February Goals

If it's going to be winter...it needs to look like this!  So sparkly and bright!

If it’s going to be winter…it needs to look like this! So sparkly and bright!

I’m celebrating a snow day today.  “Celebrating” is the right word.  A snow day is an unexpected holiday marked by extended pajama hours, increased warm beverage consumption, and a high quantity of fiction in the form of TV, movies, and books.  That’s how I celebrate, anyway.  Today on the schedule: Firefly, Serenity, and Castle.  I’m in a Nathan Fillion kind of mood.

A review of January:

-I planned to make myself addicted to exercise by thinking about the good feelings, the immediate gratification of doing some good hard work.  It worked for about a week.  I think I need to combine the “good feelings addiction” with the habits involved in making a workout part of my day without much effort.  I’m also thinking about the practical things that can become obstacles, such as the fact that the gym I belong to is a 15-20 minute drive from my apartment.  I’m not ready to make any changes, but I’m going to keep thinking on this.

-I spent time outside.  It was awesome, and must continue.  The value of absorbing sunshine and seeing nature is immeasurable.

New Goals for February:

-For the body…  Green smoothies!  It’s time to get back on the wagon.  My true goal is to drastically reduce my consumption of sugar and things that turn into sugar in my body, such as white flour, processed potato products, etc.  But sugar is crack, and I can’t just stop.  If there’s one thing I know, it’s that trying to DO something is much easier than trying to STOP doing something.  And the more fresh fruits and veggies I eat, the less sugar I crave.  So in February, I can eat whatever sugary, processed, insulin-producing substances I want…but I will also have a green smoothie.  Every day.

-For the spirit… “A place for everything, and everything in its place.”  I know how much better I feel emotionally when my space is clean and organized.  In fact, an hour of cleaning is sometimes worth more than an hour of sleep.  I love apartment living partially because it’s a small space.  The putting away and cleaning takes a very small percentage of my time.  But it still so easily gets neglected…as with most people, I imagine!  This month, every day, no matter how late, I will spend 15 minutes cleaning up the kitchen, picking up the house, and doing whatever other cleaning and organizing I have time to do.  I have been curious for awhile to find out how far 15 minutes per day would go.  Over time, would I be able to keep up not only with dishes and picking up, but also the housecleaning?  Let’s find out!

“You’re lost in the woods.  We all are.”  –Inara, from Firefly


January Goals

A drizzly December afternoon at Lake Zorinsky.

A drizzly December afternoon at Lake Zorinsky.

After two full weeks off, I’m recharged and eager to go back to work on Monday!  I’m so glad I decided to not bring any work home or go into my classroom to work these two weeks.  Being fully free to live in the moment was more refreshing and healing than “getting caught up” or “getting a jump on things” could ever be.  This rediscovered enthusiasm was well worth any consequences that Monday morning brings.

A quick reflection on my December goals:

-I brought my lunch!  For about two weeks straight it was a Lean Pocket and an orange, but still.  Cheaper and marginally healthier than school lunch or fast food.  I did not every pack all my lunches for the week on Sunday night, but several times I packed 3-4 days worth to keep in the fridge at school.

-As I knew it would be, making daily quiet time was the most important goal of the year.  There is nothing like the constant overwhelm and persistent feeling of guilt that I could have done better and worked harder (otherwise known as just a typical week or month in the life of a teacher – and many other jobs, I’m sure) that make me aware of my need for power, peace, and competence beyond my little human self.  I felt that December was a month of intense spiritual growth and I want more.

New goals for January:

I have thoroughly examined the habits and practices that make my job more manageable, and I intend to continue them:  Leave at 5:30.  Don’t take any work home.  Schedule blocks of time to dedicate to predictable categories of tasks.  Leave the classroom ready for tomorrow.  Use to-do lists in a way that makes sense and is effective.

But here is the cold, hard truth:  I am not superhuman.  I am not omnipotent.  I’m just, you know…me.  I cannot accomplish more in a day than a human being can.  Yet, that’s exactly what I’ve been trying to do.  My humanity is expressed in mind, body, and spirit.  I have a job that engages my mind very well.  I love it, I love being good at it, and I find it meaningful and worthwhile.  And while I want to continue to grow as a professional and improve my effectiveness in the classroom, it means nothing if it kills my body and spirit in the process.

So…for January, my two goals will be directed toward body and spirit.

-For the body:  I must exercise.  I will say it again, I must exercise.  It relieves stress, elevates mood, and increases energy.  And that’s just on the day you do it.  Never mind the benefits of doing it for a bunch of days or weeks or months in a row.  I’ve tried lots of things to make exercise a part of my routine, and still it comes and goes for a few weeks or months at a time.  So instead of focusing on how to make it part of my routine, I’m going to focus on those immediate benefits.  For better or worse, things become part of my routine without effort if they feel good:  Drinking coffee.  Zoning out in front of the TV.  Calling my sister.  Journaling.  Checking Facebook.  Eating something sweet at the end of a meal.  Cleaning up the kitchen before I go to bed.  Obviously, some of these habits are “healthier” than others!  But what they all have in common is that they feel good and those good feelings make me want to do them again.  For the month of January, I’m going to think about and seek out that feeling of having just had a good hard workout.  That warm, cozy feeling of getting home from the gym, taking a hot shower, and putting on clean pajamas.  Or that happy, energized feeling of a morning workout followed by a big cup of coffee.  I’m not going to make rules for myself regarding when or where I exercise.  I’m simply going to try to help myself crave those feelings.

-For the spirit:  I feel it would be beneficial to spend more time outside.  In the daytime.  I never see daylight in the winter, Monday through Friday, except when I’m on recess duty.  (I’m not sure that counts.)  Today I watched Mile…Mile and a Half, a documentary about hiking the John Muir Trail.  I recently read Wild by Cheryl Strayed, about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail.  I’ve been thinking about a day this past June when I went wandering in the woods at a retreat center near where I live, and made rare peace with all manner of stinging, spraying, biting, or just wild creatures that usually feel threatening to me.  “You and I will both walk in these woods this morning,” I wrote in my journal, “and we will both go away unharmed.”  I’ve been thinking about my experiences hiking in and near Arches National Park in August, experiences that made me brave, made me aware of my strength, and left a soul-deep impression.  Perhaps I am learning what so many people seem to already know:  Being outside is live-giving and soul-nurturing.  One cloudy, drizzly Sunday afternoon last month I walked around the east loop of Lake Zorinsky, 4.5 easy miles of paved trail, wandering as quickly or as slowly as I felt like going.  During the month of January, I want to do something like that each week, whether it’s an entire Sunday afternoon of hiking at a nearby state park or just a 20 minute walk around my neighborhood.  Maybe I will even get to go sledding on a snow day…it is winter, after all!  I will spend intentional time outside, for the simple purpose of breathing the air and soaking up the sunshine.

There is a shift in how I am making my goals.  I am more complex than I can wrap my own mind around.  We all are!  I want to be good at my job, to work for this forward-thinking, innovative school district, to be a leader in my team and to do work that is meaningful to me and matters to my students.  But my purpose on this planet is to be firmly, deeply connected to God, to thrive in this body He gave me to live in and use, to breathe in the air and soak up the sunshine of His creation, and to live in community with my fellow humans, His beloved children.  My career is an expression of part of that purpose.  My career is one beam radiating from the source.  It doesn’t give light; it needs light from the source.  How easily I forget.

Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God.  (2 Corinthians 3:5)  (Also, this clip from a recent message at my church made a huge impression on me.  The whole message was fantastic, if you want more.  Of course, I say this several times a month.  My thirsty soul just needs everything it can get, and the pastor at my church is awesome at scripture-based, Spirit-fed, deep-yet-relevant teaching.)

Hold me fast / ‘Cause I’m a hopeless wanderer  (“Hopeless Wanderer” by Mumford & Sons)

Keep close to Nature’s heart… and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.  (John Muir)

December Goals


(Long-overdue vacation pics coming soon!  Elizabeth gives you a preview:  “Yeah, I hike.  You see my family?  If my parents, grandpa, and aunties do it, I want in!  Wait…what’s going on with all the air hitting my face?  Why is the sun so bright?  And why is it so hot?  Is this what hiking means???  Take me back to the airport.”)

A quick reflection on my November goals:

-Creating blocks of time assigned to general categories was very helpful at work!  I stayed more on top of things that are important but easily procrastinated, like planning guided reading groups.  I found the “projects and tasks” category particularly helpful.  If I finished prepping the next day at 5:00, I picked something off my running list of projects and tasks and got to work.  It made me feel like I had extra time, once in awhile.  Well, not really extra time, but a smaller negative balance on my time, at least!

-BarNoReMo…needs to be in a summer month!  Fifty pages a day???  What was I thinking?  To be fair, I still have five days left, and it’s the long weekend for Thanksgiving, but so far I’ve nearly finished Insurgent.  That’s it.  I’ll try again another time.  Apologies to the poor suckers who agree to lend me books.

-Eat at the table?  What?  I completely forgot about that one.  Oops.  I knew three goals would be too many.

New goals for December:

Let me start by telling you where I’m at these days.  I’m feeling physically neglected – sleep, fruits and veggies, exercise – and spiritually thirsty.  I’m living one day at a time, just trying to make it through the hours and the tasks.  Sometimes that’s what is necessary, but it can’t be my whole life, week after week, month after month.  I want more than surviving another hour or day.  I need a stronger center, a stronger mind-body-spirit to endure and flourish.

I will continue maintaining my work-related habits:  following a general, loose plan for getting things done; leaving each night with materials prepared for the following day’s instruction; and working 7:30-5:30 most days.  But my two goals this month will both be things that happen between 5:30 p.m. and 7:30 a.m.

-My first goal is work-related, in a way.  I will bring my lunch!  This shouldn’t be that hard.  But I’ve had way too many school cafeteria, gas station, and fast food lunches in the last couple of months.  I have had maybe 8 green smoothies this entire school year so far, and I think I spent 10 straight days this month without a single bite of anything raw and living.  I feel like death warmed over.  Food makes SUCH a difference!  So for the month of December, I will try packing lunches in batches, all five lunches packed on Sunday night and ready for the week ahead.  Fresh fruit, salads, smoothies, sandwiches, soups…whatever it is, it will be better, healthier, and likely cheaper than the alternatives.

-Second goal…and much more important than any goal I have set this year so far:  Reconnect with a daily dose of quiet.  A daily spiritual practice that quenches a thirsty soul.  For me, that means getting up early, lighting a candle, reading a few verses, and a little prayer journaling.  If the one practice that most drives spiritual growth is reading your bible and thinking about it, then my thirsty soul needs more of this practice.

November Goals


A quick reflection on October’s goals:

-Leaving work ready for the next day’s teaching was moderately successful.  I estimate I was ready for the next day before leaving for the night about 80% of the time.  It freed my mind in the evening to take a true break, and it cleared my mornings to work on other things – data, paperwork, projects.  I intend to continue this habit as part of my routine.

-Keeping sweets to twice a day was very successful!  It was easy to resist temptation during the day because I knew something was waiting for me in the evening if I was still craving sugar.  Once again, I recognized the difference between how it feels after eating too much sugar and how it feels to eat well.  I even chose to dial back how much sugar I put in my coffee in the mornings, and by the end of the month I was really only having a serving of sugary food in the evening, most days.  Experiencing something is almost always the best way I learn, and despite my instincts that lean toward “all-or-nothing,” working through this goal gave me experiential evidence that moderation can be more successful than extremes.

New goals for November:

Just like last month, new goals began to make themselves clear to me a few days before the end of the month.

-At work…  To build off of the adjustments to my afternoon routine, I’m going to try assigning general categories of tasks to particular blocks of time.  You can see a first-draft schedule above.  The job feels so big, so complex, and so unpredictable that there is no way to say, “On Tuesdays from 7:30-8:30 I will work on _____.”  But there are categories, general goals under which individual tasks fall.  I need to plan.  I need to work through and respond to math data.  I need to work through and respond to guided reading data.  I need to attend to materials like sharpening pencils, stapling blank books for writing, and cutting out any laminating.  The specific tasks might be different from week to week, but every week needs time to accomplish these general goals.

There are also tasks that may happen only once, or only once every few months, that don’t fit into a general category.  For example, this week I did paperwork for my career development goal for this year.  I also filled out a somewhat time-consuming survey for my principal.  And a student moved away, so within the next few days I’ll have to update his cumulative file to send on to the next school.  These tasks are big enough they need to be assigned to a block of time or they won’t get done.  However, they are not part of the weekly rhythm of my job, so they are harder to schedule.  I’m simply calling these things “projects and tasks.”

You can see there are some unassigned blocks, and obviously most days updating the class Facebook page or responding to parents’ emails or voice mails won’t take my whole plan period.  For the moment, call those spaces “room for surprises.” Maybe organizing time and tasks comes easily to other teachers.  Maybe, if you’re a teacher who is reading this, you think I’m just being a big baby about all of this.  Maybe the immensity of the job is specific to my school district.  But I know this:  If I am going to survive this job for much longer, I need to find out how to make it less overwhelming.  Also, I’m not willing to do less than excellent work.  I’m not ready to give up on making those two things work.

-At home…  Did you know that November is NaNoWriMo?  National Novel Writing Month, for crazy people who have a stirring in their heart to write a work of fiction but need a burst of motivation.  It sounds fantastic to me…except that I have no desire to write fiction.  I do, however, have an addiction to reading fiction!  And to prove it, on top of the shelves of books I own but haven’t yet read, I have a whole shelf of novels borrowed from other people.  So I am calling November BarNoReMo: Borrowed Novel Reading Month!  I don’t expect to finish the whole shelf.  I intend to read at least 50 pages of borrowed fiction per day, on average.  That means on certain busy days I might not read at all, but on a free Sunday I might read a couple hundred pages.  Since this adds up to 350 pages per week, I estimate I will read about a book a week.

So four or five people might get a book back that I borrowed from them.

Or my sister-in-law might finally get the three books back that I have borrowed from her.

That math is not very impressive.  I’m currently looking directly at a bookshelf in my home and realizing just how much time is represented on those shelves.  🙂

This goal is actually two-fold.  In order to read more, I need to leverage what little free time I have.  And what sucks up everyone’s free time?  That flat black rectangle in your living room!  I’m going to change up my TV habits a little bit.  In particular, I want to change one specific TV habit.  For the month of November, for meals I have at my home alone, I will eat at the table with the TV off.  I tend to start an episode of something to fill the house with noise, and after I’m done with my meal, I sit and finish watching the episode…and another episode starts…(Thanks, Netflix.)…and before you know it, two hours have passed, it’s 10:30 p.m., I should really go to sleep, and not one ounce of progress has been made toward anything productive or meaningful.  Dinner does not take two hours.  I am curious to find out how much of my free time I would effortlessly get back without that one little mindless habit.  I am curious to find out what I would do when I was done eating, if the TV wasn’t already on.

October Goals


The 2014-2015 school year is up and running!  I’m ready to settle into routines, create some margin on the edges of my days, and leave the mad rush behind for a season.  Somehow.

A quick reflection on September’s goals:

-Setting boundaries on my workday: Moderately successful.  Most days I got to work somewhat earlier than 7:30 (to be discussed below!) and left between 5:00 and 5:30.  I took work home more often than I would like, but I didn’t dwell too much on that, as it was “the mad rush season.”  I did experience several times throughout the month of feeling more relaxed and refreshed from the evening and night, and I credit that to not having any work at home.  If there is nothing that I can do about the task or stress that pops into my thoughts, I find it much easier to leave the thought behind and focus on the present moment.  It’s a true break from work, which I desperately need to create on a daily basis.

-Working out four times per week:  Epic failure.  I worked out probably four times total in the month of September.  Well, maybe eight times.  I guess that’s not an “epic” failure, but it wasn’t enough exercise to help with stress and increasing the happiness chemicals.  The problem was that I felt compelled to go to work the moment I woke up, instead of taking 45 minutes, or even a half hour, to exercise.  In the morning, I chose work over working out.  When the workout was planned for the evening, such as a yoga class or an outdoor activity with friends, I was more likely to honor my commitment, even though I much prefer working out in the morning.  (To be discussed below!)

New goals for October!

-In addition to setting boundaries on my work hours, I want to get back in the habit of leaving work completely prepared for the next day’s teaching.  The 7:30-8:30 hour can be used for lesson planning, paperwork, etc….there is plenty to do!  But my first priority at 3:45 will be to get the room and materials ready for the following day.  When I feel completely ready for the day’s teaching, I am hoping it will be easier to honor my commitment to come to work at 7:30, not 6:30 or 7:00.

-For a goal for personal time, I would like to take a lesson from what I am learning about setting boundaries on my work hours.  It’s time to set some boundaries on my sugar consumption!  For this “mad rush season,” I have basically been feeding my poor body an IV drip of sugar, processed carbs that quickly turn into sugar in my bloodstream, and caffeine.  I haven’t even been making green smoothies, which is my staple for consuming fruits and veggies when times get tough!  Sugar is the same as crack — I have no science to back that up at the moment, but you know it’s true! — so that’s what I’m going to address in October.  I would like to get in the habit of eating something “dessert-y” just twice a day, morning and night.  Generally, that will look like sugar in my coffee (or flavored syrup in my latte) in the morning, and some kind of dessert in the evening.  (Does that illustrate just how much of my diet has been candy, cookies, coffee shop baked goods, cupcakes, ice cream….)  A twice-a-day sugar habit may not be ideal, but an all-or-nothing attitude is what gets me into this mess way too often!  Me and self-control have never had a great relationship, on any issue, and it’s time to change that.

“We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.”  –Galatians 5:23 MSG

September Goals


Good instruction — check.  Good classroom management — no problem.  Good assessments — you got it.

What I struggle with is time management, task management, and stuff management.  Believe it or not, I struggle with what happens when the kids are not in the room.  And it spills over to the time that the kids are there, because the non-instructional time includes planning lessons and prepping materials for the instructional time.  There is always more that can be done during non-instructional time to improve instructional time.

If I could have an hour of plan time for every hour of teaching time, I would be SUCH a better teacher.  But unless I commit to working 12-hour days…well, actually that happens more than I would like.

Which leads me to my second point:  I struggle with balancing non-instructional work time with personal time.  If I have work to do, I skip exercise, sleep, grocery shopping, housework, hobbies, interests, and worst of all…socializing.  (I do not make a good introvert.  I need my social time.)

So..the plan.  Last year, I focused on small habits that would make a big difference.  It was very effective.  This year, I’m adjusting it just a bit.  Each month will have two goals.  One will be something that happens while I’m at school, most likely related to my non-instructional work time, and the other will be something that happens in my personal time.  The overarching theme of these goals will be “sustainability”…creating for myself a work atmosphere that lends itself to excellence over a long period of time, rather than forever living in “emergency mode” and focusing simply on surviving the next 24 hours.

For the remainder of September, my first goal is to work from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., with rare exception.  I am setting boundaries on my time.  I could spend an infinite amount of time in my classroom, and my drive and perfectionism would like me to spend all my free time there.  In the moment, my perfectionism usually wins, unless I have a bigger picture in mind.  It may help me to stick to a schedule for awhile, be efficient and prioritize my time, and leave work at work.  This is not a new goal; I’m just getting a head start on it this year!

My second goal is to exercise four times a week.  Morning versus evening workouts…not a good battle over the last few years.  Run versus yoga versus walking/hiking versus ultimate frisbee with friends…also a battle.  “How can I become a ‘runner’ unless I run four times a week?  I should give up frisbee if I want to be a ‘runner.’  And just walking won’t help me become a ‘runner’ — I may as well just stay home unless I’m going to run.”  It’s time to stop fighting the battles.  I really love those four ways to exercise: running, yoga, ultimate frisbee, and hiking.  What if I did each of them just once a week?  This is a question I’m going to explore for the remainder of September.  It would be four workouts — four MORE workouts than just giving up for indecisiveness over what kind of exerciser I want to be!  And it feels more sustainable than having a rigid commitment to one type of exercise, and trying to fit the others in as “extra.”

“Keep on pushing back the dark…”  This lyric has been in my head as I ponder these goals.  Living in emergency mode creates quite a lot of “dark.”  I don’t want to live there anymore.

photo credit: ezra1311 via photopin cc

May Habits … Connection Rituals

This month needs to start with a reminder to breathe.  Do what Colbie, Common, and Elmo tell you to, and feel better.

Most teachers, I imagine, fight an ongoing battle between “I desperately want to take as much time as it takes to make each child feel heard and loved,” and “WE NEED TO WORK AS HARD AND AS FAST AS POSSIBLE!!!”  The first voice would result in 26 well-loved children who can’t read, the second voice would result in 26 angry children who hate to read because everything is a fight.

In May, I’m going to focus on daily connection rituals in my classroom:

  • Morning Meeting:  pass a stuffed animal around, everyone gets to tell something
  • 3-Minute Relaxation:  belly breathe, listen to a secular, kid-oriented meditation of some kind
  • 3-Minute Dance Party:  our favorite right now is “Happy” by Pharrell
  • more to be found and invented!  🙂

These rituals are about connecting with each other and with our emotions.  We are having more and more angry and/or violent outbursts lately, and it doesn’t matter where they came from as much as what we do with them.  Kids can learn to respond to their emotions.  I can learn to do better, too.

Today we listened to “Belly Breathe,” followed by the story “Sea Otter Cove.”  One of my occasional monsters said as soon as it was done, with a big sigh, “I liked that.”  Another, more articulate, sometimes-monster said, “Wow, that was cool.  I was feeling mad, and now I feel good.”  More of this, please!

This time of year, I always think about how little time I have left with them, and what is the most important thing I can do for them.  My intention is to send them into summer with a mindset that says, “School is awesome!  I will miss this.  I can’t wait for 2nd grade.”  That seems like something that will propel them forward.

(By the way, self, connection rituals might be a good habit to start the year with, too!)

Previous Older Entries