Monday, December 12, 2011

New Year's Resolutions for Teachers, Don't Get too Personal

By Mark T. Burke

Why wait until January 1st of each year to make major commitments to new ways of thinking, working and behaving?  I remember back, around 2000, I had had a rather tough year professionally.  I was feeling under used at work and had no real clear path to growth.  The path I was traveling seemed too planned by others, not natural and based on my interested and talents.  So, I decided after many years to try making a few New Year's resolutions (NYRs). Well, I won't go into what they were, but needless to say I made an impact at work.  Within a few days of the new year's schedule getting into swing, a colleague of mine said, "You've changed....and not for the better."  It has taken me years to realize the real lesson in that comment.  What I had done in 2000 was make work related resolutions for myself without considering my role as a team player.  I had set new expectations for myself and others without filling them in.  I had decided the team needed change so that "I" could experience change. I give myself points though. I had made a mental shift and I was carrying it out.  I was committed on all fronts and change was happening.  For that commitment, I give myself "10" points out of 10.  For execution, I give myself "-10."  So, I earned exactly a "0."

Where educators go wrong with New Year's Resolutions related to our jobs is that we make them too personal.

First, a little background.  The work I do with viaAcademies revolves around two areas, music education and online learning. Seems obvious maybe, but I want to paint a clear picture.  Both areas have their own strengths and struggles.  On one side, keeping music in our schools is a continued and growing struggle.  On the other, integrating online learning into our educational systems is often seen as a surefire way to ruin our schools.  In all that I do, I have to face those challenges head on.  By combining the two, I have learned a ton about teaching, teacher's roles and behaviors, classroom and school management, curriculum, technology and pedagogical practices.

Where educators go wrong with NYRs related to our jobs is that we make them too personal.  We think, "If I set them for myself and I don't achieve them, the only one that will be disappointed is me, and I can live with that."  Does that sound familiar? If we don't set them at a person level, then, like I did in 2000, we fail to let everyone else involved know how they fit in.  In that case, if the resolution fails, we can play the victim role...."my resolutions failed because of someone else."  Again, does that sound familiar?

Here's my guide to increased success with your classroom or school based NYRs.

1.)  Think System Wide....NYRs like "Clean my desk and keep it clean all year," and  "Get a new wardrobe" should just be erased.  Think about systemic change, that's where you'll make real impacts in the lives of your students. Take on traditions and rules that limit student growth and success.  Again, my favorite saying offers guidance. "Continuing to do the same thing and expecting different results is futile." 

2.)  Create a Round Table....With your systemic NYRs in hand, start laying some ground work now.  Talk with your administrators and your colleagues.  Let them know why you are mapping out change, what you will do, where you need help and most importantly, how you will know if you are successful.  Don't settle for the age old..."Oh, if we could wait until after the holidays to talk, things are really busy now" excuse.  Conversations at this point don't have to be epic, they just need to happen. 

3.)  Assemble the Team....Once you've gotten all of the professionals aligned, tell your students.  Let them know what changes are on the horizon.  Create a positive atmosphere around change by involving them in what's to come.  Don't focus on the end game, focus on their immediate role.  Too often we set NYRs and communicate them to students by saying...."You need to be better communicators, you need to practice more, you need to love what you are doing more...."  That message, even if subtle, causes students to equate change with a belief that "I am horrible and now I have to do a bunch of new things to make me less horrible." 

4.)  Circle the Wagons....Often, we do things the way we do them because that is what we know.  So it makes sense that to initiate change, we more often than not need the help of others.  After all, we don't know what we don't know and we can't do what we can't do.  Find individuals or groups that will help you accomplish your NYRs and don't look back.  Form new bonds with organizations, consultants, companies, music stores, colleges, performance venues, and others that will help you.

5.)  Start Filling the Reflecting Pool....All valuable efforts involve measurement.  This is another reason why personal NYRs fail, they're over assessed using personal emotional reactions.  Systemic change requires evaluation based on the very goals that created the change in direction in the first place.  Set a time line for evaluation that includes dates and incremental goals.  As you approach those dates, prepare by reflecting on where the effort lies in terms of real progress using real metrics.  There's no need to over plan at this stage, but starting to think about signs of success is a must.

6.)  Start over with number 1 and work through another round of 1-6.  Continue until satisfied.

In reality, the six points above work at any time of the year, on any effort that is intended to create real, sustainable change.  At this time of the year, having a system to follow relieves us of the burden of creating something from scratch and adding that pressure into our already busy lives.  NYRs can be incredibly positive for us as professionals and for our students. 

Have a NYR to share? Please do. Need help on steps 1-6?  Post your question and the community hear can help. 



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