If you’re anything like me (*cough* Type A perfectionist who’s a sucker for a calendar-based fresh start *cough*), setting goals for the new calendar or school year gives you a special kind of butterfly-type action deep in your gut.
While I love a good goal setting session, I don’t love getting overwhelmed by an exhaustive list of unattainable goals that make me feel worse than before I started.
In this blog post, we’ll keep it simple with 5 categories of teacher goals to keep you grounded this new year.
Teacher Goals #1 – Self Care
Because altruistic, kind-hearted teachers who prioritize hard work and dedication to their students will almost instantly think of student needs when they see the term “teacher goals,” I purposely want to start with self-care.
Taking care of yourself is one of the best ways to take care of your students. If you are not well, your classroom is not well. Your teaching is not well. Your students are not well.
Effective teachers are well-rested, physically, emotionally, and spiritually healthy, and maintain a strong work-life balance. Therefore, teacher goal #1 is to prioritize your self-care.
As we all know, self-care is a major buzzword. Let’s keep it simple and go ahead and define self-care as taking care of yourself.
This looks different for different people. Self-care can include (but is not limited to):
- Prioritizing your health by scheduling well visits and dentist appointments
- Taking off when you’re sick
- Going to therapy
- Happy hour with co-workers
- Brunch with friends
- Intentional movement – Going to the gym, taking a walk, yoga, etc.
- Getting a manicure
- Reading a good book
- Taking your kids to the park
- Attending a religious service, meditating, journaling
- Insert whatever makes your mind, body and soul feel good here.
One of my favorite of these is teacher happy hour. I taught in New York City public schools, and there was no shortage of places to enjoy a good meal and a good drink (or two) after work.
Not only did these meetings with my colleagues (which, at one of my schools, the union rep referred to as our “executive after school meeting”) serve as great venting sessions, but they also reminded me that I was surrounded by professionals who experienced similar challenges and who were as passionate about the job as I was.
(A glass of wine to take the edge off after teaching teenagers all week didn’t hurt either.)
During my individual free time, one of my other favorite ways to unwind and take care of myself is by reading a good psychological thriller.
Reading fiction is one of the few activities through which my brain doesn’t race with thoughts of how I need to improve XYZ, or the dishes piling up in the sink, or how I’m going to teach cellular respiration next week.
For some reason, my husband encourages me to go get a manicure, etc. While I like pretty nails every now and then, nail and hair salons stress me out. That’s not my idea of self-care.
Therefore, over the years, I’ve found what’s worked for me, and I do it! No matter what you choose to do, schedule it, prioritize it, and protect it.
Teacher Goals #2 – Classroom Culture Reset
Classroom culture refers to the shared values, attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors that shape the classroom environment and social interactions within a classroom.
Classroom culture must be created and sustained. The new year is a great time for a reset.
After students return from winter break or summer vacation and start a new school year, they often need to be reminded/relearn their role in maintaining a positive learning environment.
As my experience as a classroom teacher grew, I wasn’t surprised when I needed to take time to reset by spending time on rebuilding and/or reinforcing an inclusive classroom culture. This was important for several reasons.
My classroom culture not only informed expectations for student behavior and student-to-student interaction, but it also had a positive impact on student progress, student performance, and my well-being as their teacher.
I often reevaluated and reset my classroom culture by reflecting on my teaching style and classroom management techniques.
To reset or reinforce your existing classroom culture, consider doing the following:
- Revisiting the classroom rules, norms, and or agreements.
- Reviewing and practicing classroom routines and procedures.
- Continue to get to know your students on a personal level.
- Update classroom decorations, displays, and bulletin boards.
The important thing about resetting or reinforcing your classroom culture is that it feels right and authentic to you, your students feel safe and valued, and that your classroom culture positively impacts student outcomes, student achievement, and how you feel about your work.
Teacher Goals #3 – Get Organized
I won’t assume that all teachers are perfectionists who are overly organized. We are not a monolith and can all benefit from getting more organized.
Even those of us who already consider ourselves organized can benefit from this professional and personal goal.
As science teachers, let’s pause to talk about the science of organization a bit. According to the Harvard Business Review, research has shown that “our physical environments significantly influence our cognition, emotions, and behavior, affecting our decision-making and relationship with others.”
Yikes! I just had a flashback of searching for my only printed copy of the student handout for my next class with 2 minutes left in my prep to make copies.
Not good for me. Not good for my mental health. Not good for my interactions with the school secretary and the students about to walk through my door.
When my classroom (and home) were more organized, I felt less stressed and anxious. There was something very comforting about having a mental inventory of most (if not all) of my belongings and knowing where said belongings live.
While I’m no expert on best practices for organizing your home and or classroom, here are some of the small ways I got organized in my classroom:
- Clear the clutter– I’m looking at you student work that hasn’t been graded for 3 months and that I keep taking home and bringing back with me ungraded weekend after weekend. Seriously, let go of the guilt of throwing things out, returning things to students, or donating things you’re not using to a colleague.
- Make your copies the day before – This was a game-changer for me. Morning copy-making was always a stressful sort of hell I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. I found when I made copies the afternoon before and got them all organized and tidy, I felt better overnight and the next morning when I arrived back to work.
- Make a SIMPLE to-do list – I stopped making long to-do lists because I felt worse off than when I started, as it is typically impossible to do all the things every day. I like making a “top-five” list of my biggest priorities before the next school day.
- Put things where they belong the first time – I can’t remember where I heard this, but some wise organization sage said that when tidying, do not touch the same object more than once. For example – don’t touch your shoes to take them off and then touch them again to put them where they belong a half hour later when you’re tidying. The same is true of the classroom. Give everything a place to live and put it away right away. Teach your students to do the same.
Another thing that worked really well for me was creating a simple agenda of what I planned to teach for each of my classes for the upcoming week.
In other words, every Friday, I’d create a simple Google doc that listed no more than a 3-word description of what I planned to teach to each of my classes.
After completion, I’d tape one copy to my desk and another outside my classroom door. This served two purposes: 1. My admin required it), 2. It helped to keep me organized for the week to come.
Finishing it by Friday was a great way to enjoy my Friday happy hours (see teacher goals # 1) and minimize the Sunday scaries!
As there is no one right way to get organized, taking small steps to get organized is a great way to start a new year (or new day) with better time management and less stress.
Teacher Goals #4 – Learn Something New
We are teachers. Therefore we teach (obviously) and are constantly learning. Learning something new has so many benefits.
Not only are you getting smarter (that term makes my teacher heart so very happy), but you are also stepping into your students’ shoes and feeling all the things that come up when engaging in the process of learning.
Whether learning the most up-to-date best teaching practices for your professional growth and career goals or learning something new related to personal goals and growth, make learning something new a priority.
Learning enriches your personal development and is great to add to your professional goals.
Whatever you choose to learn, make the process enjoyable. I love learning from a good audiobook (free, thanks to my amazing local library), YouTube videos, PDs, conferences, going to the gym, or talking to my grandma.
There are so many ways to learn something new.
Although you may not have had the best experiences with professional development, attending seminars and workshops that are of interest to you provides not only theoretical insights but also practical strategies that you can apply to your pedagogy and classroom.
An added benefit of attending professional learning outside of your school allows you to engage and network with educators from different backgrounds.
You don’t have to leave the comfort of your home to learn something new. You can nerd out on an online course and content from the comfort of your own couch (no business casual attire necessary).
Online courses and content offer the flexibility to learn at your own pace from anywhere. Platforms like Teachable, Udemy, or even YouTube offer a plethora of courses, classes, and lectures ranging from creative writing to crocheting.
Want to dust off that old guitar you picked up at a yard sale and actually learn how to play it? Or looking for ways to increase student engagement or incorporate technology into more of your lessons? Create specific goals around learning something new!
Teacher Goals #5 – Take a Risk
In the world of education, structure, and routine are important. However, taking risks in the classroom benefits both teachers and students.
According to American University’s School of Education, when the classroom environment is safe, and students feel empowered to take risks (such as trying a new strategy for note-taking or taking on leadership roles in group work), they can learn new skills, increase self-esteem, and become more resilient.
Similar benefits are true for teachers. Taking risks in your classroom can help you to learn something new and better cope with and embrace failure.
Our brains are wired to want to remain safe and in our comfort zones. However, some of the most successful folks whom we admire took some serious risks to get where they are today.
I’m obviously not suggesting playing a game of Russian roulette where taking risks can get you seriously injured or worse. I’m referring to things like signing up for that dance class you convinced you were too old and achy to try.
Or what about traveling off the beaten path to explore a new place? Or how about that new student-centered strategy you’ve been wanting to try but haven’t out of fear of losing control of your classroom?
Whatever it is, make an effort to try one thing this year that forces you to step out of your comfort zone. While there is a chance you may fail miserably (I have a plethora of receipts for my risk-taking failures), there is more of a chance that you’ll learn something new – like how to regain your composure after failure, increase self-esteem, or walk away enriched from engaging in a new experience.
In conclusion, setting teacher goals (both personal and professional) can serve as a guide for purposeful and intentional work in the new calendar or school year.
By prioritizing self-care, revisiting and/or resetting your classroom culture, staying organized, fostering continuous learning, and embracing calculated risks, you can create an environment that not only supports student success but also cultivates personal and professional fulfillment.
Here at Lit Science, we wish you all the best as you set and work toward attaining your new goals now and in the future. We look forward to partnering with you as you work to improve your pedagogy, classroom and self!