This September, Build Habits That Carry You Through the Year

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Well Balanced TeacherBy Mike Anderson

The new school year is about to begin! Are you already getting butterflies? For me, one of the greatest aspects of being a teacher is the sense of eager anticipation that accompanies the beginning of each new school year. Few other professions offer such crisp fresh starts.

The new school year is also accompanied by immense amounts of work. As we shift from vacation to work modes, we are preparing new content, aligning old content with new standards, learning about new students, preparing for Individual Educational Plan meetings, learning to work with new colleagues… and the list goes on.

Amid this intense workload, it can be tempting to bury ourselves in work. We skip breakfasts, forgo exercise, and disconnect from family and friends. We console ourselves with a comforting lie: “If I can just get through these first few weeks, I’ll gain a semblance of balance when things settle down.”

Of course, the problem is that things rarely settle down. We’re then left with the unhealthy patterns and habits set in September, and by the middle of the year, we’re exhausted and burning out. So instead, this year consider being thoughtful and purposeful about the patterns you set at the beginning of the year. Here are a few ideas for building habits that will carry you through the year instead of wearing you down.

  • Set bite-sized goals for health and balance. Instead of promising yourself hours at the gym each week, consider adding a 20-minute brisk walk to your day. Instead of vowing not to snack in the afternoons, replace the daily candy bar with a daily granola bar. Concrete and realistic goals will lead to success and help build healthy habits right from the start of the year.
  • Create clear work boundaries. It can be hard to turn off work, especially when school e-mail buzzes into our phones and laptops make it easy for us to squeeze a little more work in before bedtime. When we never truly put work down, we exhaust ourselves and often become inefficient when working. This year, consider setting mandatory turn-off times each evening for yourself. Or, set certain weekend days or evenings as work-free zones. You’ll find yourself recharged when you do get back to work.
  • Make time to reflect on positives. Consider creating a simple system to record successes each day or week. You might write in a journal for 10 minutes each day where you reflect on what went well. Or, you might keep a simple bulleted list in a file on your computer titled, “Positives.” Keeping a running record of what goes well throughout the year can help sustain your positive energy, even when you hit the inevitable bumps along the road.
  • Prioritize professional responsibilities. The beginning of the year is a great time to reconsider your outside-of-the-classroom roles. What committees are you on? Do they match your passions? If not, see if you can opt out of a committee you don’t love and join one you will. Consider what school functions you want to devote energy to and excuse yourself from commitments that feel onerous.
  • Be conscious and purposeful about being joyful. In today’s pressure-cooker atmosphere in education, it’s easy to lose sight of the importance of being joyful about our work. It doesn’t have to be like that. Sure, we’re all under pressure, and that’s not going away. But we can control how much of that we take on (and pass to our students). As the year begins, remember to enjoy your students. Get to know them and connect with them. Revel in their wonder as they learn something new. Take time to play a fun game on a Friday afternoon. Smile. Laugh. It will be nearly impossible for your students to love school and be joyful in their learning if you can’t feel the same way about your teaching.

These are just a few ideas for how to set healthy habits at the beginning of the year—patterns that will sustain you through the year’s challenges. What ideas do you have about setting healthy habits? What are some of your personal goals for health and balance in this new school year?

Editor’s Note: For other ideas about goal setting, check out The Well-Balanced Teacher. It’s available in print and e-book formats, and there’s a free study guide.