Spring Cleaning: Taking the Time to Reflect on the School Year

This spring, reflect on the good and on what might change.

Einstein was right: time is relative. Though he didn’t say so, the elasticity of time seems to be especially great in the academic calendar. The period from early September to the fall break goes by in a blur, while the stretch from spring break to the end of the school year can seem incredibly long.

Part of this spring elongation of time is due to the sheer amount of work to be done when closing out the school year. I remember thinking as a faculty member how unfair it was to be deprived of yet another hour of sleep with the start of Daylight Savings Time. I even dreamed of living in Hawaii or Arizona so I wouldn’t have to turn the clock forward. We need every minute we can get during the spring!

Given that reality, it is with some trepidation that I propose yet one more task to be done sometime between late April and early June. That is an ideal part of the year to sequester some good thinking time in order to reflect on what has worked well during the past year, along with what could have gone better. Be unsparing. Take notes. Then set it aside for at least the first half of the summer.

This is an exercise often reserved for August, as part of the preparation for the new school year. But by then, memories will have softened of both the good and the bad. You will still at that point be able to identify the highs and the lows, but often without the detailed texture that suggests particular solutions. Specific thoughts you might have in the spring about what adjustments you want to make next year may well have evaporated by summer.

“[Spring] is an ideal part of the year to sequester some good thinking time in order to reflect on what has worked well during the past year, along with what could have gone better.”

Tom Rochon, ERB President

Spring testing, which so many ERB members undertake, will factor into your reflections on strengths and weaknesses. But that should not be at the core of your spring review. The data will still be there for you in the fall; what you want to capture now is the dense weave of observations and perceptions that you and your colleagues have accumulated over the last 6 months. 

As I mentioned above, it is also important to set these observations aside after you have compiled them. From the August perspective of preparing for a new school year, some of your thoughts on adjustments to be introduced will still feel worthwhile while others will seem to have too high of an effort-to-reward ratio. 

Excellence is a journey, not a destination. As with any journey, the key to success is careful advance preparation. As hectic as it can feel to complete everything necessary for a successful conclusion to this school year, do find some time in the next eight weeks to lay the foundation for even greater success next year.

About the Author

Thomas R. Rochon became president of ERB in 2017. He has held faculty appointments at Princeton University and Claremont Graduate University, a postdoctoral fellowship at Stanford University, and a year as Fulbright Scholar in Japan. Administratively, Tom has served as dean and provost at Claremont Graduate University, as provost at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota, and as president of Ithaca College in New York. During the 1980s and 1990s, he was a regular speaker on European political trends for foreign service officers in the U.S. Department of State. Within the world of educational assessment, Tom has served as executive director of the GRE testing program at the Educational Testing Service. 

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