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Why this one habit can transform your teaching

Why this one habit can transform your teaching

As the semester comes to a close, your mind may have already turned to long lunches, beach holidays, and time with your family. But before you check out completely, bring your focus back to the here and now. You see, there’s one last thing to do before wiping the whiteboard clean for the final time this term. A self-evaluation.

Why evaluate yourself?

As a teacher, you probably reflect naturally. Thoughts will come at a lesson’s end (“Nailed it!” “How wonderful to see Noah so concentrated today,” “Hmm, that didn’t go as planned,”) and, depending on their intensity or importance, will waft away or start eating at you. However, the difference between this sort of automatic reflection, and the practice of self-evaluation, is that the latter is far more systematic and habitual. It requires more of your time and energy but pays out with great returns on investment.

Teachers with corporate backgrounds may be familiar with traditional reviews. Happily, a major benefit to self-evaluation over employee reviews is that self-evaluation gives you, the teacher, the chance to reflect on your own challenges, and design approaches to correct them. This eliminates the feeling of others making contextless snap judgements about your teaching, and increases control and ownership over your own development.

(Some) benefits of self-reflection:

  • The process is entirely personalized

  • It identifies challenges and skills you may have overlooked

  • It allows you to zoom in on problems that are pressing to you

  • The process goes beyond jargon like “good performance” or “areas for improvement”

  • It takes advantage of the fact that you are most familiar with your students and teaching style

  • It asks you to be honest about what is and isn’t working in the classroom

  • Reflection shows you take your work and future as an educator seriously

  • It’s a tool for lifelong learning

Conducting a self-evaluation

There are three basic components when planning your self-evaluation: a series of questions and goals, specificity and honesty when answering, and a pleasing environment

  1. Identifying questions and setting goals

Entrepreneur, writer, and avid self-evaluator Chris Guillebeau suggests starting with two major questions:

  • What has gone well?

  • What hasn’t gone so well?

To connect this to your teaching, it’s a good idea to expand these and get specific. You may choose to ask yourself questions like:

  • What feedback have I received this year?

  • When have I felt at my best in the classroom?

  • How satisfied am I with my work/life balance?

  • What were my best moments this semester?

  • When have I most enjoyed teaching?

  • When have I not enjoyed teaching?

  • What skills have I learned or improved upon this semester?

  • What has made me feel proud this semester?

  • What has been a major win this semester?

  • How have I overcome a particular problem?

  • What are my strengths as a teacher and how are they developing?

  • What are my current challenges as a teacher?

Then, set goals for the following semester by asking questions such as:

  • What skills would I like to develop next semester?

  • What would a “good Monday” feel like?

  • What are two areas I want to improve on first?

  • Who can I reach out to as a potential mentor?

  • Who is a teacher I greatly admire and why?

  • Where can I find free resources to develop my teaching?

2. Specificity and honesty

Try to be as specific as possible and focus on what you can change. Consider the difference between “I don’t enjoy my Monday teen’s class. I want to request another level next year” and “I don’t enjoy my Monday teen’s class as I’m always rushing to get there on time and feel stressed.” In the second reflection, the teacher identifies time management as the key reason this class has been a problem. Because of that, he or she will be able to take measures to arrive on time, and likely enjoy teaching this class a far more as a result.

Similarly, be prepared to be honest with yourself. If your teaching has suffered, pinpoint why. If a particular class or student is not thriving, scratch away at the cause.

3. A pleasing environment

It’s important not to feel rushed when doing a self-evaluation. Some people swear by going away for a night to an inexpensive hotel room where they’ll be truly left alone with their thoughts. That does sound ideal; however, if you simply cannot afford or justify this, try hiring a babysitter, sending your partner and children out for the day, or escaping your home by going to a library or favorite coffee shop. If you live in a share house or find it’s impossible to be alone at home, inform your flatmates or family that you’re working for the next few hours. Block it off in your diary then go and close the door.

Wherever you are, make yourself as comfortable as possible. Turn off the WiFi, switch off your phone, bring in a kettle, order something delicious, have energizing snacks ready, play calming music – and move through the questions, taking your time with each. It doesn’t matter if you choose to type, voice-record, or handwrite your observations and goals; what’s important is getting them out of your head.

What next?

That’s really up to you! You may choose to end the process there and revisit your thoughts at the following evaluation. Or, you might feel inclined to read your evaluation at regular intervals, say, once a month or at the start of each week. How you move forward will depend on your current situation: how straightforward your evaluation was, what you learned about yourself, how challenging your set goals are, and how satisfied you currently feel with your teaching. If you decide you do need additional support, try seeking out a supportive colleague or mentor to discuss goals, identify pathways forward, or aid development.

Your process may even reveal a desire to experiment with other self-evaluation methods; such as having your class recorded, enlisting a peer review from a colleague, keeping a journal, or asking your students for anonymous feedback.

Self-evaluations are a valuable tool for teachers to identify challenging areas, highlight their wins, and step off the treadmill of lessons, assessments, and commitments. Due to the nature of the academic calendar, teachers are well-positioned to add self-evaluations at strategic points such as a semester’s end. The wonderful thing about self-evaluation is that it’s a personal strategy. What works for you may not work for a colleague – and that’s just fine. The important thing is to analyze so as to start each new semester with purpose.

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