Why teachers should target evolution, not resolutions

Teachers who make ambitious new year's resolutions put too much pressure on themselves, says Susan Ward

Teachers put too much pressure on themselves with ambitious new year's resolutions, says Susan Ward

Ah, January. You have arrived. After the excitement of new year has left us, you are what’s left. Brimful of credit card bills and too-tight top buttons, nobody is ever very pleased to see you. You squirrel pay day away into the furthest possible reaches of your endlessly dreich, grey weeks.

And you are so darn bossy. "New year, new you!" bellow the billboards and online ads. The idea that the most miserable month of the year, the calendar equivalent of root canal treatment, is a good time to make a major lifestyle change is bonkers.

But every year is the same: look at your life, pledge to do better. And it’s not even a promise you're encouraged to make,  it is a resolution. No wishy-washy, half-baked promises here – you resolve to do better, doggedly determined in pursuit of a better version of yourself.


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The whole idea that you should look at and re-evaluate everything all in one go, from your wardrobe to your relationships, from the fact you don’t call your mother enough to the stroppy tone of an occasional email, suggests that we live our lives in a linear fashion, with everything good at the same time or everything bad. If this were true, we could indeed pull into the January layby, perform a quick MOT, make the necessary changes and be off again, box safely ticked until next year.

Which is plainly absurd: life is not like that. At any given moment, some things will be going OK, some things will be worrying you and some things may be hanging precariously off a cliff in a style reminiscent of The Italian Job.

New year's resolutions for teachers?

But you can’t fix everything at once. Anyway, who decided it all needed to be fixed in the first place? A new year’s resolution suggests that something wasn’t good enough in the old year. Maybe that’s true and maybe it isn’t, but if it was good enough for December, chances are January will get on with it just fine too until you’ve got the time and energy to do something about it.

The point of all this is that you don’t need to believe the hype. You can choose to tell January to do one and not bow to the pressure to suddenly change everything. Instead of resolving, you can go right ahead and keep evolving instead, at your own pace and on your own terms.

You work in education; you know what it means to self-evaluate. You are teaching the next generation to do it every time you model feedback or offer gentle correction.

Self-evaluation is the process by which we slowly and carefully take stock of where we are. This stocktaking is not ours alone: we seek the views of others, we make sure we have a balanced view of what’s working well and what is hanging off the cliff edge. We do not decide arbitrarily to launch into the change process just because the calendar tells us. We work out what we need to do, plan for the change and then we stand together to see it through, steadfast, even when it is hard-going.

Improvement over time happens when you notice all the incremental steps that lead to sustained change. Sometimes those steps go backwards or round in circles. Very rarely do they lead in a nice straight line. Lots of tiny wins and losses and successes and screw-ups, all leading, eventually, to a better version of what was there before.

So if you are feeling the pressure to make a new year’s resolution, cut yourself some slack and consider the old year’s evolution instead. Because you have already come much further than you think.

Susan Ward is depute headteacher at Kingsland Primary School in Peebles, in the Scottish Borders. She tweets @susanward30

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