The new year is already in full swing. My body has just about recovered from mainlining gravy for a fortnight, I’ve broken every single one of my resolutions already and I’ve finally managed to shake off the glitter from places that glitter should never be found. It’s back to the grindstone, as the opportunity to eat and go to the toilet when one wants becomes a tinsel-covered memory.
And it’s so easy to carry on as normal. The work never stops in FE, so there’s precious little time to stop and reflect – the break’s over and the prospect of course completion, terminal exams and the big push to the end of the academic year has started to hover into view. It’s time to wipe the figgy pudding from your lips and get back on it.
But perhaps, instead of hurtling onwards on the unending treadmill, the new year should be treated as an opportunity to look back. Forward momentum is wonderful, but only if you’re on the right track. Otherwise, speed doesn’t tend to do anything but get you lost faster. The new year offers a perfect opportunity not to continue on as ever, but to start fresh with a few resolutions and a few changes that might make this year a little better than the last one.
At my place, we have a meeting. OK, that does very much sound like continuing on with the old – but in this case it’s the content that sets it apart. Before the holiday comes, the department gets together for an open and honest kickabout about what’s not working. All the staff are there and it’s a chance to have a frank discussion about everything from timetabling to grouping to admin to behaviour to systems and everything in between. Pressure points are identified and ways to minimise them, change them or scrub ’em off the face of the planet are put forward. These are then implemented in the new year.
In a lot of places, this would be delayed until the new academic year, but I reckon if a problem can be identified and there’s a way of solving it, then why not go for it? You keep putting things off and there’s less and less chance of any meaningful change as a problem morphs into something that has “always been done here”.
The other worry is disruption, but the chances are is that the problem itself is a greater disruption than steps to change it. There might be some short-term upheaval, but the long-term gains are likely to outweigh them. The Christmas holiday acts as a signifier of the ending of the old and the coming of the new. If this is communicated well, it’s a great way of putting things back on track.
The new year is a time of renewal and replenishment – and can be for you and your team at college. It doesn’t have to be the same as it always has. Then again, you’re talking to the guy whose new year’s resolution was to give up chocolate – and then ate two family-size Galaxy bars on 2 January.
Tom Starkey teaches English at a college in the North of England