Resolutions for the New (School) Year

Posted by Wendy Barden on July 22, 2021

The new year—whether a new calendar year or the start of a new school year—is always a great opportunity to think about doing things differently. Doing things better! Students, families, administrators, colleagues. No one thinks twice about committing to new routines, new strategies, or new resources in a new year. This is our annual chance to start fresh! 


This year I am mostly working with music educators rather than the 7th and 8th grade students from the early years of my teaching career. Honestly, the opportunity to “begin again” is still one of my favorite parts of the new school year (and this is year number 45 for me)!


What could a fresh start mean? Maybe you have learned about new music or new composers you would like to introduce to students. Are there strategies that were effective in distance learning that you’d like to continue? Then again, “new” might not be new at all. Can you think of a few routines you used several years ago, but that faded away for some reason? Yes. Yes. And yes. 


Here is my list of six resolutions for the new school year. None of my resolutions are amazing or brand new to you or me. My colleagues know I am energized by standards and assessment but with this new school year, this year in particular, I want to focus on the people in my work—keep students at the center of teaching, be a partner in collective learning, and honor work-life balance.


Keep students at the center of teaching


Resolution #1. I will research every piece of music before I bring it into class. I am in the habit of researching the story of many of the pieces I pass out to my ensembles but admittedly, I have not always known as much about all the folk melodies in the lesson book or about the YouTube performances we listen to. I’ve come to know better; I will do better. Furthermore, can students see themselves in my repertoire choices? Day by day, I am working to make that more evident. 


Resolution #2. Make a personal connection with every student every day. Through distance learning, this was sometimes hit-or-miss. Once again, I want to be able to smile and greet each person who enters my room (both virtual and brick-and-mortar). I want to ask how the basketball game went or what new book they are reading, or simply let them know I’m glad to see them. 


Be a partner in collective learning 


Resolution #3. Ask for ideas and listen closely. Collect ideas in exit tickets, electronic forms, and through informal conversation. Let’s figure out how the people we serve can more actively share music that is important to them. What would it look like if students helped set up the criteria for a performance assessment? Even in a class that is based on group music-making, are there ways students could exercise choice or voice? (Spoiler alert: If you have students vote on a piece to play for their concert, the only way that is “choice” is if the vote is unanimous) 


Resolution #4. Structure class time for greater collaboration. In a group or ensemble of 70+, I’m thinking how I could bring every person’s voice into the room. What would it look like if individuals combined ideas into a small-group composition? I’m planning to use discussion strategies more often like Think-Pair-Share or Think-Pair-Square and virtual apps or break-out rooms. I shouldn’t be at the center of every conversation. 


Resolution #5. Eat lunch with others. Granted, somedays this might mean eating at my desk while a colleague eats at their desk 10 feet away, but we all know relationships matter! On occasion, it is fun to invite groups of students to eat in the music room. Too, don’t forget that one invaluable way to get to know both new and familiar staff across the school is to eat lunch with them. 


P.S. If treats are needed for the staff lounge, be one of the first to sign up. It’s still possible to bring store-bought individually wrapped goodies to share. 


Honor work-life balance 


Resolution #6. Leave work at school at least once a week. I admit it. This resolution will be hard for me, especially now that our children are grown. In my defense, I love my work. It’s very easy (and satisfying) for me to head upstairs to my home office after dinner and work for a few hours. Practically speaking, though…


In Stephen Covey’s book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (1989), I’m reminded that Habit 7 is “sharpen your saw”—we are able to cut down more trees if we take time to sharpen the saw. We all need time for renewal. 


Yes, and… I can feel it! This is going to be an amazing new year! No matter the age of those you teach, what will yourresolutions be for the new (school) year? 


Thanks for pausing with me for a few minutes in your busy week. Have a good one!