New Year, New Goals

I was able to squeeze in 50 books and 50 hikes in 2014, although it definitely came down to the wire. For 2015, my goal is to read 50 books, watch 50 movies that I haven’t seen before (my husband’s excited about helping me reach that goal), and walk 25 miles per week. Hikes are fun and relaxing, but harder to squeeze them in these days, which I think might lead to me giving up on that goal if I tried to do it for 2015.

50 Books and 50 Hikes Goal Reflection

I achieved my goal for the year of reading 50 books and taking 50 hikes! Several people have asked me what my favorites were. I have difficulty choosing absolute favorites, but here are my favorites in several different categories.

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For books…

Autobiography- Acts of Faith by Eboo Patel
For Kids/Teens- Wonder by RJ Palacio
Theology-Be Not Afraid by Samuel Wells
Self-Help- This is How by Augusten Burroughs
History- Destiny of the Republic by Candice Millard

For hikes…

Most scenic- Pinnacle Trail, Crowder’s Mountain State Park
Most convenient- Al Buehler Trail, Duke Forest
Favorite overall- Dunngan’s & Pea Creek Trails, Eno River

What I liked most about the goal was the way in which it pushed me outside of my normal routines, but left plenty of room for catch up to provide for weeks where I didn’t have time to read or hike. Unlike a goal that requires you to do something every day, this goal provided flexibility. I think the reason why I was successful at this year’s goal, and have failed miserably in some other, more stringent goals, is due in large part to that flexibility.

Another reason the goal seemed to work was because I wasn’t trying to change a habit or force myself to do something I didn’t really like to do. I genuinely enjoy hiking and reading, but chose the goal because I felt like I was having difficulty finding time to do those things. Having the goal gave me permission to prioritize them.

The sharing aspect of the goal was also key. I kept a running lists of books and hikes on this blog and periodically posted updates to Twitter, FaceBook, and Path.

Reflection on the year in general– This was a year of doing hard stuff. Of finding support and then stepping outside my comfort zone. Of trusting that there was more that was valuable in life than work/teaching, despite its still incredible importance in my life. Here’s to the New Year! And a new goal…

New School Year’s Eve

Students return to school tomorrow. It’s my 27th year of school (21 as a student, 6 as a teacher). Before I head to bed, a couple of adages/goals that I’m hoping to embody for the year.

Know and care for the kids. 
I love kids, but I’ve found in past years that I’ve fallen into a pattern of connecting with those kids who were easiest for me to connect to. That is, I didn’t make it a priority to try to connect with all kids and learn about their lives/interests outside the classroom. Reading The Energy to Teach this summer reminded me of the importance of working to connect with each student and thinking systematically about doing that.

Don’t make it harder than it has to be. 
Teaching is an incredibly complex endeavor. That’s one of the reasons I love it- there’s always something to think about and ways to improve. But sometimes harder or more complicated is just that and not better or at least not better enough that it warrants the effort required. A post to the class blog doesn’t have to be an essay; it can be a picture and two lines of explanation.

Be on your feet. 
At the suggestion of someone on Twitter (apologies that I’ve forgotten who), I turned my desk to face the wall this year. I’m not going to be able to be in my classroom other than the periods I’m teaching (more on that later), so I don’t anticipate having much time at it without students there anyway. It’s easier to have a built-in physical reminder of the importance of consistently being up and interacting with students, rather than depending on my brain to remind me of that, especially on days that I’m tired.

By June

I didn’t intend to write a blog post tonight, but I read the following which Jim Burke posted on the English Companion Ning:

January is nice but it’s not when we teachers begin our year. Ours begins in August or, for a few, September. Now is to time to think about what Stephen Covey tells us: Begin with the end in mind whether we are thinking about our business or our personal lives. We have had this raging good post stream about what we will do the first day, the first week of school, but to what end? What will those first days lead to in June? And how will they do that?

Whether personal or professional, what do you want to be able to say in June and what must you do to be able to say or accomplish that?

My response…

In lots of ways, this year feels like it will be my first year teaching all over again. So many moving pieces, so many commitments. Next year will be my third (or fourth, depending on how you count) in teaching. I’ve yet to have the same preps for two years in a row (1st yr- 5th American history and 3rd grade, 2nd yr-6th grade Language Arts, 3rd yr-6th grade Language Arts and History) and next year won’t be any different. I’m piloting a blended learning (online and classroom) 12th grade US History course in addition to teaching the courses I taught last year. During my first year of teaching, I also worked 25 hours/week as a youth minister. It was a very busy year, but also an incredibly rich one. While I know some people think that kind of schedule is nuts and I do have to be careful about packing things too tightly, there’s something about a lot of work that reduces my anxiety because there’s not much time to sit around and let thoughts run wild. By June, I’d to have the sense of accomplishment of taking on lots of good work and doing it well.

In the first several years at my current school, I’ve kind of flown under the radar, doing lots of teaching and some presenting, but not really getting involved in institutional work (committee, extracurriculars, etc). I think I’ve not really sought out those responsibilities because so often I find them an energy suck. I don’t think that that is going to become an area of passion for me anytime soon, but I would like to find some of that kind of work that would contribute to the community while also being energy-giving for me by June. (There are a couple things in the hopper toward this end.)

On the personal side, I live in an area that seems to “turn over” about once every three years as people who have come to the area for graduate school move on for further study or new jobs. While I love the energy of college towns, it requires “rebuilding” a group of friends every so often. By the end of the year, I’d like to have strengthened ties with some of those who are still here and found ways to connect with new people.

Start with Analogies Instead of Resolutions

It’s the time of the year when the calendar and the late night TV infomercial encourage us to begin reflecting on the past year and setting resolutions for the one to come. But the truth is- I stink at goals and resolutions. Oh, I can keep them for a couple weeks or months but slowly but surely I begin to slide, fall off the wagon, slip, peter out, lose steam…

Goals and resolutions are scary and strange, uncharted waters that make me reluctant to set out to sea. Even if I sit down and plan out a course of small steps to achieve the goal, I still feel overwhelmed because this is something I want to do but have not tried or been able to achieve in the past.

I am much more likely to accomplish something new or difficult if I start with a metaphor/analogy instead of a goal. I like to ask myself “What hard things have I done in the past and lived?” When I come up against another difficult decision or idea, I can think “I did x and lived; I should be able to do y, too.”

This all might seem like a semantic dance, but in the following TED video on the power of metaphor, James Geary quotes Albert Einstein, who said, “Combinatory play seems to be the essential feature in productive thought.” Some of the analogies I create seem playful or silly or unreasonable. But as I’m setting out or when I get stuck or panicked, I can come back to the metaphor/analogy. (I speak in front of students all the time, so I can speak in front of teachers at a conference. I blog, so I can write an article.)

Things I accomplished in 2009 that’ll likely serve as inspiration for 2010

  • Published an article in a professional journal
  • Took a writing class (Thanks for the encouragement, Karen L.!)
  • Helped students publish a literary magazine we all were proud of
  • Received a Digital Resources grant to update the 6th grade LA and History curriculum at our school
  • Started the blog you’re reading now
  • Presented at two professional conferences
  • Joined the English Companion Ning
  • Created and ran a Local Foods Camp
  • Toured the West Wing of the White House (and caught a glimpse of the president)
  • Organized a week at the beach with friends (a couple are pictured below) from grad school

What metaphors will you make in 2010?