By Teachers, For Teachers
When you find yourself counting down on New Year’s Eve and welcoming 2014, what do you feel? Do you feel excitement? Anxiety? Dullness? Relief? Everyone knows that the perfect time for making improvements to your life is at the start of a new, refreshing year. The two problems that persist about New Year’s, however, are that few perceive the new year as a true opportunity to celebrate, and resolutions that are made are often abandoned just two months later. Let’s take some time, however, to make this New Year’s really count and to take advantage of the huge opportunity to make 2014 an enormously successful year.
Celebrate the Past
One of the first aspects of the new year that teachers overlook is that they fail to perceive it as a chance to celebrate the end of the previous year. No, this doesn’t mean that you’re supposed to think “I’m glad 2013 is finally over!” with a sigh of relief. In fact, you should think the opposite. Look back fondly at 2013 and ponder over what was of value.
It’s important to examine three critical areas when looking back over the course of a year. The first is your successes: What went really well for you? Where did you really knock something out of the park?
The second area is your failures: what did you screw up? When did you bite off more than you could chew? What mistakes did you make?
Finally, examine what you learned: What did you read, who did you meet, what experiences did you have that taught you something you didn’t know before?
If you can take some time to think about each of these three areas, then you will truly have something to celebrate about 2013. You want to celebrate the fact that you are a better person than you were last year. You accomplished something. You grew. You have leveraged 2013 to become a better version of yourself. Congratulations! That by itself gives you plenty of reasons to celebrate.
Celebrate the Future
The other major reason to cheer your head off and kiss every stranger around you on New Year’s is to celebrate the opportunity that you’re embracing in 2014. Every new year represents a new opportunity to continue the incredible personal growth. Now that you’re about halfway through this school year, it’s the perfect time to reevaluate the opportunity you have to make the second half count, plot your summer, and scheme for the fall.
Although there are plenty of ways any of us could improve as educators, the best way to ensure your future success it to meditate on specific, tangible goals. The less specific your goals are, the less likely you are to fulfill them. Check out this example:
Vague Goal: “I want to get better at helping students read.” That’s so nice of you to have this desire, but there is absolutely nothing concrete here that will help you know if you’re working towards this goal or not. Although opportunity exists in 2014 to achieve this, your lack of specificity means that you likely will not make much progress towards it.
Better Goal 1: “I want to better assess students’ approximate lexile ranges and differentiate instruction to teach to these various ranges.”
Better Goal 2: “I want to provide more frequent opportunities for students to independently read and respond to what they read.”
Better Goal 3: “I want to help students personally enjoy and value reading instead of solely just do what they’re assigned.”
See how these “better goals” are all related to reading, but target specific aspects of reading and instruction? You could even make these goals more specific and data-driven if you like, but the important part is to make sure that you are providing yourself with a clear compass. Identify the specific aspects of your instruction that you would like to focus on, and this will help you know throughout the year whether you’re actually focusing on it or not.
To help you forge your own individual target areas of growth, here is a short series of questions that you could thoughtfully consider:
Don’t try to overwhelm yourself with a comprehensive series of goals. It’s easy to get frustrated and burnt out when you set your self-standards too high. Instead, try to target just two or three different areas of improvement. That’s it!
Make a Plan
Of course, no goal achieves itself. The real path to achievement is to make a plan and stick to it. Take some time to plot out for yourself the specific actions you need to take throughout 2014 to make sure you’re actually following through with your goal. It may only take a few minutes to do this, but when you think through and write down the specifics of how you’ll achieve your goal, then you’ve already taken a big leap towards actually realizing it!
Stick to It
The “make a goal” and “make a plan” part are relatively simple components of the self-improvement for 2014 process. Those are the exciting parts, where you get to envision that better version of yourself developing step-by-step throughout the year. But actually implementing what you envision can prove extremely challenging! To help you, here is a short guide you can follow through 2014 to help keep you on track and accountable.
January – Write down your goal and your plan. Read through this twice daily, making sure to make adjustments to it until you are completely comfortable with it.
February – Implement “Step 1” of your plan, making that first “baby step” towards tangibly improving your performance. Whether it’s in what you put into your lesson plans, how you create your lessons, how you interact with others, what you learn, or any other aspect of your teaching, intentionally begin to apply your goal to your actions in small, regular ways.
March – Assess your improvement from last month. How did it go? Make adjustments as you head towards the last quarter of the year. It may also prove very helpful to recruit a partner at this point in the year. It’s difficult to keep going strong toward your goal on your own, so get a fellow colleague to be your cheerleader. Tell them your goals and ask them to check in with you on them in the months ahead.
April and May – These months are your last opportunities during the school year to effectively apply your goals. Carefully think about how the last two months of experimentation have gone, and make a plan for how you would like to incorporate your goals into your curriculum based on what you’ve learned about yourself so far.
June – As school wraps up, it’s time to do two things. First, look back at what your goals originally were at the start of the year and examine the different things you tried to meet that goal. How did it go? Next, make a plan for how you’re going to leverage your summer time to continually improve.
July and August – As all teachers know, summer time is never truly “time off.” If you have recorded your goals, then take the time to continually pursue them this summer. Read books, look at examples of other teachers and methods, organize your materials, and prep yourself for moving even further forward during the upcoming school year.
September – If you’ve focused on your 2014 goals so far, then you are probably feeling fantastic about starting the school year with a fresh round of energy for improving your performance. Leverage what you’ve learned so far this year with your new-school-year inspiration and hit those goals hard again. Don’t settle for falling into those same old routines from previous years.
October and November – This is the time to make your “goal” truly become part of your “routine.” If you focused on developing certain methods, habits, or skills, then you have already poured eight months of work into incorporating them into your profession. It shouldn’t feel strange any more to focus on these things. Your goal now is to make sure that your original goal has become just another part of who you are.
December – As 2014 winds down, it’s time to repeat the process. Hopefully what was a fresh goal in January is now a natural part of who you are. But take a look back on the entire year, reflect on your strengths, weaknesses, and mistakes, and prep yourself with a new round of exciting goals for 2015!
Bonus: Guide Your Students through Goal Setting, Too
Why be so selfish and keep this awesome New Year’s Resolution Guide for to yourself? Guide your students through the process of self-reflection you took yourself through. Help them to write down concrete, manageable goals for themselves, and have them check in with one another periodically for the rest of the school year. Just as this method of making a resolution and sticking to it will undoubtedly help you, it will help your students as well. Plus, after they complete this school year, they will be equipped with this “life skill” and hopefully be able to perform this on their own in future grades.
Good luck and best wishes during 2014! May you have a happy and prosperous new year. What are some of the specific goals you have set for yourself for 2014? Write them down here in the comments and let us know what you’re working towards!
Jordan Catapano is an English teacher at Conant High School in a Chicago suburb. In addition to being National Board Certificated, he also sits as the District Leader for the Illinois Association of Teachers of English and serves as a school board member for a private school. You can follow him on Twitter at @BuffEnglish, or visit his website ACTWritingTips.com.