Last school year, I set a number of goals for myself. It was the first time in my career that I had gone through the process of sitting down to develop some formal goals, and I think the experience was quite beneficial. Reflecting on the year, I think the very pursuit of those goals (whether I accomplished them or not) made me a better teacher.
As a result, I’ve decided to do the same thing this year. In fact, I’m keeping many of the same goals. I’ve made some additions, deletions, and a few slight changes, but on the whole, I thought the goals I set were worth my continued pursuit.
My biggest failure last year, without a doubt, was in self-evaluating on a bi-weekly basis. I recognized early on that such a goal was too ambitious. As I wrote last October, “[E]very other week is probably a bit too often in practice. I like the idea of reflecting regularly, . . . but I also found myself stressing about what to include in the reflection since not much had changed in the previous two weeks.” In fact, that stress is probably one reason that the above reflection was one of my last ones for the year.
I’m not giving up, though. This year, I’ve decided to relax my own expectations. I’ll try to self-evaluate at least once per month, though not necessarily on a fixed schedule. I’ll also try to stick with the plan of evaluating my progress toward these goals on a bi-monthly basis. But most importantly, I’ll try not worry so much about posting to this damn blog.
In the classroom, I will:
1. help my students become more adept around the Harkness table, such that all students in Honors U.S. History can co-lead at least one discussion(preferably two) before the end of the year.
I think nearly all of my students last year would have been capable of this, but unfortunately, I never gave them the opportunity. I’m not sure why. I guess we just got busy, but that’s no excuse. This year, discussion leadership will be a significant part of the second semester assessment plan.
2. continue to develop more formative rather than summative assessments and assessment policies.
At the outset, at least, I’ve not made too many changes from last year. One thing I have noticed in myself, though, is an increased sense of confidence in explaining my approach to assessment to students. I think this helps it come across less as a mystery and more as a genuinely formative philosophy.
3. solicit frequent feedback from students.
On the few occasions when I solicited feedback from students last year, I found three things. First, I got a terrific sense of what they had actually learned, in some cases even better than I did from their formal assessments. Second, I learned about things that were going on “under the surface” in class that I might not have recognized otherwise. And third, I had the tremendously rewarding experience of reading about the impact that my class had—something I’ve only rarely gotten before. This last one is a bit self-centered, perhaps, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Reading my students’ thoughtful reflections at mid-year provided me with a wellspring of inspiration heading into the second semester.
4. make a conscious effort to see the world (or at least my class) through my students’ eyes.
This was perhaps the area in which I was most successful last year. In part because I began using the Harkness method, but also because I made an effort to be compassionate with them, I felt as if I knew my students better than at any point in my career. I formed stronger and more meaningful relationships with many of them, and I’ve been pleased to have some great conversations with the ones who returned this year as seniors. I have some larger classes this year, and I’m also teaching sophomores for the first time, so I definitely want to keep this goal in place.
To further my own personal and professional development, I will:
1. read at least one book per month about history and/or education and write a short review for this blog.
Although I had this goal last year, I didn’t do much with it, largely because I felt pressure to write lengthy and eloquent reviews. I enjoy writing, but during the hectic school year, that’s pressure I just don’t need. This year, I’ll try to provide three things in each review: my reaction in 140 characters or fewer, the 3-5 most useful or enlightening points of the book, and 3-5 questions for discussion, critique, or further consideration.
2. self-evaluate some aspect of my own teaching via blog post every month.
Last year, as I said, I made it a goal to post once per week. This was too much. This year, I’ll try to post at least once per month, but I’ve also decided that this blog is really for me—not for anyone else. If I miss a month, oh well. That’s not the end of the world. And if I post twice in a month, terrific!
3. continue to explore formal professional development opportunities.
I’ve been very fortunate to have some terrific experiences over the past year or so, and with each one I find myself wanting more. Is it possible to become addicted to professional development? I have my eye on a few things going forward, but I’m also learning that unexpected opportunities can sometimes be the most rewarding.
4. begin to seek leadership opportunities, whether formal or informal, in-school or out-of-school.
This is a new one. As I become more comfortable in the classroom—and as I have more and more positive professional development experiences—I find myself craving interaction with other educators. That’s not to say that I want to leave the classroom, only that I’m coming to recognize that I might be able to offer something of value to teachers as well as students.
To preserve my own mental, physical, and emotional well-being during the nine-month marathon that is a school year, I will:
1. expend less energy on things that either a) aren’t within my control, b) aren’t in need of my attention specifically, or c) aren’t worth my time and energy.
I’ve changed this goal slightly from last year because I’ve realized that whenever I have ideas about some issue (which is to say, almost always), I have a strong desire to get involved. This year, I’m trying to let go of that to some extent. Some things are beyond me; some do not need me; some don’t deserve me. It’s a liberating realization.
2. use my time—and especially my planning periods—more wisely, in order to free up time with friends and family and achieve a healthier, more sustainable work-life balance.
Although we’re only a week and a half into the school year, I’ve been better about this so far. We’ll see how things go once the pace of the year picks up, but I’m feeling good about this one.
3. prioritize my health by setting aside time for exercise and relaxation.
For a number of reasons, I am probably in better physical condition right now than I have been at any point since graduating from college. I developed a fairly regular fitness routine over the summer, and I would really like to maintain it. I sometimes feel guilty when I prioritize myself over my students, but over the long haul, I think it will be much better for them if I’m healthy and relaxed.
To hold myself accountable to the aforementioned goals, I will:
1. assess my progress toward these goals via blog post on a bi-monthly basis (late October, December, February, April, June).