My Take on Your Resolution Tricks

Before I wrote anything down for 2015, I needed to think through this idea of resolutions. (If you read yesterday’s post, you already know that.) Maybe more importantly, I started reading posts about resolutions and how I might make mine actually come true this year.

I found this article “The Tricks Psychologists Say Make Resolutions Stick.” Okay, then.

(Of course, I get the gist of the article, but let’s look at it through the lens of an educator.)

Don’t Have a Back up Plan

Evidently, “having a plan B at the back of the mind or simply using the wrong language to frame our resolution can end up scuppering the best intentions.” I’m not sure I buy it for every goal we set, but I really like the word scuppering.

I get that we can sabotage our best intentions when we frame our goal-setting around failure, but imagine if we never have a back up plan in the classroom? Many a day I conduct my first period, thinking I’ve got a good plan, all is well, students will learn, and BAM! it doesn’t work and slams right into the hardwood door. I have to do some fast thinking to create a better learning opportunity for my second period.

A teacher’s job is all about alternatives, especially in a readers and writers workshop classroom. We reflect on our practices. We rewrite lessons. We revision our classrooms.

So, really, when it comes to setting goals, we have to use language that allows us the freedom to change our minds without feeling like we’ve failed. It is okay if I set the goal to read 101 books this year, and I only read 58. Really, 58 books is a lot. And every one of them I can talk about with knowledge and passion and place in a young reader’s hand.

Sleep on It

This is a hard one. Every teacher I know is sleep deprived. If this is true, every school in the nation is in big trouble: “New research from the University of Hertfordshire found that lack of sleep can reduce self-control.” Of 1,000 people, “Sixty percent of people who slept well said they were able to achieve their resolutions, compared to just 44 per cent of those who slept poorly.” Teachers, we get an F.

Wouldn’t it be great if sleep were a talking point in ed reform conversations?

I could engage more students if I had more sleep. I could teach them how to have grit. I could create better assessments. I could prepare more kids for mandated tests.

Not really.

I lose sleep because I have a student whose mom has cancer. How can she focus on school work when she might lose her mom?

I lose sleep because I have students who read far below grade level. They want to go to college, but they are far from college ready.

I lose sleep because I’ve had students who were abused by uncles and fathers and strangers. They are still hurting deep within their beautiful souls.

I lose sleep because I am always learning, trying to find new ways to reach my hardest-to-reach kids. They are happy and out-going, but they are not ready for the challenges of 21 C literacy.

Don’t Say Don’t

We know we must use positive framing as we teach. We must be encouragers, facilitators, even hand-holders sometimes. Yet is a powerful word when students try to turn to the negative. “I am not a reader” so many of them say. “Yet” I interject, and they usually smile and repeat me. “I am not a reader yet.”

There is a time and place for the word don’t in education though — I’ve said it plenty when it comes to testing. I imagine you have, too.

Chop it Up

“Why give yourself one tick when you you can have 20? It’s more gratifying to work towards lots of smaller goals than one enormous (and potentially overwhelming) one,” the article says, and I know this strategy works, especially with students who do not identify themselves as readers.

We set small reading goals. Sometimes they are for overnight, sometimes a week, sometimes a semester. And we celebrate achieving them. Often in my conferences with students who’ve been stuck in a book for a long time, or they’ve been fake-reading way too long, I will challenge them to finish a book in a certain number of days. They come tell me when they reach our goal, and this usually turns into a happy dance (usually mine, not theirs).

Of course, short writing goals work, too. That’s what a focus on process in writing workshop is all about. We use mentors to show us how to frame our thinking. We practice writing leads and using supporting evidence, or whatever skills we need. We provide mini-lessons that target these specific skills. And we write and confer and write some more. Chopped up, little bits of effective and powerful instruction.

The large goal:  “My students will be prepared to write all three of the essays on the AP English Language exam in May” can only be reached in tiny bite-size writing instruction in one workshop after another.

Try ‘temptation bundling’

“This idea is to bundle ‘should’ activities with ones we have a strong desire to do.” I do this all the time. When I work out on the elliptical machine, I read. When I run, instead of listening to music, I listen to audio books. I read right before I go to sleep. This calms my mind much quicker than scanning my Twitter or Facebook feed.

I share these ideas with students, too. A few of them told me that they now read on the bus to and from school, or on the way to extracurricular activities. One student told me that she loves to read when she is babysitting her siblings. “They don’t bother me as much,” she said. (Of course, I want here reading, I hope she still pays attention to the children!)

One of the biggest problems I face with reluctant readers is what they perceive as a time factor. “I don’t have time to read,” they like to whine. In conferences, we often chart our time, hour by hour. Teaching students to not only monitor their time — few really know what that means — we have to teach students how to value their time. The cell phone in their hands is a mean master when it comes to the value of our young people’s time.

Raise the Stakes

Here’s a new take on high stakes:  money-losing incentives to help us reach our goals. Seriously, there are companies out there where we can bet against ourselves. is one of them.

“The site asks users to sign a commitment contract, which they say helps define the goal. Users then decide how much money they’ll put on the line and where the money will go if they don’t fulfill that contract. (For extra motivation they can even designate an ‘anti-charity’, a cause you don’t believe in, to receive their funds.)”

Who’s in?

I did play along with something similar at my former campus. We’d have Hollywood Weight Loss Challenges. Choose the name of a celebrity, so you are incognito on the weight chart. (I always chose the pseudonym of Queen Latifah because she’s so beautiful.) Pay $20 to the pot. Weigh in weekly, and at the end of say three months, the biggest loser gets the cash. I did this challenge four times. Four times I gave my money, just gifted it really, to the biggest loser and didn’t lose a thing.

Obviously, $20 didn’t cause enough pain. High-stakes testing does.

It will be interesting to see how Texas Education deals with the huge number of seniors this year who have not passed their state mandated exams needed for graduation. They are seniors, credits earned and all, but they will not graduate according the House bill if they do not get qualifying scores on all five of their exams. Many of these kids have taken this test six times now. Failure after failure after failure.

Raising the stakes does not work when it comes to the benefit of a young person about to take her place in the world. Somehow there has to be a better way to see our students off into their futures.

Personal goals not withstanding, I wish the psychologists quoted in this study would conduct a study on the yearly goals of educators and how we put it all on the line to honor and serve and teach our students, year after year after year.

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