What’s your New (School) Year Resolution?

Posted on 2nd September 2016 by John
Female hand holding a pen and writing a plan in a planner

Although a new term brings a lot of worries, it also brings a lot of possibilities. It’s a great time to embark on something completely new, or approach the same things in a radically different way. So why not set yourself a ‘New Year Resolution’ on how you want to shake things up for the year ahead? Yes, pledging a ‘New Year Resolution’ is a loosely veiled act of target-setting, and it does have a slight whiff of a naff form-time activity, but it might turn out to be exactly what you need.

Here are two pretty broad suggestions, both of which I have tried and tested.

1. Do less

One of the best decisions I made last year was simply to mark less. I had noticed that marking was draining my time and energy, whilst making only questionable impact on student experience and progress. I decided to mark each students’ work only 2-3 times a half-term (yes, ‘smartly’!). I worked with colleagues to make slight changes to our departmental policies so that it was clear nobody was expected to mark a ridiculous quantity. And it worked: I had more time to spend on other things, such as planning new lessons and conducting peer observations. I also took back a bit of time on my weekends.

It might not be marking that you need to cut down on, it could be anything, but the principle is the same: do less. When you set targets in performance management meetings, these are typically about adding things to your workload: extra support sessions here, writing a new scheme of work there. Over the years, more and more things get thrown onto your back, like a long, drawn out (and very well documented) game of Buckaroo. But taking something off your back will often have a more positive impact than adding something on.

It might not even be a specific task which you want to cut down on, but any part of your routine. Never work on Sundays? Never check your emails in the evening? Only plan lessons at school and never at home? Once you have realised that you want to go on a ‘workload diet’, you will soon see that – as with food diets – there is an endless variety to try out. I am not sure what the workload version of a ‘cabbage soup diet’ or a ‘tapeworm diet’ would look like, and if embarking on anything extreme then first consult your GP.

2. Burn one folder

I’ve seen veteran teachers apoplectic with rage in the staffroom because water has damaged one of their lesson folders, or they’ve lost a memory stick with a dozen lesson plans on it. I’m sure you can imagine yourself in that situation, and you’d probably react the same. But what’s interesting is that the same teachers, when asked about it months later, will often reflect that actually it was a good thing – that they are glad it happened. Why?

Teachers dread anything which takes time, and crave any efficiency which will save it. We mechanise our lesson planning and relish re-using anything from last year. But mechanise the admin of the job too much, and we risk mechanising our thoughts, stifling our creativity. Do you have a particular lesson folder for a sequence of lessons which has become a bit tired, colourless and repetitive? Burn it. You don’t have to literally burn it (you could simply squirrel it away in a cupboard somewhere), but do something which will force you to plan the lessons with fresh eyes. It might be a good opportunity to co-plan them with some colleagues you work particularly well with.

Losing all of your teaching resources would be a disaster. But starting again with a blank-ish slate on one systematically chosen module can be a great opportunity. Last year I tried to do something like this with one A-level module. It involved an attempt to ‘flip’ learning (and yes I got it onto my performance management document). I enjoyed these lessons far more than I usually do, and even though it did take a bit longer to plan these lessons, it was worth it.

While you’re at it, make sure to reward yourself for your bravery by getting those deluxe ring binders or display wallets you’ve always wanted. I’m a firm believer that a newly structured course deserves investment in new, state-of-the-art stationery.

A few other suggestions…

I’ll try to write more in-depth about the following in a later post, but other resolutions you could consider:
Try to break your daily routine in one significant way, such as walking outside at lunch time, or making sure you visit the staffroom once a day.

Try to identify a negative cycle and break it. For example, do you have a way of dealing with poor behaviour which always leads to escalating conflict and frustration? Can you try to challenge the behaviour in a completely different way?

Slow. Down. Teachers are million-miles-an-hour machines. We achieve so much, but often we need to remind ourselves to take a few deep breaths.

So what’s your New Year Resolution?

Feel free to describe your resolution below. I promise I won’t ask for you to review it at 3 points throughout the year, provide a folder of evidence in support of it, or finally decide whether it was ‘Fully met’, ‘Partially met’, or ‘Oops, I completely forgot that one’…

Photo credit: Pexels