INSIGHT: Mid-Year Reflection – Beginning, Middle, or End?

By Dr. John Stegeman, Upper School Head

The middle of the school year, or any experience really, is a good time for feedback and reflection. At Eastside Prep, this is the time when teachers write narrative comments about student progress, and school leaders are taking stock of the year’s accomplishments and planning for the next. But this year is not your average school year, and the middle of the calendar may not feel like the middle of our shared experience. We have had four great months of in-person school, but we currently operate remotely, even as we plan a round of testing and updated protocols for a safe return to campus next week. So how does one assess a school year under such circumstances?

In times of uncertainty, the habits, routines, and rituals of more certain times can act as a centrifugal force, holding our experience together at the center even as things outside our control swirl around us. We frequently ask our students to reflect with prompts like: What has gone well for you recently? What’s not going well? What progress have you made since the start of the year? What would you like to improve in the coming weeks or months? I have been encouraging this practice of metacognition for so long now that it has become hardwired into the way I think, and I find it especially useful in challenging circumstances because it grounds me in a reality that is familiar.

But our current reality is unique, so a standard reflection seems woefully inadequate. It calls for a different set of questions, and perhaps some different perspective. My dad used to say, “when the road gets steep you’ve got to downshift.” To me that means shifting the academic focus of a common reflection to one grounded in basic needs: Am I safe right now? Have I eaten…slept…exercised? Am I talking with someone about how I’m feeling? If the answer to those questions is yes, I may rightly feel grateful. If the answer is no, I should address those fundamental qualities of well-being first.

We can also take this opportunity to soar above our daily reality to assess the year from a broader perspective. The middle of the school year is the start of a fresh calendar year. The days are growing longer, and I still have a couple of unspoiled New Year’s resolutions going. And as we approach the two-year anniversary of our introduction to COVID-19, we may reasonably hope that the pandemic is closer to its end than its beginning. We have learned so much and traveled so far together. I, for one, am grateful to have trodden this road as a member of the Eastside Prep community. Can’t wait to see you on Tuesday!