Looking Back to See Progress


“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”

― Søren Kierkegaard ―

While every season of the school year has pros and cons, I often feel that January through March is the sweet spot of the year. At this point, you know your kids pretty well; you know their strengths and weaknesses, their likes and dislikes, their personalities, what motivates them, and you feel like you’ve built enough of a rapport with them that while they respect you, they still know that you care about them. However, one of my favorite things about the winter months is getting to see the progress that my students have made.

This year, I’m embarking on phase one of National Board Certification. Since I’m working mainly on component 2 this year, I have been collecting work samples of various struggling students all year so that I can study and write about their growth throughout the school year. Because I’m so specifically looking to see growth in the students I’ve honed in on, I’m noticing it much more this year than I have in the past. In the beginning of the year, I sarcastically joked that at least the terrible essays that I was grading would make wonderful NBCT fodder. However, it has been exciting to watch the growth of these students in a more intentional way than I have in the past. It’s like they’ve become my favorite sports teams, and every time they turn in a writing assignment, I’m rooting for them—“Yeah, look at that well-crafted thesis!” or “Using a topic sentence for the WIN!” or “Come on, come one, come on, use a specific example to support your argument! I know you can do it—there it is!! GOALLLLLLLLLL!”

I’ve also had some wonderful interactions with students who at an earlier point in time were real classroom management issues for me. Not that all of my students have become perfect angels in the past six months, but… I do tend to think about some students in the beginning of the year, “This is going to be a battle all year. We’re never going to click. I just need to work as hard as I can to not let them get the better of me.” And, some students do remain a figurative thorn in my side for 180 days, but there are always a handful who surprise me, which subsequently makes me feel ashamed for making foreshadowed assumptions about their lack of behavioral growth. The takeaway: never give up on people, and never give up on students. Some will choose to never rise to the occasion, but some will. Whether or not people change their behavior, it is worth pouring into them.

This sort of reflection reminds me of a growth wall. It can be a powerful tool to show children change over time. Growing up, my mom used to periodically measure us against a wall and mark how tall we were, write our initials, and write the date. It was so fun looking back at how short we used to be! Getting caught up in the whirlwind of life makes you forget how much you have grown because you tend to think of yourself as always being as you are now. Growth is easy to forget about if you don’t look for it.


January is a time when we tend to plan for the future; we make resolutions, we dream big, we plan to make the coming year great. But I think that you can’t truly plan for the future without also reflecting on the past or else you will miss seeing growth. Your students might not yet be where you want them to be, but think about where they were in August. Think about how they wrote in August. Think about their level of critical thinking, their discussion abilities, even their behavior. Some of them may have grown more than others, but bottom line—they HAVE grown. Use that as a springboard to encourage them to get where you want them to be by the end of the year.

Recognizing growth requires reflection. So, while you’re looking ahead with anticipation to this new year, take some time to look back as well.

I will leave you all with the end my favorite poem about time, past, future, reflection, and growth—“Little Gidding” from The Four Quartets by T.S. Eliot.

What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from. And every phrase
And sentence that is right (where every word is at home,
Taking its place to support the others,
The word neither diffident nor ostentatious,
An easy commerce of the old and the new,
The common word exact without vulgarity,
The formal word precise but not pedantic,
The complete consort dancing together)
Every phrase and every sentence is an end and a beginning,
Every poem an epitaph. And any action
Is a step to the block, to the fire, down the sea’s throat
Or to an illegible stone: and that is where we start.
We die with the dying:
See, they depart, and we go with them.
We are born with the dead:
See, they return, and bring us with them.
The moment of the rose and the moment of the yew-tree
Are of equal duration. A people without history
Is not redeemed from time, for history is a pattern
Of timeless moments. So, while the light fails
On a winter’s afternoon, in a secluded chapel
History is now and England.

With the drawing of this Love and the voice of this

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, remembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.
Quick now, here, now, always—
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flame are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.


Liz Keiper is a contributing blogger for WVCTE. When she’s not dressing up in togas or running around her classroom with foam swords reenacting Shakespeare, she can be found enjoying the great outdoors, playing guitar, or adding to her rather out-of-control rubber duck collection. You can follow her on Twitter @KeiperET1.

WVCTE is wondering…

  • How do you reflect to see growth in your students? How do you help your students to see their own growth?
  • What are your classroom New Years resolutions for 2019?

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