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The School Year Has Begun. Now What?

One of my colleagues calls the first few weeks of school the “honeymoon period.” During that time, as she explains it, everyone still has plenty of energy as students and teachers get to know one another. Once we move toward the fall, however, it can be easy to start feeling more encumbered as never-ending tasks pile up. Keeping the momentum going while remaining focused on the opportunities each new day presents might not always be a simple endeavor, but selecting the priorities that matter most this school year (both to teachers and to students) will help to ensure nobody loses sight of what they want to accomplish.

Pick two goals: one professional and one personal.

Before the school year gets away from us, it helps to set just two attainable goals to reach this year, one in the realm of professional aspirations and one geared toward a more personal focus. For a professional goal, some examples might be leaning into a specific model of teaching (like trying out more student-centered methods), gathering student feedback more regularly, or implementing stronger peer-to-peer collaboration in the classroom. Whatever the goal, it should be attainable and not overly complex, or it will be difficult to make changes when the urgency of a school year is already underway. For personal goals, that can be anything manageable that has long been ignored, like getting a part of the house in order or scheduling more time with friends each week. 

Do one thing each day to decompress.

Days fill up quickly, especially in a school building where both lunch and bathroom breaks remain elusive for so many adults. If we don’t force the issue, any kind of break becomes an impossible dream. Whether at school or at home, scheduling a 15-minute timer for something that is truly relaxing and sticking to that practice makes a huge difference. For me, crossword puzzles provide that reset, and so much the better if the weather is nice and I can get some fresh air at the same time. For others, taking a walk (alone or with a friend), gardening, or finding a space to meditate for even a short while provides a brain reset that helps to keep things in perspective when life gets a bit overwhelming.

Designate non-negotiable learning priorities for the year.

Anyone who says that it’s possible to do it all has never been a teacher. If we try to make sure that students leave the classroom with every single possible grade-level standard fully met, we may wind up doing more harm than good. More often than not, less is more. That does not mean we lower expectations and it absolutely doesn’t mean that we lower the standard of learning; however, it’s important to prioritize what areas of growth are non-negotiable, and what content goals can (and will) be more realistically applied in a future academic year. Otherwise, the demands of pacing can overwhelm even the most thoughtful of teachers as learning becomes a series of tasks that are ungrounded by any kind of central focus. 

Be ready to recalibrate.

Despite anyone’s best intentions, a lot can go wrong with teaching and learning. There are just too many variables to be able to predict how human behavior and instruction will mix on any given day. When a carefully planned lesson goes awry, that is not a failure; in fact, it is quite the opposite. Any mistakes or unexpected obstacles shine a light on a better pathway forward, even though it can be hard to change course. A lesson that worked in the first period might completely implode during the sixth, and that is also completely normal. Showing students that we can recognize missteps but plan new ways to learn more effectively will also help them embrace their own difficulties with the knowledge that everyone is growing and learning, and that stumbling is just part of that process. 

Don’t live to work. 

Teaching is all-consuming, especially because work doesn’t stop when the last bell of the day rings. To compound matters, being there for kids is such an important responsibility that many teachers feel as though they need to be constantly available to answer emails or provide help. The problem with that outlook is that however well-intentioned it might be, students do not benefit from teachers who are running on empty, nor does anyone else. Education is a highly fulfilling career from the perspective of its capacity to serve others and the satisfaction that can be derived from seeing the results of growth over time, but we need to stop short of martyrdom in our quest to help others. Otherwise, not only does teaching become the only thing we think or talk about; it also becomes a burden that may be nearly impossible to lift without burning out. 

Achieving balance is a near-impossible task for anyone, but keeping an eye on just a few priorities can help, both in terms of personal and professional achievement. Each new school year is a marathon and not a sprint, so aiming for sustainable practice over trying to do too much, too quickly is a far more tenable way to make it past the month of September with not just survival, but also with success. 

Written by Miriam Plotinsky, Education World Contributing Writer

Miriam Plotinsky is an instructional specialist with Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland, where she has taught and led for more than 20 years. She is the author of Teach More, Hover Less, Lead Like a Teacher and Writing Their Future Selves. She is also a National Board-Certified Teacher with additional certification in administration and supervision. She can be reached at or via Twitter: @MirPloMCPS

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