Looking Back, Looking Ahead

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Learning Objective 

Students reflect on the past school year before generating ideas for the kind of learning community and learning experiences they want to have this year. When students believe that they have agency over their learning experiences and are being taken seriously by their teacher, they feel valued and respected. This is an important step in fostering individual student-teacher relationships.


  1. Reflect on Last Year’s Learning Experiences
    • Start by acknowledging the uniqueness of the moment. Gen Z is the only generation of students who have navigated distance learning during a global pandemic. At the same time, there has been racial injustice and violence, social protest, and a continuously unpredictable news cycle. For these reasons, it will be important to reflect on key lessons and takeaways from the variety of experiences and use these to inform classroom practices this year. 
    • Explain to students that they will be reflecting in their journals on their experiences from the past year, both the good and the bad, and offering their expert advice for this year. Model risk-taking by sharing your own response to each of the following questions. Tell students that you will collect their responses at the end of the reflection time, and their responses will not be shared with classmates unless they choose to share them.
      • Q1: Think back on the past year. What were some positive experiences that you had during this time? What impact did those experiences have on you? Consider learning experiences as well as general life experiences. 
      • Q2: What were some negative experiences? What impact did those negative experiences have on you? 
      • Q3: What three pieces of advice do you have for me and our school leaders that will help make room for your positive experiences and support you in the aftermath of the negative experiences? 
    • Depending on how much time you have, ask for volunteers to share a response to one of the questions. But be mindful of the unique vulnerability involved when sharing personal experiences before classroom contracting and relationship building. Read the room and be prepared to hold space for whatever is shared. If you don’t feel confident supporting students in real time with what they share aloud, skip this step.
  2. Complicating the Concept of “Normal”
    • Explain to students that for the next part of the activity, they will think about what it means for school to “go back to normal.”
    • In pairs or small groups, have students respond to the following prompt:
      • “The pandemic disrupted ‘normal’ school. As a result there may be some positive aspects of that disruption we may want to hold onto this year. 
        • What aspects of ‘normal’ do you not want to return to?
        • What aspects of last year’s schooling do you hope continue this year (and beyond)? How do they benefit you? How do they benefit other members of your school community?
    • Then have pairs or groups share their responses in a class discussion, focusing on the final question of the prompt.  
    • Teachers should take notes on their responses or assign a student notetaker as this discussion can be the foundation for the contracting that will happen in the coming class periods. 


Letters of Introduction

Write a letter of introduction to your students to help them start to get to know you. In addition to sharing some of your interests, include your thoughts about the following questions: 

  • What to you is the most meaningful part about working in a school? 
  • What strategies do you use to sustain yourself and push through the difficult parts of being a teacher?
  • How are you planning and hoping to maintain these experiences and strategies this year? What are you excited to change?

Have students reply to your letter, introducing themselves and then responding to the same three questions but from their point of view as a student.

  • What to you is the most meaningful part about being in school? 
  • What strategies do you use to keep going through the difficult parts of being a student?
  • What can you do to maintain the parts of school that are most meaningful to you? What do you need from others to help you do so?

Consider giving students a list of get-to-know-you questions. Provide choices for how students reply to your letter, e.g., Google Doc, Flipgrid video (make sure they are private and only viewable by the teacher), text message, or a format they suggest.


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