This time of year is notorious for bogging teachers down. I remember thinking, middle of October, “I have how many more months of this??!!”
Time seems to stand still mid-fall. The excitement of the new year has worn off considerably, and the anticipation of Thanksgiving or Christmas break looms large.
Yet, this time of year can also be incredibly beautiful. The process of learning and growing is more evident than in August. It’s time to enjoy the process of teaching as you reflect mid-semester. Consider asking yourself, journaling responses, or discussing with your team answers to the following 5 questions:
1. Are all members of the class part of building class identity and culture?
Class belonging and identity takes shape over the course of an entire year. The first month is filled with students figuring out who they are and how they will fit in with the class culture. By October, though, class identity begins to take shape as kids come to see themselves as part of a larger learning community. Procedures have become routine as students take responsibility for their role in the class. Now’s the time to revisit Classbuilding and Teambuilding activities. You might consider changing seats and having students using Kagan’s “Uncommon Commonalities” to create team names. You could also have students complete a “Find Someone Who” activity to see how answers might have changed over the course of the semester.
2. Where have we seen heart growth?
Whatever your teaching context is, you can see and celebrate heart growth! The beauty of teaching in a Christian school is that you can overtly address heart issues with Biblical truths and one-on-one discipleship. If your teaching context is different, look for ways that students have grown in their compassion for others and ability to restore relationships. God has generously given us His common grace, so there’s no need to despair or neglect this question in a secular context. By trusting in and relying on the Holy Spirit, we can help all of our students to experience heart growth. This could also be the time that God uses you to speak truth and draw them to Himself. As teachers, we should also ask this question of ourselves. Where has God grown our hearts to love and care for students in ways that might have been difficult at the beginning of the year?
3. Where have we celebrated progress rather than perfection?
This is also the time of year where students are practically knee deep in new learning. I noticed that this was also the time of year where students distinguished themselves as “good at school” or “bad at school.” November is the turning point in student perception of learning. Use this period to remind and model for students what progress looks like. Find ways to incorporate growth mindset conversations as a way to reflect on learning, especially after assessments. The process of self-reflection is key in building lifelong learners!
4. How have we built family bonds? Where might family bonds be weak and need to be strengthened?
By now you’ve already had family-teacher conferences. Stakeholder bond-building doesn’t stop at conferences, though. Historically, I took October and November easy and neglected to strengthen family bonds, something I DON’T recommend. Rather, this is the time of year to double-down on positive notes home and continued positive contact with families. If to-do lists work for you, set aside 1-2 days a week to reach out to families in your class with a positive and personal note. This could be a 1-2 sentence note you email, write on a sticky note or say during a face-to-face interaction before or after school. Enjoy the process of getting to know families by building bonds with them throughout the entire year.
5. Where are students given opportunities to learn alongside others?
Even though the honeymoon phase of a new year is waning, use this mid-year reflection to add a boost to student motivation and excitement in the classroom. Capitalize on procedures becoming routine by introducing and implementing Kagan’s Cooperative Learning Structures. At the beginning of the year, I had my class practice structures, such as Mix-Pair-Share, Write-Pair-Share, and Gallery Walks with get to know you activities. Mid-semester is the time to introduce new structures. I recommend introducing 2 structures a month from now until December. Then, reevaluate in January. Keep and recycle old structures while introducing 3-4 new structures.
Some of my favorites for this time of year are “Quiz-Quiz-Trade” and “Match Mine.”
Quiz-Quiz-Trade: This one is perfect for test or quiz reviews. Have students write a question they think might be on the test or quiz on one side of a notecard. Then, have them write the answer on the back. They partner with someone else, quiz each other, then trade cards. Have students do this with 5 or 6 partners. They should hopefully end up with someone else’s card by the end of the activity.
Match Mine: This one works well for reviewing shapes in lower-elementary, characteristics of polygons in upper-elementary, or discussing character traits in any grade. Students create a picture with shapes or write the name of a character on their whiteboard. The key is to keep the whiteboard hidden (kind of like Battleship). Then, they give their partner clues. While the other partner listens to clues, they try and replicate what they’re hearing on their whiteboard. Use this link to find an excellent example of “Match Mine” using shapes.
However you find yourself answering these 5 reflection questions, my prayer for you is that God will use them to deepen your love for Him and for where He’s placed you in your career.
Join in the mid-semester reflection conversation by commenting with your responses or other questions you ask yourself during mid-semester reflections!