New year, new learning? Resolutions for teachers

Written by: Sean Harris | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

As a new year gets underway, Sean Harris speaks to teachers about what resolutions we might make for improving our teaching and learning habits

Happy new year! So, did you make any resolutions? Are you struggling to find time for those tummy crunches on the classroom floor at the start and end of break duty? Are your staffroom biscuit cut-backs as severe as the school budget cut-backs? Have you been falsely informed that marking a multitude of books is a good way to burn a lot of calories?

Research carried out by YouGov in 2017 found that only a quarter of Brits who make new year’s resolutions manage to stick to them. By the end of the spring term, almost 50 per cent of people have abandoned at least one of their well-intentioned resolutions that they set in January.

So while your health and wellbeing are essential, let us instead spend a few minutes focusing on three healthy habits and “retainable” resolutions that might underpin your classroom learning environment in 2020.

Habit 1: The learning diet starts today

Like over-indulgence of mince pies, maybe you fell into the over-ingulgence of a few extra video clips or that “complete another past paper” (for the 12th time) in the last week of the autumn term.

Jon Tait, an author and inspirational education leader, is deputy headteacher in a large and diverse North East secondary school (a lot of Jon’s thinking can be found on his blog – EduTait). He explained: “In terms of building habits, do it today, not tomorrow. For most people and practitioners trying to build a regular habit, tomorrow never comes.”

For Jon, starting the new year well also means deliberately cutting out some of those bad habits that do nothing for the lean brain muscles of our pupils. For example, he has previously written about the time we lose making pupils complete activities such as copying lesson objectives. Even if we take the conservative estimate of three minutes per lesson, this can equate to a relentless 3,510 minutes per academic year – almost two weeks of learning time.

Jon added: “Something that always sticks with me that a colleague once said is: if you are doing something that has no educational benefit (for) the students in front of you, then you need to question why you are doing it.”

Meanwhile, Jessica Blakey, head of assessment at Evidence Based Education, says that January is a good time to do an audit of your priorities and pedagogy.

This could be something that you lead with your team or colleagues, looking at your priorities versus your biggest time commitments as a teacher before choosing a development area for you or your team. Whatever you change, strike now while the iron is hot.

Habit 2: A positive classroom

The tone, ambience and planning of your learning space is vital. Debbie King, a lead practitioner at the Extol Learning Trust in the North East, is quick to accentuate the need for positivity.

She explained: “The spring term is short and this may seem great compared to the hard slog of the autumn term, but don’t fool yourself. The same pressures and commitments will face you, assessment included. But, this is the term where you can experience real accelerated progress if the teaching and learning is granular enough.

“Make every minute of every lesson count; know what you want your pupils to learn; take time with colleagues to consider what you want learning to look like and connect this to their previous (and future) learning so there is a very clear purpose for your learners.”

Debbie currently works alongside other teacher-educators to implement the Transforming Teaching programme in her schools. Co-designed and implemented with the Ambition Institute, the initiative sees teachers and leaders working together to think more forensically about the science of learning, the effective principles of planning, and how to ensure that the diet of teaching and learning that pupils experience is a rich one.

Fellow teacher-educator, Mike Foster, who is also involved with the Transforming Teaching programme, added: “Don’t view planning as a document, see it as a process. If it is done properly then it should sharpen your mind and reduce your workload. This, in turn, leads to happier staff and better educated children. Win-win.”

Habit 3: Check in with your gym buddy

One of the single most important factors in gym success is, it is said, having a good friendship support system – also known as gym buddies. These people can provide support, accountability and motivation.

Similarly, having a strong network of fellow practitioners, supportive colleagues and teaching and learning coaches enabled me to ensure that I could build long-lasting learning habits in classrooms and into my own professional and personal development as a leader in education.

Likewise, Charlotte Fryett, a senior leader in Middlesbrough and member of the #WomenEd North East network, says that we can make our teacher habits stick via the support of our colleagues.

She advised: “Decide on the three things you want to sort this term as a teacher and identify some possible solutions. Run it past someone for ‘sense checking’ and then stick with the decision.”

Charlotte stresses the need to keep checking in with your colleague to help you track how you are doing and to find solutions and support when you are struggling as the usual busy periods of the term take over.

Laura Dixon, senior leader and a director of modern languages, also emphasises the importance of co-planning and sharing your planning insights with a peer. She explains how “sense checking” your planning with a colleague or with your immediate team can help you to understand the bigger picture of learning and achieve greater consistency of standards across multiple classrooms. Laura added: “Get the half-term planned ‘week-by-week’ from the endpoint backwards so you know where you want the learning to get to. Then make sure your team knows this and check-in with each other regularly to share resources, issues, challenges and celebrate the successes on the learning journey.”

A few more ideas

January can present a few other important opportunities to us as teachers. The freshness of a new term provides the chance for you and your teams to reinforce your expectations. Here are a few other recommendations from fellow coaches and classroom gym buddies...

  • Strive for fresh consistency at the start of your new year. Re-address the rules and stick to them. Always! (@WomenEdNE)
  • Pick three broken relationships to have a restorative conversation with. Plan for how you will work with those individuals moving forward this term; this might be staff or students. (@lottepywell)
  • Christmas is the one holiday where most people shut down for a well-deserved break, so recap key concepts through a well-prepared and timely quiz. It helps to engage your learners following a short rest and ensures key concepts are clear before you move onto new learning. (@misshallmedia)
  • The excitement of the Christmas break and over-indulgence can easily come into the classroom at the start of a busy year. Reinforcing expectations, behaviour for learning and rigorously following the school behaviour for learning system helps to ensure a consistent team approach to high expectations and helps counter some of the lack of structure or routine that some pupils may have faced over the holiday. (@Pennyready & @HighForceSCITT)

  • Sean Harris is a former senior leader of secondary education. Sean is area director (North East) for Ambition Institute and school governor with Ashington Learning Partnership in Northumberland. Read his previous SecEd articles via

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