John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education

How Do We End the Term—for Ourselves? A Closure Checklist

John N. Gardner
President

It is commencement season again, that is for those of us on the semester system, and for our colleagues on the quarter system, their turn will soon come. It is the season of final exams, make-up exams, grading, submitting final grade reports, award ceremonies, final advising for course selection for next academic year, end-of-term department meetings, faculty development activities, and other kinds of closure events for both students and their higher educators.

Understandably, the academy is more focused on providing closure events, rituals, ceremonies, as it should be, for our students.

But we need these too. And these are getting harder to come by because more and more of all us don’t really have the summer “off” as in the traditional agrarian model of schooling from K-16. And you add to that consideration the fact that our masters can keep demanding our attention through technology, which for most of us is never “off”, and it really is harder and harder to have closure at the end of an academic year or cycle.

For the past two spring terms, I ended them, so to speak, by going with my wife to Europe, and immersing myself in very different cultures than those in which I live and work in the States. These periods have been helpful to me in reflecting what have I accomplished in the academic year just finished and what new directions shall I forge ahead in for the coming year.  Perhaps the most important things I do are simply changing my daily pace and separating myself in time and space from my regular demands and especially from my dominant US cultural influences.

But realizing that the majority of my readers are practicing academics who do work in post secondary education settings, what are some generic strategies that I could suggest for end-of-term closure for us? Here’s a possible check list:

  • Try writing a commencement address, one that you could actually give to students? Or give to yourself? Your adult significant other(s)? Make this partially a perspectives check. How do you see the academy functioning these days for your students? And for you this year? I have written a number of this fabled genre and find it to be an interesting and productive intellectual exercise.
  • Ask for some formal feedback from someone you report to about how your year has gone?
  • More importantly, and much lower stakes, have a series of conversations with colleagues, either individually or in groups about the year we have just finished. Reflect on it and ourselves during its passage.
  • Engage in reflection yourself, in solitary fashion. Create some guiding questions. Record some observations. Decide if you will share any of these with anyone? Consider: what did you learn this year? What worked well for you, and the opposite? Who were your most successful students? What were your most successful activities, accomplishments?
  • And what about your institution? How do you think it performed this year in the ways that matter most to you and that you are best able to judge? What is the impact on you of your institution’s performance this year?
  • Use your reflections to set some goals for the coming year. Decide what you need to do over the coming summer hiatus, should you be so fortunate to have one, to pursue the implementation of your goals for next year.
  • Is there some ritual that you should engage in, either in solitary fashion or with others, to mark the passing of this academic year? An evening out perhaps with colleagues? A departmental luncheon? Visiting someone who did something especially helpful to you this year to present her/him with a token of appreciation? There are endless possibilities.

In 1998 my co-authored book, The Senior Year Experience, was published by Jossey-Bass. We gave that book a subtitle to the effect suggesting that this closing period of undergraduate education was, ideally, a period for reflection, integration, closure, and transition. As this year comes to a close, it is important for each of us to reflect and take stock; mentally integrate what we have experienced and learned; join others in activities for closure, professionally and personally; and look forward to the transitions that lie ahead, particularly those that we have some control over and will improve our lives and thus those of our significant others and the students we serve.

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