The Value of Fresh Starts in Education

richardjamesrogers.com is the official blog of Richard James Rogers: high school Science teacher and award-winning author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management: 45 Secrets That All High School Teachers Need to Know. This blog post is illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati.

When students underperform in some aspect of their schooling (whether that be behaviour, attainment, progress or something else) a fresh start can often be a useful way to draw a line in the sand and leave the past behind. In today’s exclusive guest blog post, Tayla Reynolds shares her ideas on the how, what and why of fresh starts for teachers. Tayla is a second year Geography teacher in the UK. She writes about the realities of teaching and how to overcome the daily challenges from a practical but realist standpoint.

Tayla Reynolds

One of the most surprising things about the teaching career for me is perhaps the constant changeable dynamic of it all. For some, there is an assumption that once that initial teacher training phase is complete, you evolve as a fully fledged professional, but in reality it is a career full of reflection, mistakes and fresh starts.

I think that these may be my favourite parts of the profession (aside, of course, from the multitude of personalities and events you may face in a day, or even a single lesson). It is the constant opportunities for fresh starts. There is nothing quite like the excitement, nerves and potential of a new September, that new year feeling you really can’t explain. But in reality, that feeling comes several times a year, after each seasonal break, each half term, each Sunday night and for those harder groups, after each day.

And it is these fresh starts where teachers can evolve the most. When teaching, planning and behaviour management is becoming frustrating, unmanageable and overwhelming, then slowing down should be the priority. Which I know is a lot easier to say than do, and unimaginably hard for those with growing families and other commitments. But those should always come first, you cannot give your best, to anyone, if you’re running on fumes. And for that to happen, sometimes something has to give, and some weeks that might be marking, and for others that might be all singing and dancing lessons you want to create. Because those take time, passion and energy.

So for me, fresh starts are all about restoring, reflecting and prioritising. Immediately restore that overwhelming feeling, spend your time wisely and how you want to. There should be no guilt in putting yourself first. People are often quick to mock the amount of holiday time within the teaching profession, but the days and weeks go quick and you are expected to sustain a very high level of energy and enthusiasm, toppled with early mornings, late nights and a never ending to-do list. It is one of the most physically and emotionally demanding jobs, so take the time to fill your cup back up. Fill it until it overflows, fill a bucket or a bathtub if you need to! For me that is switching off from work: I close that to-do list and relegate that to Monday morning’s problem. I go out and meet friends if I want to, other times I shut myself away and recharge my social battery. For you that could be family time, walks outdoors or losing yourself in a game or book. Who cares, you do you!

“An AMAZING book!”

Now for reflection, what are you happy with? What are you not? I always try to think of a singular thing I want to focus on. Is it that one group (you know the one I’m talking about)? Is it that one unit you’re putting off, or maybe one new thing you’d like to try? It can be the simplest and smallest things, because it is those small habits that will be the most effective. It is always in the small things, because they are the most effective and consistent to maintain. So my advice is to simply choose one thing, big or small is up to you. Will you focus on more restorative language, or positive behaviour management with those students or perhaps introducing a new habit to your lesson routine such as retrieval or reviews?  That decision will be based on what you want to focus on the most. But just pick one, there will be plenty of opportunities to try everything else. 

And finally, for a fresh start to be as effective as possible, you need to prioritise. No one can do it all, so let’s stop pretending we can. What needs doing first? What is absolutely a necessity to complete? That’s where you start. Yes, sometimes it is easier to do the quicker stuff, but that is the reality of procrastination and quickly encourages your full bucket to spring a leak. Next, use your working time as well as possible. Use absolutely any spare time, is a group completing a test? Use that time to get one of those quick jobs done. Use those planning periods for marking, and take those quick to-dos home. For me, this has meant that I spend two nights a week doing around 45 minutes of work, rather than bringing books and exam papers home for hours of marking. This works for me, but might not for you, so think about how you want to use your time. And try to stick to it, but always be ready to accept that life may get in the way of this but it is important here to simply go with the flow.

Fresh starts are a really valuable tool in the teaching profession, and that is because they serve as opportunities for teachers and school staff to restore, reflect and prioritise. You cannot spend time and energy on developing better lessons and improving learning when your cup is empty. See every break as an opportunity for a fresh start. Bad day? Prioritise yourself, not your to-do list. Chaotic term? Focus and prioritise on what will really create the impact you want, and stick to those small, effective habits. Teaching; it’s a marathon not a sprint. So let’s treat it that way. 

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Author:

High School Science and Mathematics Teacher, Author and Blogger. Graduated from Bangor University with a BSc (Hons) degree in Molecular Biology and a PGCE in Secondary Science Education. Richard also holds the coveted Certificate in Mathematics from the Open University (UK).

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