A great deal happens over the course of the nine-month school year. Skills are built, mistakes are made, lessons are learned. But some of the most important lessons are not those learned from textbooks and lectures. The biggest mistakes are never individual questions you get wrong on tests. And the most significant skills you build are not micro skills, like arithmetic and grammar; they are macro skills like productivity and planning.
Unfortunately, for many students, these larger opportunities for growth can easily get lost in the chaos of assignments, quizzes, projects, tests, and points. Most students, understandably, go through school focused on managing these details. It can be difficult to step back and see the bigger picture. But we cannot learn the most important lessons of the school year without zooming out.
For this reason, I’m suggesting that all students take some time at the end of the school year to reflect. Look back on the year as a whole and think about the ways you improved and how you’d like to grow more in the future.
If you can’t think of anything, that is a lesson in and of itself. If you go through nine months of school without growing in a way that you can notice yourself, you might be failing to engage with school in a meaningful way. Or, more likely, you might need to develop the skill of introspection.
A powerful tool you can use to enhance your powers of introspection is journaling. The following questions can serve as a helpful guide whether or not you engage in journaling. Writing about these questions is better, but at least think about them.
End of the School Year Journal Questions:
- What did you learn? (not all the nitty-gritty details, but the big ideas, the ideas that stood out to you as interesting or important)
- What was the most interesting topic of the year?
- What was the most useful idea of the year?
- Did you change as a person over the course of the year?
- Did your values change?
- Did your priorities change?
- Did your attitude or mindset change?
- Did your work-ethic improve?
- Did you become more resilient?
- What went well?
- How did you improve?
- Did you figure out any processes or strategies that were helpful?
- What are you proud of? Why?
- What/whom are you grateful for?
- How can you build on what went well, using the positive momentum to your advantage?
- What didn’t go as well as you would have liked?
- What was frustrating?
- Did you figure out any processes or strategies that weren’t helpful?
- How would you like to improve?
- What are you least proud of? Why?
- What was the biggest challenge of the year?
- What did it teach you?
- Did you grow your ability to persevere?
- Regardless, how could you grow your ability to persevere?
- Did you have any goals for the school year?
- Did you reach them?
- Why or why not?
- Did you put in enough time?
- Did you use your time effectively?
- What are your goals for next year?
- What will you do differently next year?
- Write a plan.
- Will you do anything over the summer to make next year less stressful?
- What is something you didn’t learn as well as you would have liked?
- What can you do to master that over the summer?
- What’s the biggest challenge you foresee for next year?
- How can you get a head start on overcoming that challenge?
- Be specific. Set a schedule.
Before mentally moving on from this school year and shifting into your summer mindset, take a moment to pause and process the major things you’ve learned. Otherwise, the lessons may be lost.
Chris Loper has been working as a tutor and academic coach since 2014, racking up over 10,000 hours of experience supporting students.
Along with Greg Smith, Chris is the cocreator of Parenting for Academic Success (and Parental Sanity) – a five-part course offered every summer.
Chris’s most recent endeavor combines his academic and habit-formation expertise to help students thrive in college. Visit SmartCollegeHabits.com to learn more.
In 2021, he published a humorous memoir titled Wood Floats and Other Brilliant Observations, a book that blends crazy stories with practical life lessons, available on Amazon and through most local bookstores.
He lives in Issaquah, WA where he is the owner of South Cove Tutoring.
Title Image: Laurelville Mennonite Church Center. “Journaling.” https://www.flickr.com/. Creative Commons 2.0. Text added.