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Archive for Thursday, August 9, 2012

Resolutions for a new school year

August 9, 2012

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According to the academic calendar, it’s the new year. August and September are the months when K-12 and higher education institutions gear up for the start of school. 

Here in the United States — as well as in many other countries — the beginning of the new year is accompanied by a number of traditions. One of the most popular is the making of resolutions, promises to ourselves and others that we will behave well (or better) in the months ahead.

The practice of making new year resolutions is not a new one. Four thousand years ago, the Babylonians started each year by paying their debts and returning borrowed objects. Two thousand years ago, the Romans asked forgiveness from their enemies. Five hundred years ago, medieval knights took a vow to reaffirm their commitment to chivalry. 

In recent times, the new year’s tradition has been altered to favor a more tailored approach to resolutions, each of us focusing on behavior that fits our individual situation. According to a U.S. government website, popular resolutions here in America include to drink less alcohol, eat healthier food, enroll in more education, find a better job, get fit, lose weight, manage debt, reduce stress, quit smoking, do more recycling, save money, take a trip and/or volunteer to help others.

It is estimated that almost half of adult Americans make New Year’s resolutions.  It is also estimated that one quarter drop their resolutions within one week. One-third drop their resolutions within one month. Slightly more than half (54 percent) drop their resolutions within six months.

In the spirit of new beginnings, we talked with a few colleagues and developed a list of educator resolutions for the upcoming academic year.   

• Be innovative. Our world is rapidly changing. In many ways, possibilities are limited only by our imaginations. But many of our schools look and work the way they did a hundred years ago. We need to implement bold ideas for improving our classrooms. 

• Be students ourselves. All of us can find something to learn, whether it’s about new teaching methods, classroom technology or even a new personal hobby. Let’s be continuous learners so we can see the teaching process through the eyes of students.

• Broaden the enterprise. We live in a world where the many parts of our lives are interconnected. This is also true of students, all of whom have intricate and powerful ties to their communities, families and personal histories. Let’s reach out to student families and community members. 

• Lead the discussion. No one knows education better than educators. While our judgment is far from infallible, we need to better assert our opinions and knowledge. Let’s lead the debate by raising the issues we believe important.

• Admit our weaknesses. There are problems in education and some of them are of our own making. Let’s admit this and work to fix them.     

• Communicate more. Teachers are good at talking to teachers. Counselors are good at talking to counselors. Principals are good at talking to principals. But we’re not as good at communicating across the levels and with others. Let’s communicate with the broad spectrum of educators and others.

• Be role models. Students look not only to what we say but also to what we do. They emulate our behavior in things both big and small. Let’s behave in ways that we would want our students to follow.  

• Set high expectations. Our students are pretty remarkable. They can achieve almost anything with the right supports. Let’s give all students the credit and respect they deserve.    

• It’s about the students. Most importantly, this year, let’s remember that education is not about the teachers, the administrators or the lawmakers. It’s about the students. If we keep our focus on the students and their welfare, we will have done much to improve the conversation about our schools.    

These resolutions are tough ones.  But educators are committed to their profession and their students.  We hope that educators will work hard to be in that 46 percent who keep their resolve for more than six months. 

Gene Budig, who taught at Princeton University, is a former chancellor/president of three major state universities, including Kansas University, and past president of Major League Baseball’s American League. Alan Heaps is a vice president of the College Board in New York City.

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