New Year, New Me? ‘New Year Resolutions’ to Make Me a Better Teacher

It seems strange thinking about making changes to my daily / weekly routine at this stage in the academic year but it probably makes more sense really. The last term, for me personally, was a rollercoaster (a very fast one) and I never really got to grips with my time and task management until late in the term. Reflecting on the past term, and on my wider professional and personal development, I’ve put together a series of “New Year Resolutions” that resonate with me and hopefully you’ll find them useful too.

1. Improve time and task management.

Time and task management have always been a particular strength of mine but, over the past couple of months, I’ve certainly found myself “chasing my tail” at times. Perhaps this is a symptom of a profession in transition and the nature of schools post covid but I needed to make adjustments towards the end of last term to ensure tasks were getting done. And it was back to basics. I’d become very reliant on tech for task management in recent years but in November I went back to an old-fashioned notebook (a good quality dotted one from Paperchase), bought some good pens, pastel highlighters and post-its and it helped enormously. There is something hugely gratifying about organising my week in the physical notebook, employing good note-taking skills and ticking off tasks in a physical list. I’ll keep this up in 2023.

2. Balance & reflection

It’s very difficult to get off a rollercoaster when it’s going at full speed or even to catch your thoughts and reflect on what you’re doing. In 2023, I hope to allow more time for reflection and the notebook is already helping here; jotting down a few lines on how things went the previous week helped me figure out where I could improve. I work in a busy boarding school so it can be difficult to step back sometimes. In 2023, I aim to find a better balance between school and home, incorporating more regular exercise into my weekly routine.

3. Back health / physical health

I’ve struggled with my neck and back flexibility over the past five years or so and realise that my work practices don’t help a lot. I spend a lot of time in front of my laptop or computer during the teaching day or correcting copies, tests and exams at my desk. The ergonomics of my classroom desk don’t help so I’ve just purchased a standing desk which I hope will improve my posture when working on the computer or marking but, going back to balance, I’m also going to devote time for flexibility and strength training regularly during my working week. 

4. Stay positive

Irish education is in a state of flux at the moment. We’ve gone through a tumultuous Junior Cycle reform and it is fair to say that it has been a frustrating process; we await the publication of a review of that programme in the coming years, which will be very interesting reading. A reform of the Leaving Certificate is next with most subjects in line for new syllabi or specifications. I’ve gone through this process as an Agricultural Science teacher already and it has been beyond frustrating and I’ve struggled to remain positive at times. I will endeavour to remain positive through 2023 as the nature of the reform takes shape, leaning on my colleagues for positive distraction. I’m lucky I’m in a school environment that fosters a positive working environment.

5. Read 

Here, I’m specifically referring to reading about teaching and while I read regularly this is often limited to fiction during term time. I’m aiming to read at least two education books per term starting with rereading Why Don’t Students Like School by Dan Willingham and Teachers vs Tech by Daisy Christodoulou. There are some excellent short books from ResearchED on topics as varied as leadership, special education, education myths, direct instruction and assessment which I’m hoping to dip into also.

6. Better Tech

While I would probably benefit from a wider digital detox, to help improve my efficiency and time management, there is certainly room for growth with the use of tech in my classroom. One particular tool I really want to explore more in 2023 is Carousel Learning – the brilliant online tool for retrieval practice. I’m also interested in nanolearning – creating bitesize nuggets of online content – and I’m keen to use my school’s online learning platform FireFly to do this. It will be interesting to see if the current generation of learners would respond well to this. I’m also interested in exploring further the use of AI in education and enjoyed Ashley’s blog on this recently.

7. Teach pupils to study

Going back to basics again. In recent years, I’ve certainly been heavily focused on creating meaningful learning opportunities, both in Junior Cycle Science and Leaving Cert Biology & Agricultural Science, that balance the need to fulfil all the objections within the Junior & Senior Cycles but were mainly focused on content. It’s become clear though that, perhaps since Covid, our students are struggling to get the most out of their study time and are rather aimless when it comes to studying. I’m hoping to spend more time with my students on the basics of study skills: note-taking, using graphic organisers, organisation & planning, avoiding procrastination, retrieval practice etc. These are important skills to master which ultimately the students want to be better at and will improve student understanding and performance, thus increasing confidence.

8. Personalised learning

With better time management, it would be great to be able to devote that additional time to focus on the needs of individual students in 2023. Personalised learning for my students will allow the weaker pupils to catch up and challenge the stronger students. Using some of the items mentioned previously – nano learning, study skills, Carousel etc – will form part of that. It’s certainly something I always aim to do but I hope that in 2023 I can make this something I more regularly focus on.

9. Reduce paper use.

We all need to be more sustainable and one of my aims for 2023 is to reduce my paper use and have a more sustainable classroom. Using our school’s online platform, FireFly, will help here and I will need to be more disciplined in its use. I’m keen to hear from my students on how the “Bio Lab” can save water and energy in 2023.

A screenshot of my school’s online learning platform, FireFly, which I aim to use more regularly in an effort to reduce paper use in 2023.

10. Plan for my future learning

Finally, I’m keen to see what learning opportunities 2023 will hold for me. I’ve not engaged in formal education for a few years now and I’m excited to see what options are available there. I would be keen to do another Postgraduate Diploma or Masters in the next few years and 2023 is about soul-searching and finding the right option. I will continue to participate in some short courses this year – it’s so important to keep active in this regard.

So, these are my New Year Resolutions for 2023 (professionally anyway – I forgot to mention I hope to be a single-figure golfer in 2023). They’re about making me a better teacher, exploring new ideas and making the job more sustainable. What resolutions have you made?

Humphrey Jones @humphreyjones

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