10 Atypical Tips for Having a Great School Year (For Teachers, Professors, and School Leaders)

This time of year, there is no shortage of blog posts for educators and school leaders about how to start the year right or how to have a great year. I’m adding one more to the list, but I’m pretty sure that most (or all) of the items in this list don’t show up in those other articles. There is nothing prescriptive or magical about any of these items. Scan this atypical list. Take what captures your interest and leave the rest. See if you can find two that interest you enough to give them a try.

  1. Read books by dead people, at least one a month. Reading old books helps us escape the spirit of the age and look at our own era differently. This is a great way to expand our thinking, helping us to look at our current times with a fresh perspective.
  2. Commit to asking more questions than you give answers during the school day. Unless you buy into the idea that you are the font of all knowledge and you literally pour it into the minds of students, a statement driven education is not going to be enough. The goal is for students to be thinking deeply, solving problems, exploring, learning and growing. Questions are a great one to promote these things.
  3. Read poetry, at least one a week. What does this have to do with education? It makes you think. It challenges. It gives you new ideas. It illustrates the power of words. It reminds you of what it is like to read something that might not be easy to grasp at first. Every lesson is an obscure poem to some of your students.
  4. Start the habit of developing a new skill or activity. It might be musical, fitness or sport related, or anything else; but make it something that is about more than just learning facts. It should be something that you need to practice over time to achieve proficiency. Pick something fun and challenging, but maybe something that scares or intimidates you as well. Learning something new reminds you of what it is like to be a beginner.
  5. Invite students to co-create learning experiences. Sometimes we act as if we are the actors on the stage and students are the audience. Invite students on stage. Better yet, invite them to write the script, be stage hands, be critics, etc. Try this with small groups of students. Schedule time to work on the lessons/projects. Challenge them to make it something engaging and rich with learning. As a starting point, consider a small team of volunteer students to work on this and create something once a month. If it goes well, you can consider doing it more often.
  6. Play a new game once a month. Define game as broadly as you like, but I’m not talking about games in the classroom. I’m referring to any game or challenge. They could be strategy games, board games, card games, video games, or games that you create. You can turn something that bores you into a game. You can turn your fitness goals into a simple game. Experiment with it. Apart from just being fun, you might be surprised to discover some interesting teaching and learning applications.
  7. Choose to be deeply curious on a daily basis. When someone says something unkind, odd, confusing, or challenging; respond (at least in my mind if not out loud) with curiosity. This shifts your thinking toward a pursuit of understanding, and you might be surprised what you learn along the way. This also helps me diffuse what might otherwise be an unhelpful emotional reaction.
  8. Quit at least one thing a month. One way of getting better at something is to stop doing certain things. Sometimes they are bad habits. Other times they are good but competing habits and behaviors. Cut out things that are taking up time, energy, attention, and emotion; but they are not helping you reach your goals are live out your core beliefs and values.
  9. Choose a couple of good metaphors for learning and your school/classroom, and use them consistently. Language shapes our thinking and our attention. When we talk about classroom management as holding the reigns on a team of wild horses, that impacts how we thing about the students. Watch out for metaphors that put you into a us/them mentality. Analyze the metaphors you used in the past or use now. Consider how they support or distract for your vision of a great classroom and rich learning. Then consider identifying a couple of metaphors that amplify the values and beliefs that you want to inform the classroom experience for the year.
  10. Pray for each student by name at least once a week. I know that some readers don’t believe in prayer or God. This one obviously comes from my own beliefs and values, but so does everything else that I write. This idea came from Guy Doud, a national teacher of the year in the 1980s. He taught in a public school and talked about going to school early. He would sit in desk of each student and say a prayer for that student by name. Think about and praying for a student by name changes you. It changes your perspective on that young person. Some people will not jive with the prayer idea. If so, while I’m certainly not suggesting that this is the same thing, maybe you can just think about each student by name on a weekly basis, consider that students gifts, needs, challenges, potential, etc. Take the time to consider each individual often.

As I said at the beginning, there is nothing magical about the items in this list, but they are guaranteed to stretch you, give you a new perspective, and add some freshness to the school year. Pick one or two, give them a try, and if you are willing, I would love to hear how they go.