Guest Contributor: Bridgett McGowen-Hawkins, Senior Professional Educator, Cengage Learning Peer-to-Peer Faculty Development and Consulting.

Summer break usually signals a time for educators to step away from the classroom and recharge the mind and body, but hold on to your swimsuit! A population of learners who wants more and an industry demand for college graduates who can think more, do more, and create more dictate that sun, sand, and surf be accompanied by “So how did the last term go?”

Before packing away the sunscreen and returning for the fall term, take stock of what you did in the past, and gear up by considering what you can do differently for the future. Use these three questions to create a roadmap that ensures the fall term will be one that rocks socks:

1. What did you do that worked well for the learners in your classroom?: Whatever it is, keep doing it! Moments of brilliance and flashes of epiphanies dot the classroom, and you’re keenly aware of when those moments and flashes occur; make a list of them, and make a conscious effort to go for a repeat in the upcoming term. If learners seemed to perk up when you conducted lectures in ten-minute segments and then gave them two-minute discussion periods to answer open-ended questions in groups of threes, or if they got really excited when you dramatically demonstrated a concept with props at the front of the room, or if all eyes and ears tuned into a guest speaker who joined class via Skype, or if you saw some of the best work you had ever seen from your learners when you assigned them to create an newscast video based on the course content, then include those activities again and again and again. It worked well for them, and let’s be honest; it made you shine as the superstar educator that you are!

2. What did you do that could benefit from some changes?: Along with those moments of brilliance and flashes of epiphanies come those seconds of uncertainty and glimpses of jee-gollies. Who doesn’t love a do-over? In the fall, you ostensibly get that chance. Review an activity and/or a practice from the last term that did not seem to go over well or that did not have the effect for which you hoped, and identify what you might do differently. There was that one lesson that could use some tweaking because it was clear learners did not quite get it, and then there was that one classroom policy that could use a smidge of flexibility. Assess and make a list of what did not work well for your learners, and determine whether you can make some improvements to each item on the list or if it’s an item you need to completely abandon for now. Who knows? The idea may have a place in another course or with a different group of learners, therefore, avoid completely discarding any ideas forever; if an idea did not work, then tuck it away for now.

3. What is something new you will try?: Faculty and professional development are a part of your world, and you receive countless ideas from the articles you read; colleagues with whom you chat; and the conferences, workshops, and webinars you attended in the past term. However, those ideas are no good to anyone if they stay stuck in your head or scribbled down on that notepad. Identify one new idea that you have yet to integrate into your teaching and find a place for it this term: an active learning strategy, a classroom assessment technique, a digital asset for you or your learners… Avoid getting overwhelmed, though, and try only one new idea; once you get comfortable with it, then add another one in the next term or two. Remember, you want to maintain your superstar educator composure, and experimenting with too many bells and whistles all at once might put a hitch in the giddy-up. We wouldn’t want that, now would we?!

While you’re sitting poolside, dangling your feet in the water—I know that’s where you are right now, aren’t you?—and reading this blog on your portable device, kick your foot. Go ahead. Kick it! (But be sure not to drop your device!) See those ripples? Time how long it takes those ripples to completely stop.

Just one action from us can impact our learners long after the initial encounter. Look back on the totality of your last term of teaching, and reflect on the various encounters you had with your learners; but let me first prepare you: Every moment may not be ab fab, and that is okay.

Design a better class for the upcoming year by being cognizant of and learning from past performances and then deciding on what worked, what to tweak, and what to add. Feel good about the work you do when you know learning and mastery of the content have taken place. And here’s a hint: if you end a class, thinking to yourself, “Man! I wish I was enrolled in this class!” then know you are definitely rockin’ it out!

Bridgett McGowen-Hawkins is a Senior Professional Educator with Cengage Learning’s Peer-to-Peer Faculty Development and Consulting team, and she teaches for the Associate’s Program at the University of Phoenix. See some of Bridgett’s other projects at

How are you gearing up for fall? Share your insights with your colleagues! Submit a comment below.


Want additional tips? Register today for our timely, relevant professional development webinars. Gather ideas for breaking the ice, increasing student motivation, and boosting engagement!