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How I Keep My New Year's Resolutions

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As part of a new partnership, is publishing this regular column by members of the Teacher Leaders Network, a professional community of accomplished educators dedicated to sharing ideas and expanding the influence of teachers.

As each new year approaches, many of us eagerly revive our determination to clean our slates and begin anew. We set about to making resolutions with all the best intentions—to lose those last (or maybe first) 10 pounds, to read more useful books, or call our mothers more often.

Before too long, our resolve is broken. The leftover fruitcake is calling our name, and the self-help novel staring at us from the nightstand is not really the book we want to read. And we definitely don’t need the “I told you so’s” of our mothers, so calling her is out. Once again our resolutions are down the drain, and we choose to spend another year moping and reprimanding ourselves for not following through.

When I was teaching middle school language arts, I would ask my 7th graders to write their own resolutions at the beginning of January. I’d have them reflect on the first semester and determine what they would like to change, what they thought they needed to improve. I suppose I viewed it as a lesson in problem solving or goal setting. But just like their adult counterparts, my students often gave up on their lofty goals long before Spring. Where was our “sticking power?” What made us bright eyed and awesome on January 1st and discouraged and disgusted by February 1st?

About twelve years ago, I decided that if I was going to stick to my resolutions they needed to be less specific, less stringent, and more positive in tone. No more resolutions banning chocolate from my diet. No more self-imposed rules forcing me to undertake activities, chores, and events that were not truly meaningful. No more negative self-talk and no more put-downs for not following through with those elusive promises to myself.

So for the last twelve years, I have had the same three simple resolutions:

• Be healthy.

• Be spiritual.

• Be professional.

OK, so I know losing ten pounds would improve my health, but I also know that if I made that my resolution, I would never attain it. And while the resolution to be healthy seems so broad, it is much more satisfying. I can look back on each day and see the choices I have made, whether it was deciding to go swimming on Monday after school or having a salad instead of the school- cafeteria French fries.

Improving my spirit is more than committing to attend church every Sunday or bible study on Wednesdays. It's making the daily choice to keep positive thoughts while sitting in traffic, anxious to get home, or to take the time to sit on the front stoop and watch the sunset as I reconnect with what is spiritually important to me. These small, daily acts make me feel more positive about myself and my own self improvement.

The final resolution I have made each year is to do something to improve professionally. The two years I worked toward my master’s in library science and the year I pursued National Board certification were years where it was very obvious I had resolved to add to my skills and knowledge and advance my career. But again I know that, over a lifetime of work, "improvement" is really more about the small steps I take each day to cultivate my professional life.

It may be sharing the latest article on brain research with a team of teachers, or promoting new young-adult novels to a group of eighth graders, or thanking my principal for his support, or printing my weekly library media newsletter for our staff, or speaking a kind word to the newbie teacher down the hall. These may seem insignificant activities to some, but the little things build influence and respect among colleagues and help me grow professionally.

I still have those stupid ten pounds to lose, and I didn’t go to church last Sunday, and yes, I sometimes have bad thoughts about other teachers or think I could run a school much better than this or that administrator. But as I manage the daily walk of my life, I am always working to stay clear about my three resolutions to be healthy, spiritual, and professional.

Gotta run now. I should probably call my mother.

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