End-of-the-year reflection: Tools for validation, celebration, gratitude and planning ahead

By Jamye Hardy, Ed.D, LMSW
Office of Student Care Coordination

The end of the academic year, especially one like the unprecedented 2020-21 school year, is a time when myriad emotions are naturally present. Amidst political, racial, financial, vocational, health-related, personal and too many other challenges to name, you decided to pursue your education, and that is a testament to your dedication, perseverance and resilience. This is something to be celebrated and not taken lightly.

Regardless of what you are feeling, whether it be straight-forward and easy to name or complex and hard to grasp, reflection can be a useful way to validate your unique experience. Reflection also can help create space for gratitude while also providing insight that can inform how you move forward into the next semester, an internship, or even the next step in your career.

Thinking about all of this at one time can be challenging. Below are a few questions to consider when reflecting on what went well, what didn’t, and how that information might inform future intentions for your overall well-being in the weeks, months, semesters or even years to come.

Reflection for increasing success

  • What are you better at now than you were at the end of the previous academic year? Name all of the ways that these improvements were made possible.
  • What are you most proud of from the past academic year? Why does this make you proud?
  • What went well this past academic year? What tools, supports or resources aided your success?

Pro tip: If your next step is in a different setting, whether that be moving home, an internship or full-time employment, consider how each of the answers that you provided to the above questions can be translated or adapted to your next environment. Take time to identify how you can connect with factors that contributed to your success this year in your next move.

Reflection for decreasing challenges

  • What did not go well this past academic year? What was missing that made this experience challenging or undesirable?
  • What insight did you gain about your own needs for mitigating challenges? Where or how can you fulfill these needs in the future?
  • What did you learn from overcoming challenges? How will you remember what you learned and apply it when a similar issue arises?

Pro tip: For anything that was out of your control, give yourself permission to let go of any feelings of responsibility for that event and consider what perspectives you were able to gain that may inform the decisions that you can control in the future.

Reflection for gratitude and celebration

  • Who and what helped you to grow this year?
  • Who and what made getting to this point in the semester possible for you?
  • What experiences are you grateful for? How can you acknowledge or express that gratitude?
  • What are you better at now than you were at the end of the previous academic year? How did this come to be?
  • When did you feel happiest or most at ease this year? How can you experience those moments more frequently?
  • What moments are you proud of? What can you do to celebrate yourself?
  • What new ideas, information, resources or research made a positive difference for you this year? What was helpful about these things?

Pro tip: Take time to recover when you feel burnt out and allow yourself to take a step back after experiencing a tough event or semester. Make time to do the things that you enjoy. Practicing gratitude and celebrating wins, big or small, can provide the opportunity to take a different perspective and can make a huge difference in your mood and perception.

Review the answers that you provided and consider how these can shape personal strategies for well-being and resilience. Academic/intellectual well-being is only part of the entire wellness wheel. Take a moment to revisit the questions with consideration to your physical, mental/emotional, social and financial health to see if you can further identify ways to intentionally set yourself up for success in the future.

For more insight on reflection and gratitude and how these tools can be helpful to you as a leader, check out these articles from the Harvard Business Review:

Why you should make time for self-reflection (even if you hate doing it)

Use gratitude to counter stress and uncertainty