How to Turn Teaching Goals into Teaching Habits

Julie shares how you can turn your teaching goals into teaching habits one step at a time. She describes what her goal-setting process was, why it didn’t work, and the changes that made it transformational. Her five tips provide a roadmap for setting your teaching intentions in 2019.

Updated: May 24, 2019

notepad of teaching habits

The summer before my fifth year of teaching, I decided it was the year to go big and set some serious goals for pushing outside my comfort zone in my teaching. My classroom management felt strong. I had refined routines and procedures, and this was the year I was going to grow.

I bought a brand new notebook, and I started writing down everything I planned to do, and it looked something like this:

  • I want to use meaningful technology tools.
  • I want to design and teach new units.
  • I want to blend and personalize my classroom.
  • I want to use the station rotation model.
  • I want to design and use a self-assessment system.

I could take up the whole blog post with my list because it went on and on.

In theory, I was going to become my best teaching self. In practice, I lost my notebook and found it two months later underneath a pile of ungraded essays covered in coffee stains. Not only had I not met my goals in the chaos of school days, but I also forgot about them.

Why am I sharing this? It wasn’t my proudest teaching moment. But here’s the thing: you can relate. You aren’t the only teacher who wants to keep learning new things and adding to her teacher toolbox who ends up just trying to find the time that doesn’t exist to grade her papers. The purpose of this blog is so to provide space for us to share our biggest learnings and our biggest failures, so we can benefit from them.

After I realized my goals were nowhere near accomplished, I started looking for new ideas. What I learned through trial and error and a lot of conversations with other teachers was this: If you focus on one goal at a time, and you are intentional about your commitment, your goal will become a habit. Once your goal is a habit, it becomes part of your routine and you become your best teaching self.

Here is how you can turning teaching goals into teaching habits, one step at a time:

1. Start With Your Teaching Values

If you look back at the list of goals I shared, what do they have in common? Sure, there are some patterns. I use the word want in every sentence, and the goals involve doing something new or creating something new, but what is behind the goals? What is driving me? It isn’t clear.

I believe that when you get intentional about the why, the what becomes much clearer. Read this values list by Elena Aguilar, one of my favorite education experts, the President of Bright Morning and author of The Art of Coaching. Choose three values that resonate with you. Write them down. Read them over, and narrow the list down to one. Don’t overthink it and trust your teaching gut. This word represents what you value most for yourself and your students right now. Write it down on a Post It, and stick it on your computer where you can see it every day. This is your intention.

"If you focus on one goal at a time, and you are intentional about your commitment, your goal will become a habit. Once your goal is a habit, it becomes part of your routine and you become your best teaching self. "

2. Create A Wish List

Grab some paper and a pen or open up a Google doc and start writing. Set a timer for no more than ten minutes and try to write the entire time. Don’t worry about grammar or varying your word choice (As a former English teacher, I can’t believe I am writing that). Here are some guiding questions to consider, if you need help getting started.

By the end of the school year, I want to be able to say that I did__________. When asked to describe how I teach my students would say__________. My colleagues will see me as an expert in_________. Now get up from your desk and walk away. Go for a run. Listen to some music. Later that day, come back to what you wrote and re-read it. Start to take notes on the text (now I sound like an English teacher). You may want to expand on an idea. You may see patterns and want to underline them. Spend some time with your wish list.

3. Set One Goal

Start small. We are much more likely to achieve our goals when they are manageable. I wrote, I want to blend and personalize my classroom. That is a huge goal. It represents a shift in instructional models and strategies, and routines and procedures. I could work on that goal for my entire teaching career and never feel that I was done. Instead, what if I wrote, I want to create a choice board for my Literature Circles Unit? Now that I can do.

You can always create another goal, but the trick is to wait until your first goal becomes a habit. If I find myself starting to organically design and use choice boards beyond my Literature Circle Unit, then that signals me that the habit is there, and I can set another goal.

4. Write About Your Goal As If It Has Already Happened

You may notice that my goals are written so they all include the word want. I want to do x. I want to accomplish y. Here’s the thing: I believe that the word want is a barrier between where you are and where you want to go. Write about your goal as if it has already become a habit. It is part of who you are, your best teaching self. So instead of, "I want to create a choice board for my Literature Circles Unit", I now write, "I design and use choice boards to provide my students with agency over their learning". Let’s circle back to the values. If my value was choice or agency than my goal is aligned to what truly matters most to me, and I am more likely to make it a habit.

5. Slow and Steady is the Race But You Have To Move

Give yourself more time than you need to avoid the, “I am so behind” trap. Estimate how long something will take you, then add more time than you think you need. If I think that designing my first choice board will take an hour, I am going to add 25 minutes. If it takes less time, great! If it takes longer, that’s ok. Research shows that it takes 21 days to build a habit, so you have plenty of time. That said, you don’t have all the time in the word. Check in with yourself daily: are you actively taking steps to achieve your goal? Those steps are what will help transform your goal into a habit.

Instead of this...

  • I want to use meaningful technology tools.
  • I want to design and teach new units.
  • I want to blend and personalize my classroom.
  • I want to use the station rotation model.
  • I want to design and use a self-assessment system.

Try this…

  • I design and use choice boards.
     

If you are looking for some inspiration, check out some of my favorite organization tips from veteran teachers, Too Many Tasks, Not Enough Day, and get inspired by 5 New Year's Resolutions Just for Teachers.

Share your favorite goal-setting tips with us on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Google+.

Author Bio:

Julie Mason is the Head of Curriculum and Content for TeacherVision. She taught middle and high school English for eight years, and then worked as an instructional coach, supporting K-12 teachers to blend and personalize their classrooms.

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