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From the Classroom: Looking Back to Look Forward

Each year, as the new year approaches, my husband and I sit down to both reflect on our past year and set goals (not resolutions!) for the upcoming year. While for many the distinction between resolution and goal may be minor, for us it makes a big difference. A resolution is a decision to either start or stop doing something and, as we all know, they can be very easy to break. Goals, however, provide a clear view of where we want to go, what we want to accomplish and they enable us to begin to develop a pathway forwards.

For example, after reflecting on our past year and how busy our lives seem to have become – both working full time while raising our daughter – we realized one of the goals we wanted to set for the upcoming year is to spend more quality family time together. With this goal in mind, we set up mini goals for each month: no technology on Mondays, extended-family dinners every other Sunday, take at least one nature walk/hike a month, etc. Since our goal was clear, it was easy to develop concrete ways towards accomplishing it. We also take the time to write our goals out and keep them posted in our kitchen so that we are reminded of what we hope to achieve and continue working daily towards that direction.

So, as I’ve been sitting this week watching my students take midterms, I’ve been thinking about how I can help them start the new year and new semester fresh. Like my husband and I do, I want them to take some time to both reflect on their past in order to be more thoughtful when looking forward.

Accordingly, I plan to start next week by looking back. To begin, we will read and discuss “Dear Past Self” by Isbella Fillspipe (found in #NotYourPrincess).


After noticing what she does in this mentor text, I will distribute the letters of introduction students write to me at the start of the year in order to give them a direct portal to their past selves. In these letters, students tell me whatever they think I should know about them as their new teacher and outline their hopes, fears, and expectations for the new school year. To end the lesson, students will write a private letter to their past selves in their writer’s notebook.

goalsAfter we’ve spent some time in the past, I will invite students to start looking forward. Using my goals as a model, I’ll ask students to set goals (not resolutions!) for the second half of the school year by thinking about what they want to accomplish personally and academically.

To solidify these goals we’ll spend some time reflecting on why they matter and how they can be accomplished. And we’ll put it all in writing – displayed in the front of our binders – so we have a regular reminder of where we want to go and how we plan to get there.

Finally, as a wrap up, using I will have students write one more letter; a letter to their future selves. In this letter, I’ll invite them to reflect on what they hope they’ve accomplished, figured out, done, etc, by the send date – the last day of school.

How do you start fresh with your students? How do you set your own goals and encourage your students to set their own? Please share any ideas, mentor texts, or resources that you’ve found helpful!

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