For those of us in education, time gets a bit skewed- our “new year” is in the fall, yet the new year for the calendar also has subtle effects on us, both teachers and students. Here’s veteran teacher Melinda Deal with an inspiring reflection on this new year effect. -Ed.
Happy New Year! Welcome Back! Did you have a good break?
It’s January 3rd as I write this and while I know I must be feeling more refreshed and energized than I did in December, by January 4th it is feeling hard to believe how little daylight there is outside of school hours and how long my mental “to-do” list has grown in 24 hours.
Still, there is something magical about coming back to school in January. I think it has to do with the unusual mix of a fresh start and a comfortable continuuity. Unlike September, which any teacher will tell you is the real “first” month of the new year, January doesn’t bring to mind the small anxieties and somewhat tedious tasks of setting up a classroom space (where to put the pencil sharpener?) or the unknowns of the human chemistry experiment that awaits our leadership (who thought those two kids might work well in the same group?). But, January does conjure the sense of looking forward, and lays the framework for looking reflectively at the practices in our classroom or workplace, and for setting goals and helping students set goals.
There is no place for regret in January. No matter how far off the mark you may feel in accomplishing what you want in your classroom, January leaves you with more than half a school year to tweak or renovate. Kids are amazingly adaptable and they seem to understand our global community’s sense that the new year brings new beginnings. If you want to rearrange the furniture, revamp the schedule, scrap your reading groups and just read with kids for a change, January is a great month to do it. You can even stretch the house cleaning sentiment to early February by honoring Chinese New Year traditions of “sweeping away the dust” with your students. It’s a good time of year to ask students to help resolve conundrums in the classroom. If you have established a Class Meeting in the fall, it’s the perfect time to ask kids how to make the classroom function better. Efficiency notwithstanding, it is the most sure way of getting creative thinking, problem-solving, interpersonal communication, and buy-in from a group of kids who are invested in “living” together in a classroom for another five months. If Class Meeting is not yet on your schedule, it’s a good time of year to fit it in.
At UCDS, January is also our narrative report writing season and as we prepare to summarize students’ progress with their parents, we often ask children to reflect on their growth and their goals — both academic and social. Through interviews, journal entries and portfolio selection kids amaze us, and sometimes themselves, with their perceptiveness and self-knowledge. Making self-reflection a built in part of every learning process, and formalizing it with written documentation teaches them how to do it and promotes the growth mind-set our students exhibit (“I’m not good at everything, YET!”)
Just as January gives me that “comfortable clothes” feeling of knowing my students, I also look forward to the warmth of knowing my colleagues and the confidence of knowing that we will collaborate. Before I worked in such a collaborative team environment, I endured the stress of trying (and failing) to “do it all”. Now I can “give it my all” and I am contributing to a team of professionals who together does it all, almost all the time. It is wonderful to reconnect after winter break, to pick up where we left off, and to feed and be fed intellectually by colleagues who continue to grow. With flexible teaching teams and fantastic young resident teachers enriching the UCDS faculty each year, it takes a few months in the fall to establish camaraderie, refine communication styles, and get everyone on the same page. Coming back in January, the team is a team. I see us confidently giving and taking from one another when it comes to planning curriculum and talking about what would be best for “our” kids.
So, while I love the excitement of September, I am grateful for a second “new year.” And I think the kids are too. Though they look a little sleepy as they roll in on the first week in January, and they are hungry for lunch by 9:30, there are regular interludes when I pause from what I’m doing, and marvel at the scene. I hear only the hum of a well-working machine. l look around the classroom and everyone is engaged. The conversations are friendly, productive, on task, and growth promoting. There is laughter and appreciation because we are back together, our little tribe.