This Month Matters: One Simple Strategy for Taking Your Leadership to the Next Level

This Month Matters: One Simple Strategy for Taking Your Leadership to the Next Level


“We do not learn from experience … we learn from reflecting on experience.” ~John Dewey

Power of Reflection

The school year is over and the summer is upon us.  Much of summer work in schools and districts is governed by preparation, future goals, and initiatives.  This important work is rooted in the knowledge that a productive summer is the foundation for a successful school year. The challenge is diving into goal setting and planning for the new school year too quickly.  Prior to setting new goals and focusing on new initiatives, time spent reflecting on the previous school year is critical.

There’s never a dull day in education.  The experience gained each and every day has the potential to lead to incredible growth and understanding.  However, we disagree that experience alone is the best teacher if not coupled with reflection.  Time must be set aside for deep, focused thinking.  According to a study (conducted by HEC Paris, Harvard, and The University of North Carolina), individuals given the opportunity to reflect on their experiences significantly improved their performance beyond those who simply continue to have experiences.  To truly be a lifelong learner, reflection needs to be a part of the educational prescription.  So prior to reading a new book, setting a new goal, investigating a new pedagogical strategy, we simply say—reflect:

  1. What were your successes and failures this year?
  2. How do you know?
  3. What are you using to measure success?

We admit that reflecting is not easy for many reasons. It is difficult to remember situations, analyze issues, and evaluate performance that occurred weeks or several months ago.  Despite the challenges the return is worth it.   The following are two simple steps to organize your reflection:

Situational Reflection

Each day we are confronted with a variety of situations, some big, some small.  And, some that started small and grew big.  How well were they handled?  To organize your reflection process, start with the beginning of last school year and simply reflect throughout your year.  This organizes your thinking and will open the door to many memories.  Work through your calendar day-to-day and month-to-month.  We often forget many of the situations we encountered, so going through your calendar is a great way to jog your memory.  Evaluate these situations and be honest with yourself.  If you are wondering what questions to ask as you delve into the past, we suggest becoming comfortable with asking Why? And How? These two simple words lead to powerful explorations.

Tip4Today:  Go through old emails you’ve sent.  This is an amazing experience!

Tip4Tomorrow: If you encounter something that was unplanned in your day, schedule it anyway so it appears there for future reflection.

Achievement Reflection

Goals are a big part of education.  In an age of accountability schools have federal, state, district, and school based goals and initiatives.  Did you achieve what you set to do this year?  If so, why?  If not, why not?  This is where bravery is necessary.  Be honest with yourself about your successes and failures. Did you make mistakes this year, if so, how can you learn from them?  Just a quick note, if you didn’t experience failure this year, you’re not pushing hard enough.

Tip4Today: When you measure achievement, measure against the best (not merely against your obvious comparisons).

Tip4Tomorrow: Maintain a reflection journal.  Start with subtle notes, ideas, and thoughts that emerge.

Here’s What Matters This Month: Reflect on past situations and goal achievements.


Experience coupled with reflection is not only a great teacher; it becomes the well where new ideas are born. Use this summer to get strong—do that with situational and achievement-based reflection. If there’s one strategy that matters this month, it’s reflecting on the past so you are more equipped to achieve in the future.

Let us know what you think.

Joe and TJ

Di Stefano, Giada and Gino, Francesca and Pisano, Gary P. and Staats, Bradley R., Making Experience Count: The Role of Reflection in Individual Learning (June 14, 2016). Harvard Business School NOM Unit Working Paper No. 14-093; Harvard Business School Technology & Operations Mgt. Unit Working Paper No. 14-093. Available at SSRN: or