Reflections on Reflecting

As is custom around the end of May, the staff and faculty at my library are all working on our annual reviews.  Annual reviews can be a bit frustrating because they sometimes seem tedious and they’re not always the best tool for giving and receiving constructive feedback.  They are also intimidating political documents, which can dictate pay raises and other welcome or unwelcome changes.

I’m only on my second review at my institution, but I’ve already noticed a pattern while I write them—I vacillate between feeling completely overwhelmed to feeling cautiously optimistic.  I feel overwhelmed because I often struggle with clearly articulating my accomplishments.  Like many librarians, I’m not one to brag, but the annual review forces us to make a good argument for all that we did (or did not do).  After the initial struggle (and inevitable procrastination), the emotion of being overwhelmed dissipates and I begin to feel cautiously optimistic as I see all my accomplishments listed out in my Word document.

I think it is extremely important for us all to annually reflect on where we’ve come from, where we are now, where we would like to go in the future, and our impact on the organization.  Additionally, it’s a great opportunity to check and make sure we are actually doing what our job description says we should be doing. Nevertheless, I have mixed feelings when it comes to annual reviews.

My biggest frustration with annual reviews is that I believe there should be many more opportunities (informally and formally) for us to reflect.  Every month I take the time to jot down the highlights (and even low-lights) of the previous four weeks.  I find that taking the time to do a monthly reflection fosters an attitude of gratitude and perspective—especially when I’m feeling very stressed.  Additionally, looking back on my entries from the past year greatly helped me complete this year’s annual review.  If you’re interested in reflecting on a daily basis, the program iDoneThis might work for you (–it costs $3/month, but you can try it free for 30 days).  Every day it sends you an email asking what you accomplished that day.  After you reply, it dumps all the information into a calendar that you can login to look at whenever you like.  I gave this program on honest try.  It didn’t work for me, but I still think the concept is very cool.  My librarian idol, Char Booth, talked about using a three-question reflection after every teaching session in her ACRL keynote, “The Librarian as Situated Educator: Instructional Literacy and Participation in Communities of Practice.” Her three questions are,

  1. What went well?
  2. What did not go well?
  3. What is something that I should think about for next time?

I’m thinking about adopting this approach for the upcoming academic year.

Whether your style is to reflect daily, monthly, or after every teaching session, it is important to make it a regular practice so that when it comes time to do an annual review you armed with lots of things to say.

Do you have any tips or suggestions for reflecting on your professional work?

3 thoughts on “Reflections on Reflecting

  1. Great reflections, Veronica! I agree that taking the opportunity to reflect often is so important and can be so challenging to make space for. When I’ve taught semester-length courses I’ve built in more time for reflection, but when I’m teaching mostly one-shots I typically wait until the end of each semester to reflect. My colleagues and I have a self-assessment form (that pre-dates my hiring) that we use which is broadly similar to Char’s 3 questions. I’ll admit that I haven’t completed a self-assessment every semester I’ve been at MPOW, but I’ve been able to make time for it more often than not, and it never fails to be really helpful as I think about what I’d like to focus on the following semester.

  2. At my library we write monthly reports too, which definitely makes writing the annual review much easier. Here’s another idea for a reflection opportunity: peer teaching evaluations. Every Spring (Fall is too busy!) we select a fellow teaching librarian, on a rotating basis, to observe in an instruction session. The benefits of this practice are many, among which the opportunity to learn about an unfamiliar subject (you might observe my Business class; I might observe your Engineering), the opportunity to receive feedback on one’s teaching, and the chance to reflect on how one might improve one’s own instruction.

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