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Set Goals for Yourself This Year

Jordan Catapano


Self-Improvement: Back to School Ideas for Teachers

Airline safety videos always emphasize that if the oxygen masks drop, you better make sure you put your mask on first before fumbling with helping a kid next to you. If you pass out, the videos note, then both you and the kid are out of luck.

The logic resounds with obviousness, yet we often ignore premise behind this simple maxim: if you’re going to help someone, you should make sure you help yourself first. 

This rings resoundingly true for the teaching profession. If you’re going to be working hard, designing curriculum, grading homework and assessments, organizing materials, developing lessons, and setting high expectations for your students, you should ensure that you’ve put the time into yourself first to make sure you’re the teacher you need to be for all those challenging tasks.

Every teacher, no matter how good, has areas in which to improve. This is why the two most important attributes of effective teachers are goal setting and self-reflection. So before you begin this school year, do some reflecting on your past and envision your future as an educator. This activity is amongst the best, time-honored back to school ideas for teachers.

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So as you are revving up for full “back-to-school” mode, take the time to do the following steps to make yourself a stronger teacher than you were last year. Grab some coffee, a quiet place for thinking, and a pad of paper for some serious self-reflection.


First, think through your last year as a teacher. How did it go for you? What were some of the best things that you managed to accomplish? What were some of the weak parts that you think you could do a little better this year?  Here are some areas to think through as you brainstorm back to school ideas for teachers:

  • Lesson plans – What lesson approaches worked or didn’t?
  • Parent communication – Were you a proactive or reactive communicator?
  • Assessments – Did your exams test what they said they would?
  • Grading – How much were you grading, and what worthwhile feedback were students receiving?
  • Content – What and how much information did your students absorb?
  • Colleagues – What were your relationships like with your colleagues?
  • Pedagogy – What areas of teaching (discussions, visuals, technology, lectures, activities, questions, etc.) are you good at implementing, and what areas do you feel necessary to improve in?
  • Curriculum – Is your curriculum designed to scaffold from previous skills and build toward future skills?
  • Atmosphere Did you and your students enjoy getting together each day? Why or why not?

There are plenty of other areas of teaching as well. Just walk yourself through those highs and lows of your previous years. Write down your thoughts. See where they lead you.

Then, identify at least two (and no more than five) key areas where you’d like to particularly focus on improving yourself. These could be areas where you feel you have been less than stellar as an educator, or areas where you feel confident and want to exploit this strength.


Now that you’ve done some self-reflecting and targeted a few areas you are willing to focus on, start to specifically zoom in on what you’d like yourself to accomplish within each of these areas. Write down what the “ideal” version of your teaching would look like for each area, and then specify how that would actually look on a day-to-day basis for yourself and students.

Next, ask yourself, “How do I get there?” The difference between the dreamers and the doers is not the vision they have, but their ability to turn an ideal into a reality through practical steps. So once you have the foundational vision in place, focus on what steps you can take to turn yourself into a better teacher in those areas you’ve identified.  Some resources you can take advantage of to help reach your goals:

  • Read books about teaching that focus on your areas of self-improvement.
  • Collaborate with your colleagues prior to the start of the year.
  • Take a close look at your curriculum and make “redesign” decisions based off of what you’re going to try differently.
  • Schedule yourself for professional development seminars throughout the year.
  • Use social media to build a PLN (Personal Learning Network) for yourself.
  • Look at previous evaluations, letters, or other forms of feedback to get advice on how to improve.

Finally, write down your goals and put them in an obvious spot you will see every day. Becoming a better version of you is not merely a “back-to -school” endeavor, but instead is a process that spans the entirety of the year. The more you see your goals, the more you will be reminded that you personally are working towards some very specific outcomes.

So be a model and pillar for your students by focusing first on how you are improving. As you prepare for the new year by implementing back to school ideas for teachers, take an honest look in the mirror first.

Although we’re tempted to begin the year by thinking “What do I want my students to do well by the end of the year?”, we also need to begin asking, “What is it that I want myself to do well by the end of the year?” This small change in paradigm leads to enormous changes in the outcomes of our efforts year after year. 

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