For teachers, the return from the holiday break provides a perfect time to reflect. What has gone well so far this year? What could be better? I’d like to offer a bit of advice if you’re considering a New Year’s resolution—both some general ideas to keep in mind and some suggestions for resolutions that might be helpful.
Resolutions that Work
We have all been guilty of setting goals that we knew, deep down, that we wouldn’t follow through on. How about this year, we focus on setting good goals—ones that might actually work? Here are some suggestions…
- Articulate a “why”: This may seem obvious, but it’s also important. Be clear with yourself about why your resolution is so important. Make sure you care enough about the reason for it to be worth your time and energy. A favorite reason that I like to use involves my students, since I’m always motivated to work for them. For example: “My students need me at my best, so I’m going to exercise every morning before school.”
- Set realistic goals: Make goals manageable. It’s better to meet (or even exceed) a small goal than to fail at a grand one. Don’t bite off more than you can chew.
- Focus on habits, not end-results: When goals have to do with final results (losing 10 pounds, decluttering your classroom, etc.), once the goal is met, it’s easy to slide back into the patterns that got you there in the first place. Instead, focus on habits (exercising 20 minutes a day, cleaning for 15 minutes at the end of each school day, etc.). These new healthy patterns will lead to great end-results that last!
The following ideas are ones that are especially relevant teachers. Many are drawn from The Well-Balanced Teacher, a book I wrote to help support teachers’ health and balance.
- Eat healthier foods: Do you have a hard time getting a good breakfast? Try making egg sandwiches in the evening and reheat them in the morning. Do you rely on take-out or fast food too often? Make a veggie lasagna on the weekend and have leftovers for lunch or dinner? And don’t forget to hydrate! Bring a big bottle of water to school and find a bathroom buddy (someone who can watch your class for a couple of minutes) so you can actually drink the water you need to stay smart and sharp!
- Step up your wardrobe: Remember, what we wear matters. If your dress tends to look disheveled or frumpy, you may be unintentionally sending messages to your students (and families and colleagues) that you don’t value your work. Consider setting a goal about making adjustments to your clothing to look (and feel) more professional.
- Tweak your language: Consider making a change to your language so that it better matches your positive beliefs about students. For example, you might replace, “I like the way you worked so hard…” with “You just worked so hard…” to deemphasize teacher pleasing. Or, you might replace “In order to get an ‘A’…” with “In order to do great work…” to deemphasize working for grades.
- Offer students more choice: Even simple choices (three articles to read; two ways to practice a skill; three projects to demonstrate understanding; etc.) can help boost student ownership and engagement and help students learn how to self-differentiate their learning.
- Personalize your professional development: There are lots of ways support your own professional growth that aren’t overwhelming. You might use Facebook, Twitter, or other social media outlets to connect with colleagues and get ideas. Consider and online course or a webinar to get some new ideas. You might also try collecting professional resources online. Check out two of my favorite vehicles for collecting (and sharing!) resources below:
Pinterest: Here’s a board about health and balance.
LiveBinder: Here’s a binder about student choice.
- Step back and look at the big picture: It’s so easy to get lost in the minutiae of our jobs. Consider reflecting on your work and career through a big-picture lens. You might try writing a one-page philosophical statement to refocus your vision. Or, you might brush up your resume or start building a curriculum vitae to reflect on accomplishments and roles you’ve had. These can all help stoke your professional fire!
- Stop doing something: Too often, our resolutions involve adding more to our plates, even though our plates are already overflowing. Instead, perhaps it would be wise to take something away? We might reduce the amount of TV we watch at night. Perhaps we could stop correcting or grading homework. We might even take ourselves off of a committee that we feel is unproductive. Wouldn’t that feel good!
Be careful you don’t guilt yourself into not taking good care of yourself this year. As many of you have likely heard me say over and over again, remember that self-care is not a selfish act! Your students need you to be healthy and balanced so you can have the energy needed to be an outstanding teacher. Taking good care of yourself is one of the most important ways you can take care of your students!
The Well-Balanced Teacher and The First Six Weeks of School. His latest book, Learning to Choose, Choosing to Learn, offers practical strategies for using choice to differentiate learning and tap into students’ intrinsic motivation. Learn more about Mike and his work, or invite him to work with your school or district, through his website: www.leadinggreatlearning.com. Connect with Mike on Twitter: @balancedteacher.