End-of-Year Reflections: How Does a Teacher Say Goodbye?

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By Tonya Kowalski, Washburn University School of Law

End-of-Year Reflections: How Does a Teacher Say Goodbye?

Today I found myself with a rare, small block of unstructured time in between 1L oral arguments.  Rarely at the end of the academic year do I take the opportunity to reflect as I should, before the year’s momentum and energy are dissipated.  I always promise myself that the next year will be different, and this time, in Year 11, I am finally cashing in on that promise to myself. In addition to actually, for once, editing my syllabus and assignment calendar while I still remember what did and didn’t work, I’d like to see what I can do to engage my students in reflection, as well.

A few years ago, I was fortunate to attend one of the Institute’s summer conferences in Spokane and to opt in to a teacher’s reflection retreat with none other than Jean Koh Peters. Drawing upon the seed planted in that workshop, I turned to her A Teacher’s Reflection Book: Exercises, Stories, Invitations, co-authored with Mark Weisberg. The book contains a chapter on how we say our goodbyes to students, particularly at the end of a course.  The chapter asks us to reflect upon what messages our styles of goodbye send to students, and provides some ideas for end-of-course activities. For example, the group may form a circle and offer each other closing thoughts. The instructor can also help bring the course full circle by revising students’ goal statements from the beginning of the course. Prof. Koh Peters has offered students coupons they can cash in when they need her advice even far into the future. Prof. Weisberg shares a series of unsent “postcards” about teaching and learning from Jane Tomkins’s A Life in School, and then encourages students to write their own. They are posted around the room and students circulate to read them in “silent witness.”

In the past, I have often allowed my semesters to end in a rush of paper deadlines and final presentations. This year, I have saved one last class at the very end of the term to work primarily to discuss with students how they can transfer their newly acquired skills to internships. But important as that task is, I plan to also reserve some time to give them back their “getting to know you” index cards from the beginning of the semester, on which they assessed their strengths and weakness in writing, and expressed their hopes and fears for the 1L writing and argument experience. My hope is that if we take some moments in class to reflect alone and together, we will reinforce a strong theme of the course: writing and advocacy are a life-long growth process, and that with effort, profound growth is possible even over a short time.

To see a video in which Profs. Weisberg and Koh Peters discuss the book, including the topic of goodbyes, see https://vimeo.com/41567151.