Looking Back, Looking Ahead Class Reflection Activity | Facing History & Ourselves
Four students in conversation with each other in a classroom.

Looking Back, Looking Ahead

Students reflect on the past year and generate ideas for the kind of learning community and learning experiences they are hoping for this year.


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At a Glance

activity copy


English — US


  • Advisory
  • Civics & Citizenship
  • English & Language Arts
  • History
  • Social Studies


  • Culture & Identity
  • Equity & Inclusion


About This Class Reflection Activity

This activity invites students to reflect on the past school year and offer advice to their teacher and school leaders that they can use to cultivate learning environments where students can thrive and find support in the year ahead. Looking back with your class on their past experiences in order to look ahead together acknowledges the expertise and experiences students bring. 

When students believe that they have agency over their learning and their teacher recognizes their intelligence and expertise, they feel valued and respected. This type of student reflection activity is an important step in fostering individual student-teacher relationships, as well as a brave and reflective community of learners.

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Steps for Implementation

Acknowledging Students' Unique Experiences

Gen Z is the only generation of students who has navigated distance, hybrid, and HyFlex learning during a global pandemic. Many students have suffered loss in their families and communities. The country continues to experience racial injustice and violence, social protest, and an unpredictable news cycle.

At the outset of this new school year, it is important to take time to reflect on key lessons and takeaways from the experiences students have had and use their input to inform classroom practices this year. 

Journal Reflection Activity

Invite students to reflect in their journals on their experiences from the past year, both the good and the bad, and offer their expert advice for how to cultivate a positive learning environment. 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. Assure them their responses will not be shared with classmates unless they choose to share them.

Reflection questions
  • 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 experiences in school as well as general life experiences. 
  • Q2: What were some negative experiences? What impact did those negative experiences have on you? 

Class Discussion and Follow-Up

If time allows, ask for volunteers to share their response to the first question. Be mindful of the unique vulnerability involved when sharing personal experiences before you and your students have engaged in classroom contracting and relationship building. If you don’t have any students volunteer to share, collect their responses and move on to the next activity. 

Try to find time in the upcoming weeks to follow up one-on-one with students to learn more about how you can support them this year. Short informal chats can go a long way to building trust and a strong student-teacher relationship.

Have students work in small groups to consider what advice they have for you, their teacher, and school leaders about making space for positive experiences and offering support through challenges.

Small Group Discussion

Move students into groups of three and project the following question for them to discuss, recording their ideas on a piece of paper. Let students know that they will be sharing their three pieces of advice with the class.

What three pieces of advice do you have for me, your teacher, and our school leaders to help us create a learning environment in this class and at our school that makes space for your positive experiences and supports you through any challenging ones? 

Class Discussion

Have each group share their words of advice with the class. Take notes on their responses or assign a student notetaker. Use notes from this discussion as the foundation for a classroom contract in the coming class periods.

Extension Activities

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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