One of the unique and energizing aspects of being an educator is that each fall we can begin anew. Most of us will be meeting new groups of students. We will form new relationships. We will begin a new journey of learning. We will meet new colleagues and may join a new professional team. This is a time of excitement and opportunity.
The beginning of a new year also invites us to revisit, reevaluate, and reimagine our approach and commitment to our work and the difference we want to make. We make a lasting impact when we see teaching not just as a job to do, but as a calling and mission to be fulfilled. Each of us is invited to begin our professional journey anew every year.
A close look will reveal that we need to be intentional about what we want to contribute and the difference we want to make. We can quickly fall into old habits and routines without noticing our choices and seizing opportunities available to us. Shifting focus, adjusting behaviors, and increasing our impact require reflection, analysis, and clear intentions. Fortunately, five questions can help us to explore where and how to focus our attention and energy this year.
First, what gifts will I bring? Each of us have gifts we can offer to enrich student experiences and conversations, provide insights, stimulate discussion, and inspire new thinking. Our gift may be to be a better listener and give more opportunities for students and colleagues to express their thoughts and concerns. We may choose to be a better reflector to help others hear themselves and discover their own solutions. It may be that our gift is finding common ground and areas of agreement to allow our team to move forward. Or we may be the one who asks the questions that need to be examined and answered. Our gift may also be exactly what is needed to unlock the gifts and contributions of others.
Second, what role will I play? Is it time for me to take a more active leadership role on my team? Do I need to become a more active mentor for the talents of less experienced educators? Do I need to be a more engaged coach? Or is this the year when I become a more committed and contributing team member? Each of us have roles to play. The choices we make can make our year—and increase the impact we have on student learning.
Third, who will need my support? Now more than ever, we need to support each other. The past year brought loss and grief. Tension and controversy have sapped energy and led to separation and isolation. Now is the time to reach out and be present for those who need a friend, an advocate, or someone to just listen and understand. Our availability and support can make a difference in the lives of those we touch that goes well beyond what we might think or imagine.
Fourth, how will I grow? It has been said that if we are not growing, we are falling back. These are times that challenge and give countless opportunities to all of us, and growth has never been more important. Our students return to school with learning, social and emotional needs, and, in many cases, physical health and safety needs. Issues of equity and social justice demand effective responses. Every student deserves to feel they belong and the opportunity to thrive as a learner, classmate, and unique individual. Our learning can take many forms and lead us down many paths, but growth is what keeps us fresh, energized, and effective in our work and professional relationships.
Fifth, what legacy do I want to leave? We might think that legacy is something about which we should be concerned as we near the end of our careers, but in truth, our legacy is built each day, each week, and each year. How do we want our students to remember their experience with us? What insights, advice, and examples do we want students to recall as they build and live their lives? How will colleagues learn and what will they recall from our time with them? How might our school be different because of our time in it? The most powerful legacies are not found in tangible objects. Rather, they exist in the lives of those we have touched.
As difficult as these times are, they present us with opportunities to make a special difference. We have never been needed more. As we begin a new year, let’s commit to making it the best ever, and commit ourselves to being our best ever.