Reflections on Winter Reflection

Approximately two weeks ago, Andover students received an email from their Cluster Deans with instructions to fill out a “mid-year reflection,” a new exercise intended for students to self-assess their mental and physical health, concerns, and experiences thus far this year. Students were encouraged to spend 30-45 minutes on this 14-question self-reflection, a document that will ultimately be shared internally to all members of a student’s current and future team to see, as well emailed to the student’s parents.

While the intention of the mid-term winter reflections was positive, the execution of the reflection—because of its digital medium, length, and lack of sensitivity to students’ privacy—left many students feeling frustrated and misunderstood.

Because responses will be shared amongst adults on campus with whom they will interact with for their remaining Andover career, the reflection asked for students’ full attention. Each night, however, Andover students take on a busy schedule of homework, sports, and extracurriculars that leave them with little additional time for a thoughtful reflection on their Andover experience.

Furthermore, many of the questions seemed to insinuate that the root of students’ problems lie in themselves. In other words, that our habits, rather than our surroundings, are what drive our stress.

Perhaps our largest concern as a board was the nature of the intended distribution of these student reflections. For these questions to be answered with honest and thoughtful feedback, we as students need to know that we can trust the adults with whom our answers will be shared. Most students, however, don’t know all of the adult members who belong to their “full team on campus” and wouldn’t feel comfortable sharing deeply personal information with all of their current and future teachers.

Due to the targeted nature of the questions, students may have been inclined to report inaccurate information regarding their sleep, mental state, and happiness, especially given that the information collected will be available to all future members of their student team for the rest of their time here at Andover. This reflection will serve as our first impression on all new teachers, coaches, cluster deans, and house counselors.

We also felt that the digital format of the reflection was problematic. Through students’ Empathy, Balance, and Inclusion classes, we are constantly taught that communication through digital methods reduces the meaningfulness of the conversations and miscommunicates the tone of the message. At The Phillipian, we emphasize to our writers that in-person interviews are much more sincere and are a better way to obtain true and less filtered responses. And yet, when the same administration which drives home these same messages reached out to the student body for serious personal reflection, they did so in an email.

This reflection will also replace the house counselor report usually sent home to students’ parents at the end of Winter Term. Prior to these counselor reports, students would meet one-on-one with their point person to discuss their winter term. The point of these meetings with our house counselors or day student advisors was to allow the faculty member to get to know the student and understand the successes, problems, and challenges they might be facing. This lets the house counselor give the student’s parents honest feedback on how their child is faring throughout the school year. Now, by cramming the personal questions in a written survey, students will lose that sense of personal, thoughtful connection with faculty, and our parents will lose their only form of formal communication with our house counselors.

All this said, we recognize the value of the survey’s intentions and also prioritize community-building, transparency, and personal reflection. However, we expected more. In the end, this felt like a token endeavor on the administration’s part. This same project could be more sensitively conducted if students could have chosen a small subset of faculty members to share and discuss their reflections with, if more time was allotted to complete the reflection, or even if students had simply been contacted for input on which questions would be included during the reflection’s initial development . Any of these considerations—though still imperfect—would have continued to serve the reflection’s original intentions while also acknowledging and acting upon the value of our individuality as students.