Comedians, keynote speakers, salespeople and scriptwriters all share one thing in common: They understand the value of ending on a high note. Comedians save their best joke for last; speakers finish strong with a poignant exit statement; salespeople go in for the hard sell, and screenwriters save that action-packed climax for the final pages. Why is that?
Psychologists call it the “peak-end effect” or “peak-end rule.” Essentially, it’s a cognitive bias whereby the last events in a series define our perception of the entire process. Put simpler, our brains often let the final moments of an experience inflect our overall understanding of it.
For students, the “peak-end effect” kicks in around this time of year. These final, waning moments of the traditional school year influence how you view your past accomplishments – and set the stage for your future motivation.
Our goal in this article is to ensure that you view the past school year positively. We want you to practice constructive self-reflection. We want you to practice effective present strategies for navigating the end of the school year. And lastly, we encourage you to look bravely toward the future as you complete graduation requirements in Ontario.
Below, we’ve broken our various aims down in the only way that makes sense: past, present and future. Together, let’s end on a high note!
Reflecting on the Past Year
Around this time of year, students start asking themselves: “When does the school year end?!” But rather than counting down the minutes until you can pack up your laptop, consider self-reflection. Turn your end of the school year countdown into another learning opportunity.
We all create narratives about ourselves. Our goal here is to paint those personal narratives in a positive – or constructively critical – light. It’s alright to admit that you missed the mark on something this year, but you must frame it in terms of growth rather than failure.
Here are a few gentle strategies for reflecting on the past year’s achievements.
Access Old Assignments, Tests, Communications, Etc.
An excellent place to start is with the material itself. Too often, we rely on our memory alone for reflection – but memory is a notoriously unreliable narrator! It’s better to walk through old those assignments, tests and communications for a clear retelling of what actually went down. Together, these documents represent a good cross-section of our end of school year accomplishments.
Further, dragging up the past year’s assignments, etc. is a great way to quickly review what we learned and what we missed by the end of the school year. We can see the math problems we aced and the steps we used to get our winning answer. Conversely, we remind ourselves of the mistakes we made – which can be equally valuable.
Guide Your Reflection with a Series of Questions
Once you’ve reabsorbed a few assignments, tests and communications from the past year, it’s time to reflect on what it all meant. And there’s no better way to achieve this kind of critical self-reflection than to ask yourself pointed questions.
Write the following prompts in a notes file or physical notebook, and take an hour or two to answer them. You might be surprised by what they illuminate for you!
- What did I learn? This is a fundamental question you can answer concretely with the old assignments you have on file. Maybe you learned more about indigenous cultures in your history course. Or perhaps Einstein’s Theory of Special Relativity finally clicked for you.
- What else did I learn? Press yourself. You didn’t just learn bits and pieces of information. Undoubtedly, you also learned soft skills, personal insights, even newfound wisdom this year. Maybe you deepened your media literacy and critical thinking skills. Or perhaps you garnered new insights about interpersonal relationships. All of this falls under the umbrella of education.
- In what ways did I excel this year? Reflect on a few ways you shone this year. If “past you” from a year ago could see you now, what would they be proud of?
- Is there one thing I’m particularly proud of? And if so, why? Next, reflect on a specific thing (an assignment, test, group project, presentation, etc.) that you’re particularly proud of. What was it about that assignment that made you proud?
- In what areas can I improve? Go easy on yourself with this one (see the section below). Without involving too much blame, target a few areas in which you could improve.
- Is there an assignment or test I wish went differently? And if so, why? Again, dive into specifics to pinpoint an academic moment you wish went differently. Then try to analyze why it didn’t go as planned. Was it a test you were ill-prepared for? If so, you might reflect on time management. Was it a concept you failed to grasp? If so, you might ask yourself what stopped you from getting help to understand it.
- How did my personal life impact my academics this year, and vice versa? It’s important to view your education contextually. High school doesn’t happen in a vacuum! Your personal life can impact your academic life and vice versa. Analyzing how the two influenced one another can produce profound insights about both.
- What about my goals? How did my achievements measure up against my expectations? If possible, review any goals you created at the beginning of the school year. Did you meet your goals? If not, why not? Were the goals too ambitious, too unreasonable? Or did something stand in the way of your potential?
There’s a lot embedded in these questions! They aren’t meant to lead you towards a conclusion. Instead, they should spur an internal dialogue that sets you on the right course toward self-motivation, self-improvement and – ultimately – self-acceptance.
Practice Positive Self-Talk
As you answer the questions above, we implore you to speak positively to and about yourself. Refrain from using harsh, superlative or fixed language.
For example, never say that you “are bad at math,” that you had the “worst test scores this year,” etc. This superlative and fixed form of self-talk doesn’t leave any room for improvement. Moreover, it wiggles out of personal responsibility by declaring that this is just “the way you are.”
It isn’t the way you are! At OES’s ministry inspected online high school, we believe that people can always change and grow. Go easy on yourself, and remember that your mistakes don’t define you – they are simply learning opportunities on the road toward personal growth.
Navigating the Present
Having reflected on the past year, you might ask yourself: how can I help myself in the present? That’s a great question. While we believe that self-reflection has a marked positive impact on your ongoing mindset and performance, you might also benefit from tactics that root you in the present.
Before we delve into the future, here are a couple of straightforward ways to navigate the present.
Take Deep Breaths
We mean this literally and figuratively. In a literal sense, focusing on your breath can be a fantastic strategy for weathering the emotional ups and downs of a final stretch at school. Studies show that the simple act of taking long, slow inhalations and exhalations can help mitigate stress and anxiety – invoking the “relaxation response” by supplying your body and brain with oxygen and stabilizing blood pressure.
Figuratively, “taking deep breaths” refers to that good old fashion rest and relaxation that we at OES are always advocating for: Taking moments of quiet and calm amid the complex demands of exams, assignment deadlines and grading. These metaphorical “deep breaths” might include socializing with friends, playing sports, spending family time, enjoying a long lunch, enjoying an even longer walk, or simply sinking into the couch in between study sessions.
Review Our End-of-Year Motivation Strategies
Recently, OES published a guide for staying motivated during the final stretch of the school year. Not to toot our own horn, but we believe that it’s a useful, diverse and actionable document that speaks to several students’ experiences.
We recommend that students take a peek (at the link above). But if you’re pressed for time, here are a few “Coles Notes” on how to stay motivated during that all-important final push:
- Review or create your academic goals (it’s never too late!)
- Remember why you’ve created your goals
- Avoid the “cram and crash” cycle by managing your time effectively
- Get into the communal spirit with study groups, peer note-sharing, etc.
- Redefine your obstacles as learning opportunities
- Make use of OES’ support structure by chatting with teachers, using our tutoring services, etc.
- Work some fun into your schedule – even in the busiest stretch of the year.
Perhaps paradoxically, motivation takes work. Follow the clear strategies above to see if they help boost your motivation as you round out another school year.
Looking Toward the Future
We’ve answered probing questions about the past to learn rich insights about ourselves. We’ve practiced proactive strategies to navigate the present. The only thing left to do is look toward the future.
Here’s how to develop an academic roadmap, growth mindset, soft skills and personal well-being goals.
Develop a Growth Mindset
We alluded to a growth mindset in the “positive self-talk” section above. But what exactly is it – and how does a student develop it?
According to the influential psychologist Carol S. Dweck (who popularized the mindset theories), people with a growth mindset “believe that abilities can be developed.” They believe that their talents, skills and intelligences are the result of effort rather than intrinsic qualities. By contrast, individuals with a fixed mindset view their abilities as fundamentally unchanging – so why bother putting in the effort? Research shows that growth mindset individuals foster more professionally successful and personally self-fulfilling lives.
In our article on how to develop a growth mindset, we review a 21-day Mindset Challenge that involves pushing the limits of what you believe your capabilities are, and recording the progress in a journal. As you look ahead to your future education, we recommend giving it a try.
Set Academic Goals
Think of academic goals as your roadmap for the future. If you’re ever lost or uncertain, you can refer to them to remind yourself not just what you’re working toward – but why you’re working.
In that vein, academic goals for the new school year should balance concrete aspirations and personal relevance. Goals for the new school year shouldn’t be “goals for goals’ sake”; instead, you should find reason and meaning in each goal. If your dream is to help animals, for instance, you can set concrete goals in biology, English and statistics so you can work toward a veterinary school degree.
In our resource on how to set academic goals, we advocate for S.M.A.R.T. goals. S.M.A.R.T goals are Specific (clear and concise), Measurable (easily trackable by some kind of metric), Achievable (i.e., not outlandishly difficult), Relevant (see directly above), and Time-Bound (on a clear, fixed timeline).
We recommend students work on personalized education planning with one of our academic advisors to ensure their course load reflects their goals. This can be an end of school year task, or you may do it at the beginning of next year.
To summarize this article in a neat thesis: The way we reflect on the past has a profound impact on how we develop our present and future. Ask probing, positive, growth-oriented questions, and learn from the insights you uncover. Take care of your well-being in the present to ensure that you remain motivated. And develop goals that highlight your infinite ability to acquire new skills and intelligences.
As we file another traditional school year in the books, let’s all celebrate our past accomplishments, focus on our outstanding tasks, and boldly plan for the future.