End of Year Collaborative Reflections

Here are 6 ways to build a collaborative learning culture in your school this summer!

August amnesia is soon coming to a campus near you. It’s the “what did we say we were going to do” syndrome. My gut says everyone in school leadership has experienced this, maybe even you. I know I have as a teacher and an administrator.

Here’s a simple solution to remedy the amnesia. These strategies will allow you to make use of summer break to minimize organizational memory loss (and increase school performance).

In this post, you will discover tips for:

  1. Organizational Memory Loss
  2. Incremental Reflections
  3. Collaborative Reflections
  4. Memorializing Your Learning
  5. Pizza Panels
  6. Tools for School Culture Surveys

Anyone of these strategies will take your academic improvement efforts to the next level. But use a combination of these summer strategies, and you will find new capacity for growth in your campus!

Organizational Memory Loss

Your school is a living entity. It’s not just a combination of isolated humans. Together, there is a network of knowledge and abilities, and these define your organizational memory. Just like our human brains, your school possesses both skill knowledge and factual knowledge (read more in this article from Academy of Management Review).

Turnover is typically the chief cause of organizational memory loss, but in schools, summer break is also a culprit. Organizational memory is dependent on the decision-making ability of your campus and will allow your school to:

  1. Continuously make progress.
  2. Avoid repeating past mistakes.
  3. Refrain from reinventing the same wheels.
  4. Maintain a discriminate learning process.

In other words…you will consistently make the progress. And your progress will snowball into exponential leaps.

Incremental Reflections

This is the simplest method of boosting organizational memory. I recommend that you start this summer if you don’t already use this strategy.

Simply begin a daily journal on Google Docs, OneNote, EverNote or your favorite word processor. The key here is to build the consistency and discipline of daily reflection.

Each day write a one-sentence reflection. It is crucial that you strip it down and stick to the one sentence limit. What did you learn? What mistakes will you not repeat? What discoveries did your teams make? What did you celebrate? What do you wish went better?

At the end of the week, copy and paste all of your 5-7 sentences into a single paragraph. Then make it public. It doesn’t do the organization good until it’s shared. You can share in an email, a blog post, newsletter, or vlog. But please, don’t skip the sharing step.

Sharing your reflections keeps you accountable to your people. It forces you to be constructive in your reflections. Over time, your reflections will become an expected part of the school culture and a productive habit of mind for you.

In addition to boosting organizational memory, your incremental reflections will snowball into a larger reflection of the school year. They will tell the story of learning on your campus. They will shape the school culture.

Here are the steps again:

  1. Write one sentence per day.
  2. Combine them at the end of the week into a paragraph.
  3. Share.

Collaborative Reflections

Collaborative reflections take incremental reflections a step further. It involves bringing teams together and facilitating reflection around a series of questions such as:

  • What successes did we have?
  • What new processes are in place?
  • What processes are in the way?
  • How do we communicate?
  • When/where do we miscommunicate?
  • What pain points persist?
  • What supports/resources are needed?
  • What do we need to stop doing?

Allow the questions to be answered individually first, then prompt team talk. Help them by involving all members. Let each voice be heard and set the tone that different viewpoints are needed.

The objective is to reflect and listen to each other. The purpose of the meeting is not to make decisions. We don’t want individuals to argue their points. This meeting is about listening and learning from each other.

The collaborative reflection builds organizational memory because the team creates a shared awareness of each other’s views. The meeting needs to be well-documented. The documentation is reviewed at the start of the next collaborative reflection. It becomes the starting point.

Just like the incremental reflection, the collaborative reflection snowballs. The benefits include:

  • Each cycle becomes better and more productive.
  • Team culture shifts to greater mutual respect.
  • Pitfalls of decision-making and communicating become easier to avoid.

Memorializing Your Learning

The palest ink is better than the best memory. Chinese proverb

Never let a meeting adjourn without first reviewing the notes of the meeting. Review the objectives and decisions made concerning the objectives. The most important learnings from the meeting should be highlighted also.

Better yet, recap the notes after each segment of the meeting. Before moving on to the next objective of the meeting, recap what was achieved thus far. This will allow any additional discussion to ensue before the meeting moves too far along.

No one should ever leave a meeting wondering, “What did we decide?”

Keep the notes of the meeting in a shared location like OneNote or Google Drive. Also, send the notes in an email. Use the notes to quickly review at the start of the next meeting.

The key benefit to memorializing your learning is that it cuts the workload. Too often teams rehash the same conversations, discuss the same decisions, and solve the same problems – all because they forgot their previous discussions.

Pizza Panels

Pizza panels are a fun way to use student panels to create a shared vision for your school. They involve staff, teacher, students, and parents.

To get started with pizza panels, plan 2-4 meetings. Let each meeting explore new questions built on the previous pizza panel. Video each panel and share it.

Here’s a quick audio overview of pizza panels:

Tools for School Culture Surveys

Getting the right tools in place can bring a consistency to your reflective data. School culture surveys are some of your tools that will help quantify culture data. School culture surveys are among the most important surveys because they allow each staff member to give specific feedback. Their feedback will provide targets for growth.

Before you administer a school culture survey, it’s important to determine your school’s foundation factors. I recommend an internal audit to being this process.

You can find more details about the internal audit in step two of the free online course Surveying Campus Culture.


If you enjoyed this blog, please consider passing it on.

Plus, here’s an episode from the Mafost Mashup that offers additional ideas for using the summer break to strengthen your school culture.