Reflecting on the Year That Was…

Tim StephensonBlog, Reflect Better, Teach Happier


  • Reflecting back and remembering this year allows these challenging times to empower us in the future.
  • View this past year with a growth mindset. Take your new skills into the next school year.

A few years back, our principal bought everyone on staff the book Mindset by Carol Dweck. This book is one that many will refer to as a significant piece as we move ourselves and our students from a stance of “I can’t” to “I can.” It encourages a person to look at situations that otherwise may have left you with feelings of doubt, now to see them as opportunities. Since I read this book I am more in tune with commentary that suggests growth only comes from adversity. Nobody ever grew to be a more accomplished and capable person in times of reprieve and solace. It takes iron to sharpen iron, the refiner’s fire to purify the gold.

If we were to apply this same philosophy to the school year that is now drawing to a close, I wonder how successful we would be.

Was this a year that left you excited about the new skills you learned and a sense of accomplishment that you were able to overcome the challenges? Or did it exhaust you and leave you with a feeling of defeat? Either way, can I leave you with a word of encouragement to focus on growth instead of the obstacles?

In the words of Carol Dweck, “In a growth mindset, challenges are exciting rather than threatening. So rather than thinking, oh, I’m going to reveal my weaknesses, you say, wow, here’s a chance to grow.” There will be nobody who will say that this year has been void of challenges. We had them in spades.

But this year has the potential to be the pivotal year in a teacher’s career. When we look back upon it, we can think this was the year “it” all began. This can be the year where a teacher can reflect on when future challenges occur. Recognizing the speed with which we learned to deal with change only empowers us to not shy away from what’s to come.

This can be the year where a teacher can reflect on when future challenges occur. Recognizing the speed with which we learned to deal with change only empowers us to not shy away from what’s to come. Click To Tweet

As I mentioned last month, over the last year, I wrote and published a book called Beyond the Classroom.

I included a quote at the beginning of each chapter that I thought would set it up thematically. For chapter 1, I wrote “Everyone dream…dream about the possibilities of what’s to come. There has never been a better time in your life than now to rethink everything. What beautiful piece are you going to draw, compose, create, to add to the story of your life? For now, dream…but dream BIG! For tomorrow, we start to create.” I actually wrote that last year in June on an Instagram post. But I thought it was the growth mindset I wanted my readers to establish at the beginning and I think it applies here too.

So rather than make a list of all the challenges I faced this year, which would allow you to compare my struggles to yours, I’d like to focus on successes that would only have happened in a year such as this. Let’s not compare who had it worse. Let’s celebrate the successes and if you want to reach out and let me know yours too, please do so.

Here’s a few things that may not have been easy to do in a regular school year:

  1. We used the quarter system for the first time. In Q1, I taught a boy in my astronomy class and now in Q4, he has come into my grade 9 science class to teach what he learned. To have a student teach students has been very meaningful.
  2. Because of the quarter system, classes are longer and as such I have the opportunity to really develop a lesson or activity without having to rush to “beat the bell.”
  3. Longer classes have allowed me the time to take the classes outside more often and learn about the interconnectedness of nature at a deeper level.
  4. I see the same students every morning and a different group rolls in for the afternoon. This has allowed for real social connections before classes start as I see them every day, instead of that hour block every other day in a regular school year.
  5. The greater social connections have spurred spontaneous special projects based on students’ interests that have the flexibility to be developed when they only have two classes to focus on at one time.

Growth mindset allows us to focus on the positive. And if there is one thing that I’ve learned from teaching for all of these years, it’s important to see the positives.

My wife, Sheryl, always says I look at her through rose-coloured glasses. Are you seeing your role at school the same way? And when I say you should share with me your successes in a difficult year, I was serious. As soon as we “count our blessings” as Bing Crosby sang all those decades ago, there is a rejuvenation and shift towards growth. Coupling that with reaching out to others and sharing experiences only adds to the freshness of optimism where others see only challenge.

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While listening to The Drive on voicEd Radio with Teach Better podcasters Chey and Pav, I posed a question on Voxer to their listeners. I asked for examples of successes from this year and here is what I got back within minutes:

Melisa Hayes: “The risks that my kids took and the relationships we had together through Zoom – we are a family even if we were virtual all year.”

Josie Pitaro: “The connections with the families were deeper because I was in their home every day. And they got a glimpse of my life too.”

Jason Wigmore: “This year has given my class new ways to collaborate that we wouldn’t have had face to face.”

(All three of these people are active on Twitter and easily accessible.)

So how about you? Are you excited to take your new skills into the next school year? Are you seeing this past year with a growth mindset? And are you looking for ways to develop more opportunities for your students because you are empowered by what you accomplished this year? I know I am, and I truly hope the same for you. Have a great summer everybody!

About Tim Stephenson

Tim has been teaching in Langley, British Columbia for over 25 years. He’s a science teacher, particularly astronomy, which is a course he has developed into a full credit senior science course. In his school, he is known as AstroStephenson. Way back at the beginning of his teaching career, he wrote a book, really to himself, that contained his teaching philosophy. It was a project that would define his career. He is a possibility thinker, a dreamer and a doer, an innovator.

From the very beginning, he knew that he wanted to teach by putting students and relationships ahead of content, and putting experiences and emotions ahead of curriculum. The result has been a long career of rich and rewarding experiences for both himself and his students, the pinnacle being in 2018 when he was the recipient of the Prime Minister’s Award for Teaching Excellence.

Now Tim would like to share with you his thoughts and experiences on teaching with the hope that by reflecting better, you will feel empowered to try new things, teach in new ways and see the possibilities that are there for all of us in the teaching profession.