From Self-Reflection to School Success: A Checklist for K-12 Principals

Summer is a great time for reflection—both about your school community and your own leadership needs. Here are some questions—and accountability strategies—to get you ready for next year.
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6/18/24
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When we talk about the traits and values required to be great K-12 school leaders, there’s quite a list: empathy, great communication skills, adaptability, emotional intelligence, resilience, and plenty more. Another essential trait that’s just as critical as the ones above, but doesn’t get talked about as much is the ability to reflect

There’s a reason why education leaders don’t tend to make reflection a habit. We’re in the business of moving our schools forward. What’s the benefit of looking back?

Plenty of research shows that we shouldn’t underestimate the power of reflection. The self-awareness, introspection, and growth we encounter when we reflect on a regular basis helps school and district leaders make better decisions, which in turn helps teachers and staff enhance their own skills around judgment and taking action. 

The self-awareness, introspection, and growth we encounter when we reflect on a regular basis helps school and district leaders make better decisions, which in turn helps teachers and staff enhance their own skills around judgment and taking action. 

In spite of the many benefits, taking the time to reflect consistently is challenging. There’s so much you’re responsible for; you’ve easily made thousands of decisions over the past school year. Where do you begin? And, another question: how do you continue your reflection practice once school is back in session?

We’ve got you, on both accounts. Below is a list of 25 questions—broken up into key topics—that you can use to get into the groove of continuous reflection. There are also a few tips for using your reflections to power your next steps. 

25 Reflection Questions for K-12 School Leaders

Teaching & Learning

  1. Overall, how effective were our instructional practices this year?
  2. As the instructional leader of my school, where do I need to focus my efforts and education next year? 
  3. What data do we have on student performance, and what does it tell us about our strengths and areas for improvement?
  4. What kind of professional development opportunities were offered to teachers and staff this year, and what was the feedback on those opportunities? What worked and what didn’t?
  5. What innovations in teaching and learning might we explore for the upcoming school year? Conversely, what might we be able to stop doing next year? 

Leadership & Personal Growth

  1. What was my best leadership moment this year—and how can I have more moments like that one? 
  2. Conversely, what was my biggest challenge this year? How did I address it, and what did I learn about myself in the process?
  3. How have I grown as a leader this year? What are some examples of this growth? 
  4. How effective was I at managing my time this year? Where did I excel, and where can I improve? 
  5. What are three things or skills I need to learn or brush up on to be at my best for next school year? Where would my professional development time be best spent?

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Trust & Collaboration

  1. Who is one person I built a strong relationship with this year, and what did I learn about them and myself? Who do I still need to get to know a little better, and how will I make that happen?
  2. How effective was my communication with all members of my school community?
  3. What can I do to further build trust with my school community?
  4. Did I give feedback to others in a way that was intentional and actionable? And, how did I do with receiving feedback
  5. What strategies did I try this year to increase collaboration among staff, teachers, and other groups in my school?

School Climate & Culture

  1. What is the current climate and culture of my school? What’s working, and what can be improved?
  2. How well do I understand the needs and concerns of my students, staff, and families?
  3. How inclusive, equitable, and culturally responsive is our school environment when it comes to all students, parents, staff, and community members? 
  4. What steps—and with what specific groups—can I take to foster a stronger sense of community within my school?
  5. What’s the status of the relationships I’d like to build with key community partners?

Well-Being & Support

  1. What measures did we take to support the well-being of our students and staff? Were they effective, and what are some additional strategies we can explore?
  2. What kinds of opportunities for leadership exist at our school? Can I create opportunities for shared leadership and responsibility?
  3. How can I set up both experienced and new teachers for success this school year?
  4. What are some things I can do to cultivate an environment where teachers can sustain their passion and decrease stress and anxiety?
  5. Did my school seem like a joyful place this year? Why or why not—and what are actions that I can take to prioritize more of that joy

What's Next?

Now that you have a list of questions to get you started, how do you hold yourself accountable when it comes to reflecting and taking action? Here are three insights that might help:

Break down (and write) your reflections

The list of questions above might look a bit overwhelming, especially at a moment where you’re looking forward to the downtime summer provides. A reminder: this isn’t a homework assignment you have to finish all at once! 

Our advice is to set aside an hour or two every week and use it to answer two or three reflection questions throughout the rest of the summer. And, don’t simply answer them in your head—be sure to document them on paper. Having your answers written down will give you the context you need to take action. 

Summer flies by quickly—too quickly—and another school year will be here soon enough. Creating time for reflection isn’t something that’s only reserved for the quieter months of the principalship. It’s something that benefits us all year round. 

Find a community of support

Connecting with other school leaders is a great way to share experiences, improve leadership practices, and learn new strategies. It’s also helpful when it comes to sharing your reflections on what worked and what didn’t over the previous school year. 

Not only does sharing our reflections with our peers keep us accountable, it also helps us realize we’re not alone in our thoughts. As we share our findings, there’s a good chance that others in our peer circle have been challenged by the same questions or issues, and have advice for helping us move forward.

Establish a dedicated reflection time during the school year

Summer flies by quickly—too quickly—and another school year will be here soon enough. Creating time for reflection isn’t something that’s only reserved for the quieter months of the principalship. It’s something that benefits us all year round. 

Consider setting aside a specific time each day, or a time at the end of the week, for focused reflection during the school year. Instead of the specific questions we asked above, hone in on answering a simple set, such as “What went well this week?” “What’s something that could have gone better?” and “What do I want to focus on for next week?” These questions can help you remember the lessons from the past week and use them to inform the next. 

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Reflection: Executive functioning for goal setting and action

Reflection is stressed as a key part of teaching. When students reflect on the strategies they’re using to plan, prioritize, break down tasks, and achieve their goals, they’re also building their metacognition.

It’s the same for you as a school leader. The more you reflect, the more self-awareness you possess. Doing the inner work to understand and examine your perceptions, biases, and values is what helps you do the outer work: carrying out the mission and goals of your school. 

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