how it’s impacting your goal will continue to help it evolve to gain the greatest growth.