With all the talk of self-care for teachers during a year where teachers have less time than they’ve ever had to even think about themselves, let alone their self-care, I’m here to remind everyone that without you there will be no classroom, there will be no lesson, there will be no impact on your students.
But even if we do recognize that self-care is necessary, it’s such a broad, even vague and relative term. Logistically, what really is it? And how effective will it be?
I am here to make the claim that there is no better form of self-care than to set goals for yourself and to work toward them. It’s taking what we know about planning in our teacher-lives, that is that planning is best when we do it backwards - starting with the end in mind - and applying it to our lives.
Even if taking the time to do so means you’re a day later on grading those papers, answering those emails or even planning those lessons. Those tasks will ALWAYS be there. But the opportunity of now will never be here again for you. Know that You’re worth it, my friend.
In this blog I’ll show you the systems I’ve used to set goals for my classroom, now my business, and even my personal life and how it’s changed my self-care game.
Here we go friends.
We’re only a few days into the new year, and there’s still time to reflect on 2020 - well scratch that, 2020 was a wash, so just light that reflection on fire and let’s all agree to just look forward - shall we?
I’m only kind of kidding, but seriously, whether you’re someone who normally sets a new year’s resolution or two or none at all, there is something rather exhilarating about this time of year. The fresh start, the turning of a page, and the open opportunities of the future. And what’s great for us educators is that we’re really just half way through our year. Yea, that’s right, I said that’s a great thing - stick with me so I can explain.
That means we get to take advantage of the goal setting vibes of this time of year and use it to our advantage all while having the same students and commitments in our classrooms.
But I have to say this time of year is an even better time to think about you, where you’re at and where you want to be, and here’s why.
As teachers our year runs August to May or September to June, depending on where you are. And for all intents and purposes, our entire lives pretty much revolve around that school-year calendar, and it’s something we don’t even think twice about because we are made for this ish.
If you take some time now to think on your own goals and aspirations, you’re staking a claim for yourself that no matter what changes come with your job, your classroom, your courses, whether that’s year to year or over the summer, aspiring for what’s important to you rises above all of that.
Here’s another reason why setting personal goals this time of year is so important. You’re able to determine ideal boundaries for your professional and personal life.
But here’s the thing, setting up a boundary as a teacher to protect your work-life balance can’t necessarily happen at the drop of the hat. It will take time to determine what the boundary is and then set a time for when you will eventually get there, making sure to wean into that boundary.
Before we move on to the system I use to set professional and personal goals for the year, let’s do a quick recap on the importance of teachers taking the self-care time to set goals.
Number one: you are declaring to yourself and the world that your personal life and aspirations are more important than the value you hold inside the classroom. Now, this is a big pronouncement to make as a teacher because our identities are so wrapped up in what we do and the impact we have with students is really stinkin’ important. There’s all kinds of data and research to support that fact, but for now our impact described as “really stinkin’ important” will have to suffice.
Number two: this is the perfect time of year to start taking baby steps towards the literally life-preserving boundaries teachers need more of in order to remain in the classroom. Here’s the truth, if you’ve been working until 5pm, going home to shovel down a meal to just get back on your computer until the wee hours, just suddenly determining, POOF, I’m going to leave at 4pm everyday from now on is just not realistic. So let’s talk about setting up those baby steps.
For more information on please see my free online masterclass How To Structure Your Blended Classroom to simplified, streamlined, and sustainable.
Alright, let me start off my introduction to this system with a quick word on New Year’s resolutions. I have made some sort of resolution every year since I can remember and as long as my memory doesn’t fail me, which isn’t unheard of, I have only ever fulfilled ONE of those resolutions. Want to know how grand and momentous that resolution was??? It was making my bed everyday. HA! Not a huge deal, but I’m still doing it today, so - boom.
I share this because I’m not saying that everyone should make New Year's resolutions. In fact, I would even argue that calling your goal a resolution pretty much statistically dooms it to fail by February 1st.
What I am saying is that taking the time to reflect and set goals is WAY different and more effective in preserving YOU, the most important aspect of a child’s education, over the long haul.
Ok, so how do we do that?
Identify and know your why to your core. For help doing this, please go back and listen to episode one where I talk all about how using your why proactively can actually help you build sustainability in your teacher-life.
Identify goals for the year (whether the calendar- or school-year) that relate back to that either relates back to your why or allows you to fulfill your why as a teacher.
For instance, leave work at work by 4pm every single day (except for the occasional afternoon meeting).
Another example - Make a course proposal for a women and minorities studies class.
Or, reduce the amount of grading I do in my classes while maintaining student performance and the quality of my feedback.
Here’s a quick tip though on goals NOT to make that pertain to your classroom - anything that has anything to do with student scores. For instance, 85% of my students will score proficient on their end of course exam. Although that’s not a bad thing to reach for, I can’t help but think of the saying I’ve told many students before… focus on the content, focus on the work, and the grade will follow. You are not defined by your students' scores, just as students are not defined by their grade in your class. Focus on what it takes to increase your effectiveness, sustainability, and impact with students, and the scores will eventually follow.
If you’re not quite sure what goals to make, or you’re stuck in the rut of tying all of your goals to student performance, try this…
List out your biggest pain points in your week. What is it that’s so difficult about your teacher-life right now? Please don’t spend too much time there or else you’ll end up at home in your 2-weeks dirty sweats with a gallon of ice cream feeling completely helpless, but it’s healthy to recognize the sticky spots of your week… so long as you maintain a perspective of solution-focus while doing so.
Some of those sticky areas could be:
And the list goes on.
From there, take some time to think on how you can strategically go about addressing these sticky areas.
Now this one is going to take some time. So go walk your dog, take a jog, or whatever you can do to get your wheels turning (and probably your body moving, that always helps the brainstorming process) and simply think out loud on those few areas you identified.
Here are some possible solutions to those sticky areas we used as examples:
Take each of those goals and identify when you would like to accomplish them. Your goal to leave at 4pm everyday probably isn’t going to happen tomorrow, but with some intention and planning, it could happen by the end of this school year or the beginning of next school year.
The big point here is not to set December 31st as the due date for all your goals… cue procrastination queens and kings - yea, don’t do that to yourself.
Put each of these goals on a separate sheet of paper or as a column header in a spreadsheet (somehow including the due date as well). Then under each goal identify what it’s going to take to get to that goal. These should be actionable steps that clearly get you, step-by-step to the end goal.
For instance, if I want to propose a new course, I need to run the initial idea by my department chair, then make the outline, find the course proposal guidelines and/or templates I can use as well as some other teachers’ resources I could use as guides, etc.
If I want to leave by 4pm everyday I need to make a list of all the things that normally keep me beyond that time - i.e. grading, planning, meetings, student conversations, parent phone calls. Then I need to identify for each of those areas either a better time to do them or a better system that helps me reduce and even automate them. I offer some of those systems in my online course, Flipped Classroom Formula that will be opening up again this spring - you can get on the waitlist HERE so you don’t miss it.
Take these actionable steps and put them in your calendar and in your planner. Now this step I’d like to go into a bit more detail about because how I’ve changed my approach to calendars and planners has totally changed my productivity and time-management world.
Instead of using the traditional paper-planner, which I’ll admit I was ALL IN on - I mean I had multiple personal paper planners at one point. I was all about it. But I eventually realized they were more work than they were helpful in actually keeping track of dates, to-dos and all things personal and teacher-life.
Instead, I use a Google Calendar - multiple calendars actually, one for each “area” of my life. For instance, I had one for each of the courses I taught, then I had a personal one that was shared with my husband so he and I never had to ask what we each had coming up that week - we now just know.
I use that calendar system in tandem with my daily planner… and my absolute favorite is the Full Focus Planner by Michael Hyatt & Company. To see more about this planner, including pictures and how I use it, head over to the website here.
My Full Focus Planner goes with me everywhere - which is totally doable because it’s the perfect size - and it does NOT tell me absolutely everything I have coming up. Nope. That would be WAY too overwhelming and would end up killing my productivity because at some point the weight of it all would just be too heavy to carry.
Instead, it gives me space to write out my goals, very much like we talked about in steps 2 through 4. Then I’m able to establish all that backwards planning down to the week and day!
Each Sunday night, I spend about 30 minutes looking at the week ahead. I see what meetings and other obligations we have both professionally and as a family. Then I establish what Michael Hyatt (the awesome guy who makes the planner) calls my Weekly Big 3. These are the main 3 things that if I get them accomplished, then I am doing something right in my world. These could be get the Unit 3 essays and tests graded, returned and remediated, make all end-of-quarter parent phone calls, and find contractors and get estimates for our bathroom remodel.
Sure there are other things I want to accomplish in my week, but these three are ones that I am going to write down specifically in any of my Daily Big 3 that I identify, you guessed it, everyday.
So on Monday, my goal will be to get half the essays graded (along with two other daily goals). Tuesday, I’ll finish the other half. Wednesday I’ll tally and record all grades so that Thursday in class we can return and remediate the test.
Now, here’s the thing - these Weekly Big 3 and Daily Big 3 goals must be, as much as possible, related back to your goals you identified in steps 2 through 4.
The Full Focus planner allows you to establish those goals on a quarterly basis so that you aren’t bombarded with meeting goals at the end of the year - don’t let your ugly procrastination queen or king take over.
To finish out my day, most days - it’s not always perfect - I do a preview of the next day. I consider what I’ve accomplished today and that helps me identify what my big three should be tomorrow.
I can’t tell you what a refreshing change it’s been to be able to both have my annual goals in mind, without getting overwhelmed, and yet only thinking about three tasks at a time. I’ve said to myself so many times, “If I just get these three items taken care of today, that’s a win.” And the biggest part is that because you’ve done this backwards-like planning, those three tasks for the most part are very obtainable. Unlike how unobtainable our insanely long to-do lists can be.
So let’s recap these steps - and for more guidance and even a printable copy, head to the shownotes linked below and see it all in one spot.
Step one: Know your why.
Step two: Establish annual goals.
Step three: Give each goal a deadline that aren’t all December 31st.
Step four: Put these goals in a spreadsheet or in your Full Focus Planner and identify the actionable steps that need to happen in order to accomplish this goal - these are your baby steps.
Step five: Use the Full Focus Planner to plan all your goals backwards and keep the big goals manageable for your weekly and daily tasks.
One last thing before we go. Make sure that you aren’t only including professional goals. Have some personal ones in there too. Speaking from experience, a quick way to be all consumed by work and ruin your work-life balance is to have zero personal goals.
Lastly, I’d love to recommend some books for you if you totally geek out on habit formation and goal-setting like I do. Maybe it’s my inner-psych nerd, but this stuff really does it for me. Some books I love on this topic include Atomic Habits by James Clear, and then Free to Focus and Your Best Year Ever both by Michael Hyatt.
Alright, teacher friends. That’s a wrap - and I hope that you feel your value and your impact as a teacher, and how important it is to consider you as you look at the year ahead and what exactly it is you need in order to continue showing up for your family and your students.
P.S. If the message in this post resonates with you and you'd like more directed guidance in building a sustainable classroom, then the Sustainable Teacher 7-Day Challenge is for you. It's a totally free challenge that we'll send you with 7 daily tasks that help you take baby steps toward sustainability.