Looking Back and Looking Forward

It’s the time of resolutions.

That means looking back over the past few months and trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t and what we’d like to change.

For me, 2016 is going to be a year of adjusting in so many ways that I feel like I need to resolve to give myself permission to just be.

That doesn’t mean, however, that I can’t make some hopeful and realistic goals for myself in the coming year.

1. I definitely want to write more. 

I intend to keep writing with Kevin – I need that challenge and that push (even if we did give each other a bit of leeway for completing this post during the holidays) to keep writing. I have found over the last few weeks as we have been writing these posts that I am drawn to writing more and, while I’m hoping to do a bit more blogging over the next year (more Celebrate posts and Slice of Life and possibly IMWAYR posts – or maybe really just some book reviews), I am also planning on doing some more scribbling in my notebook. I have fallen off the wagon with my BuJo in the past couple of weeks, but I aim to dust my notebook off and get back to it by promising to also write a couple of pages in it each morning. I scribbled for about 15 minutes this morning and felt better – and managed to think out solutions to a few problems.

What this means for my classes: I want to do some more personal choice writing time – journaling, letter-writing, short stories, poetry, editorial rants, whatever. We did it at the beginning of the year and then we switched gears to do more reading at the beginning of class. I think I’d like to do both. It doesn’t have to be very long – quick writes are only supposed to be 3 minutes long – and that is honestly enough time to get our fingers loosened up and to start something that students might go back to.

2. I need to protect my reading time.

I have known for a very long time that I suffer in so many ways when I can’t get time to read. I love to read for reading’s sake, but reading is also a major source of stress relief.  I finally got to read a couple of books this week – I finished reading Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy (and I was soooooo excited to see that there will be a companion to this – listed as Dumplin #2 on Goodreads…I look forward to seeing that one in 2018!) and All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely in record time over the past couple of days. I also managed to fly through The Griffin’s Riddle and about half of The Fairy Swarm (both by Suzanne Selfors) with B. I also started reading Star Wars: Before the Awakening by Greg Rucka.

I feel better.

Even though I know how much I love to read, I sometimes get all stressed out with other things that have to happen. I need to make sure I’m protecting that time somehow.

I don’t intend to make any reading goals (like number of books I want to read or anything like that) – I just want to read what draws me in and enjoy it. I’ll try to keep a better log of what I read on Goodreads than I have in years past – I know my students have enjoyed seeing what I’m reading and what I have read. It’s such a simple thing that I really ought to just do it.

One of the ways I used to do that was to eat a packed lunch in my classroom and either listen to an audiobook or read on my Nook while I ate. Antisocial? Possibly. Good for my mental health? Definitely. It meant that even if I didn’t get any other downtime during the rest of the day, I had gotten some time to read. It did wonders. I have been eating more with my colleagues in the faculty room than I used to – perhaps because I have been more inclined to buy lunch than pack. (This might be a sign of another routine that needs to be rebooted…)

What this means for my classes: I have tried to protect that reading time for my students in class. Even reading for eight minutes (remember – I have 40 minute classes!) can be enough of a taste of a book for my students that they’ll want to read on outside of class, and, honestly, it’s enough (according to the aforementioned study) to get some of the stress relief that we can all use. I need to protect that time in the schedule for them as well. I know that several students have asked for me to schedule in one day a month (at least) for just reading days. I intend to honor that request when we get back to school.

I think the best way to protect this reading time during class is to have some routines. We got away from some of our routines in the interest of using library time effectively while we were working on our historical fiction project (freshmen) and the college writing course (seniors). Coming back after a long break and starting fresh means we can reboot routines and one of the cool ways I want to try to help keep me – and them – on track with our time is with an app I’m playing around with called TimeTune. Or – at bare minimum – scheduled alarms on my phone. I’ll let you know how that goes.

3. I want to be more positive in my teaching life. 

For those who know me, I am an insufferable optimist. I don’t believe that we live in the best of all possible worlds, but I believe that we all have the power to make our worlds (and through that The World) better.

I do my best to be positive with my students – to work with them to solve problems and to get them to focus on what is going right with their work and where to make things better. I am careful to frame my comments in such a way that, I hope, won’t frustrate them but will empower them. (Although, I have known a few students who just needed to get frustrated and angry before they found the empowerment they needed…)

I can’t say I’m so good with myself. Being a teacher means also being a student – of what works and what doesn’t and realizing what needs to be done to do the job better. I was really good about writing my reflections as we went through each day of school at the beginning of the year – to be able to go back and see what I needed to know/learn/correct before the next day or the next time I taught those lessons. It only took a few minutes, but I found that those few minutes set me on a much more positive and focused path than beating myself up about the things that didn’t work according to plan or where I didn’t meet my self-imposed deadlines (Why do we always think that paper grading will go faster than it does? This chart should be taped to every work surface I use…). I definitely need to keep this in mind – grief is exhausting enough, but beating myself up over things that I can look at as learning opportunities for myself as a teacher would just make everything harder. So these minutes will probably be a real lifeline for me.

What this means for my classes: I think one of the other things I want to do in keeping with being more positive is to contact parents more frequently. One of my professional goals for this school year is improved communication. I know that the last couple of months have made it especially difficult to do this, but I aim to do better when we get back. Spending a few minutes writing a quick weekly “newsletter” post to the classroom blog could pay off in big ways if I can get it shared with parents. One way to start doing that is to make some phone calls or put some notes in the mail – and sharing good news is always a great way to make connections. It means that I need to pay extra attention to those things that my students do that are good news report worthy – and writing them down so I don’t forget them!

I think I’d also like to write notes like these to my students. I’ll have to think about how best to do this so that it puts smiles on their faces instead of making them embarrassed. (I’m open to suggestions…)

This also makes me think that I want to bring back some version of conversation calendars with my kids, but this might be something that wears me out. Mine had small spaces for them to write to me and for me to write back. There was room to log our in-class reading as well. It was nice to flip through and respond to them – but some days there just didn’t feel like there was enough hours in the day to do everything. Maybe I need to do a reboot on what they look like and how I use them, but I do like that back and forth…


I’m looking forward to what Kevin is planning to do with his reading, writing, teaching goals for next year. I’d be interested in what others are doing, too.


4 thoughts on “Looking Back and Looking Forward

  1. I know you handle a lot, and your posts always make me think about how much more organized I can be (and my life can be). From a Bullet Journal to apps, I know I waste a lot of time on things that don’t help me be better or really even decompress. I like some of your ideas.

    I still can’t believe you have 40-minute classes. My 58 minutes never seem to be enough. I used to schedule Sacred Writing Time on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but I often found it difficult to make the time meaningful for students. Sure, some of them practiced writing, but I felt like the constraints of my context made a lot of their own writing–even during this sacred time–inauthentic. I wasn’t bringing students in like I wanted to. Let me know how this goes. I want to learn from you!

    • I think I tend to be more efficient when I’ve got a lot going on. Sometimes I waste an inordinate amount of time trying to find new ways to be efficient when I should be doing other stuff. I think after a couple of weeks back, we’ll get a few more minutes per class for every day but Wednesday, but it’s still never been longer than 45 minutes. I’d love it if we could have double periods, but I doubt that’s going to happen anytime soon. How long did you give your kids for Sacred Writing Time? I don’t give too long for reading or writing most days because I remember Linda Rief saying about leaving them wanting more. Give them just enough time to make them disappointed that they have to stop…because they’re more likely to go back to whatever it is.

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