Happy New Year! And by that I mean, of course, “Happy New School Year!” Let’s put aside the fact that the reason our school year does not match our calendar year is that it was constructed around planting and harvest back when this was still a predominantly agrarian nation, and we just haven’t gotten around to updating it for a couple of centuries.
Let’s face it. A new school year is way more important anyway. For most people, the difference between their lives in December and January is practically nil. For teachers and students, however, one school year can be vastly different than the previous one or the next one. For students, there is a new wardrobe, a new set of classmates, a new set of teachers, and, if everything goes right, a whole new set of skills that have to be mastered. For teachers, even if your teaching assignment is exactly the same from year to year (lucky you!), the year is bound to be very different, based on a new set of students.
The next few weeks, before the official start of a new school year, will be busy with preparation—preparation of supplies, of the physical space, and of yourselves. There are forms to fill out, boxes to unpack, bulletin boards to construct, and probably a lot of presentations to attend (Did I hear somebody say “endure”?). I hope, though, that we can all take a little time to come up with at least one or two new year’s resolutions.
According to a recent article in Time magazine, the top five most commonly broken New Year’s Resolutions are, lose weight and get fit, quit smoking, learn something new, eat healthier and diet, and finally, get out of debt and save money. I don’t think the list is a surprise to anybody. The list, as we might have expected, is made up of essentially two groups. Stuff we promise ourselves we are going to do, and stuff we promise ourselves we will stop doing. An overarching theme might be general self-improvement, but it all breaks down to our daily actions.
I bet, if you think about it, you could come up with a list of new year’s resolutions for your “teacher self” that parallels the list above. If you consider carefully, you probably have some goals for improving your classroom that can be broken down into things you could eliminate and things you could add. I would encourage every teacher to do exactly that this school year and to make it a habit every year. Feel free to add your own ideas for New School Year Resolutions in the comments section. (You could even tweet your ideas. #newschoolyearresolutions)
Tips For Making and Keeping New School Year Resolutions
I’ll confess. I tried to find a list on the Internet of “Tips For Keeping New Year’s Resolutions,” but a Google search turned up mostly tips for car maintenance. (Go figure.) So here is my own list of “Five Tips for Making and Keeping New School Year Resolutions.” The list is based mostly on what helps anybody set and keep any goal. Think about how you would treat a goal like “losing weight” or “quitting smoking” and you can come up with your own tips. You might want to add your own tips to the comments section below.
A general goal like “Be More Organized,” or “Reduce Clutter,” or even “Create a More Student-Centered Classroom” is good, but make sure to follow up these general goals with more specific ideas for changes you will make, such as “create and use a filing system for all student assignments,” or “clear off my desk weekly,” or “introduce more student choice to assignments.”
Be Reasonable, Start Small
Don’t try to make big changes all at once. Big changes are difficult, are likely to fail, and will lead to disappointment that may make you abandon your goals. Clearing off your desk daily may be too difficult, but cleaning it up weekly may be an easier goal. You could create a filing system and use it for one class before trying it with all classes. Adding a single student choice to one assignment per week might be a good way to approach a goal for greater student choice and, eventually, a more student-centered classroom.
Choose Measureable Outcomes
Don’t rely on a general feeling about your success. You may not be able to gauge, based on your perception alone, whether your classroom is more organized, less cluttered, or more student-centered. A false sense of progress could reduce the amount of effort you put in, but more likely, without measureable outcomes, you are likely to fail to see improvement, which could lead to disappointment and frustration.
Have a Plan For Handling Frustration
Making change is not easy. Anyone who has been on a diet knows that. As one struggles to change habits missteps are almost inevitable. There will be backsliding. Worse yet, often, even when we are faithful to our plan, results are not always quick and obvious. Since we know this will happen, we need to plan for it. Decide when you begin how you will keep yourself motivated to change when things go awry.
Enlist the Help of Friends and Colleagues
We all know that support groups are useful when trying to change behavior. It helps to have others to turn to who are trying to make the same changes, motivated by the same goals, and struggling with the same problems. Find a colleague who wants to make the same changes and work together. A professional reading group is a great way to make learning new things a group activity. Not only does this make the reading more fun, it ensures the experience will have the extra depth of differing perspective.
So, I wish you the best of luck in the coming school year. I hope it is a safe, a rewarding, and a fruitful experience. I hope, as well, that you make and keep some resolutions that lead to personal and professional growth and to a classroom that is better for you and for your students.