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That New School Year Smell

This year, it seems we have a lot of first days of school in my house. For my husband, his first day was yesterday. My younger daughter starts a new daycare today, and my older daughter begins Pre-K tomorrow. It seems we've been up to our eyeballs in preparations: from backpacks and lunchboxes to first day outfits, to new shoes, a lot of new has entered our home. And with that comes a lot of excitement, anticipation, and that new school year smell. 

Do you know what I'm talking about? I feel like I can trace it back to my earliest school memories, taking the obligatory first day of school picture, which both of my daughters (though not my husband) will also endure today and tomorrow. It's the smell of crisp, fall air (even if, like this week, it doesn't quite feel like it yet), but more than that, it's the newness, the change in season, the return (or start) of routine.

Last week, I had the opportunity to work with the staff members at an LSA member school. My charge was to help the school start off the year with some goal setting. As I considered how to set about facilitating such a session, a few key ideas came to mind:

  1. Opportunity. Every year brings with it a clean slate, a new set of possibilities. Each student is filled with excitement, anticipation, and perhaps some (or a lot) of anxiety as they head into a new school year. Teachers go through the same feelings. Taking the time to wipe the slate clean, acknowledge the many feelings wrapped up in starting a new school year, and considering that each student entering the classroom is a precious gift from God, is a healthy use of time. 
  2. Think big, start small and smart. A wise man, Grant Wiggins, best known for his co-authoring of Understanding by Design, shared this as a mantra in school reform, particularly as related to curriculum development. As we considered goals for the school year, I asked everyone to write or draw about their ideal classroom (focusing on student learning) - their vision. I then brought us back to reality, asking teachers to consider what areas of their practice helped or hindered that vision from becoming a reality. From those observations and realizations came the big questions each teacher will ask him or herself during the year in the quest of meeting their personal goals. 
  3. But, be audacious. Just because we came back to reality didn't mean that our goals wouldn't stretch the goal setter and eventual goal achiever. If you've read Jim Collins or have been a teenage girl that loves quotes (think, "shoot for the stars, even if you miss..."), you'll know what I mean!
  4. Focus on what's in your control. Stephen Covey popularized a concept that Roth developed: locus of control. In a nutshell, those who focus on what they can control, rather than on what they can't, have an internal locus of control and are more likely to be proactive. If they focus on what is outside of their control, they are more likely to be reactive. In goal-setting, in the classroom, in life, there is only so much that we can directly control. When goal-setting, it's important to start there. 
  5. Remember that each day is a new day. Go back to that initial clean slate. By the grace of God, we are forgiven, and so we have the chance to come back and try again. One teacher in the session reminded us all that as adults in the classroom, we need to model that grace, extending it to students as well. We may not be at our best every moment, but it's up to us to come back with a new attitude the next day. That, we can control...with God's help.

What are your goals for the new school year? Submit yours to 

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