Due to a miscommunication that was probably my fault, I received Maggie Beattie Roberts’ response to my Ed Week Teacher question, “What are the best ways to start a new school year?”, too late to include in my Ed Week four-part series on the topic.
I’ve since added it to the fourth post in that series, and also wanted to share it hear as a guest post to ensure people didn’t miss it:
Maggie Beattie Roberts is a national literacy consultant, author and frequent speaker. She worked for the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project for nearly ten years as a lead staff developer, where she supported teachers, administrators and school districts with literacy instruction and curriculum. Her latest book, DIY Literacy: Teaching Tools for Differentiation, Rigor and Independence (co-authored with Kate Roberts), is out now:
As teachers, we celebrate New Year’s Eve twice a year. We celebrate the first in the company of millions of people. We count down the last few seconds before midnight on December 31, or watch the iconic ball drop in Times Square. No matter the ritual, it is tradition to hold reflections from the past and hopes for the near future as the new calendar year begins.
Our second New Year’s Eve as teachers happens now. And while there is no nationally televised celebration, there are signs that it’s happening: the back to school shopping sales, beginning of the year emails trickling in, summer camps wrapping up. This second New Year’s Eve–the day before the school year begins–is one of the best parts of our jobs as teachers. Our profession is one of renewal; it offers new beginnings each year and extends an annual invitation for reinvention.
Now, there are lots of ways to start off a new school year strongly. Some people start with lists of new goals, while others start with very few goals. No matter your personal restarting style, here are some overall, transferable ways to ensure the best start of a new school year.
Support Your Goals
I’m a fan of new beginnings and I love making a list. So, I tend to start a new year with a laundry list of goals: exercise more, eat healthier, see friends more often. I start off strongly (I’m one of many in the crowded gym in January). But nine times out of ten, I struggle following through on all the goals I made at the start of the year.
It became clear that this was less an issue of follow through and more an issue of the amount of goals I set for myself. In recent years, I’ve narrowed down my list to one or two goals for the start of each school year, like giving authentic feedback in more timely ways or sharing more of my writing process with my students. After setting a short list of goals, I build in support by scheduling check-ins across the school year. Try setting an alert on your digital calendar, picking a common day of the month, or setting quarterly check-ins for the goals. Lastly, I find a friend to share my progress with or, even better, someone who has a shared interest in the same goal. Working towards a goal in the company of others offers both support and gentle accountability that can lead to a more joyful experience.
As one of her New Year’s resolutions, a friend of mine joined her local CrossFit community. By the look of her Instagram feed, she is not only building friendships that will last a lifetime, but she’s taking incredible physical risks. The longer she spends with her community, the deeper the bonds become and the more challenges she tackles. And whereas she didn’t start her new workout routine devoid of rigor and new work, it happened in a culture where community and social support was valued equally.
It’s important to remember the power of community amid the busy start of the new school year. There are routines to cover, mandates to launch, assessments to begin. But all of that goes smoother when the classroom community is nurtured from the start.
Think about the ways you form community and replicate it in kid form. Share favorite book titles, read a powerful poem together:
- Bring in pictures of favorite places and people to decorate a writing or reading notebook.
- Do a small community service project together
- Create a Moth-style (https://www.themoth.org/) storytelling series where students share stories from their lives
- Watch a documentary together and have students lead a discussion
- Have students interview each other and launch a classroom podcast
- Coordinate collaborative art projects
- Lead physical team building exercises
Whatever your style, make the time nurture the bonds of your class community, as these bonds are the foundation for intellectual, academic and social risks. (Pick up A Mindset for Learning: Teaching the Traits of Joyful, Independent Growth by Kristine Mraz and Christine Hertz (http://www.heinemann.com/products/E06288.aspx) to read with colleagues for more ideas of how to nurture strong, authentic communities.)
Aim for Balance
The life of a teacher is one of extremes–from the extreme busyness of a school year to the extreme abruptness of a holiday break. It’s easy to find yourself running on empty as the school year gets underway, craving the rejuvenation a break brings.
During the school year, try infusing the busyness of the new school year with some essence of summer relaxation. Keep your summer reading going, stay enrolled in that yoga class, schedule (and keep) dates with friends or your partner. I color code my digital calendar with the week’s events: work-related events get one color, social and self-care appointments get another color. This gives me an at-a-glance look at how balanced or (more commonly) unbalanced my week is.
Taking care of ourselves is the important work that provides fuel to keep giving to our students and each other during the school year. Leaning on friends, family members or loved ones helps build in small moments of summertime care, giving us the reboot to keep tackling the demands of the year.
As the air begins to cool and the leaves turn, pause for a moment to celebrate the beginning of the year, both for you and for your students. Wishing you the best start to your new year!