Some love New Year’s resolutions, some hate them. Either way, they’ve proven an enduring tradition for a reason.
Many educators among us are striving for consistent improvement in our classrooms and school communities. Setting aside time to decide on our goals and plan for them can help guide our K-12 schools in a better direction, each calendar and school year.
Here are some of the most common New Year’s resolutions in the education world right now.
Prioritizing mental health
At Teachers On Demand, we write regularly about the importance of mental health resources in schools. Whether our students are struggling with learning difficulties, a challenging social environment, or unstable home life, poor mental health can crumble the foundation of effective K-12 education.
Researchers have argued for the integration of mental health in schools for decades. When K-12 students do access mental health care, it starts most often in school — including with school psychologists and social workers, reasonable accommodations, and outside referrals.
Kelly Vaillancourt Strobach, director of policy and advocacy at the National Association of School Psychologists, told U.S. News, “School-based services help students navigate the system. [...] When there are services at schools, kids are more likely to ask for help.”
That said, there is room for improvement. The ratio of school counselors to students often means there are hundreds of students per school counselor in a given student body.
While we focus on giving K-12 students the mental health resources they need, let’s not lose focus on our staff. Teachers are experiencing burnout at record rates, which administrators fear may lead to a mass exodus of educators from the profession.
With the pressure on educators compounded by political attacks and the stress of school shootings, teachers are struggling to be forthright with their administrators about what they need. Many report that free mental health support, including access to therapy, has helped.
The federal government has passed legislation making it possible for K-12 schools to put federal funds towards school safety and mental health resources. Check out this list of resources from SchoolSafety.gov for educators looking to improve mental health access.
Improving equity in the classroom
Access to high-quality education has the power to create a more equal world. But as we know all too well, educational access isn’t always created equal — from the way geography impacts school funding and resources to the way race, gender, and sexuality show up in our classrooms.
The journey towards recognizing and dismantling racism in schools is a particular challenge. Despite political controversies, there are educators from all races and subjects using existing curricula to have relevant, age-appropriate, and productive conversations about race with students.
In some schools, administrators are looking for a new approach to discipline that veers off the traditional punitive path, which more often than not encourages repeated asocial behavior. Given the racial bias of how schools manage behavioral issues, restorative justice — borrowed from the criminal justice system — can be an effective tactic that involves and empowers entire school communities.
For educators who care about leveling educational inequity, a commitment to gradual yet consistent progress is key.
Take a deeper dive into:
- Talking about race in the K-12 classroom
- Restorative justice in K-12 schools
- How teachers can honor neurodiversity
Using tech in moderation
During the pandemic, there was a big push to reduce educational inequities by improving students’ Internet connectivity and extending school-sponsored tablets, laptops, and educational software to K-12 students.
We also saw the arrival or permeation of various edtech products that leverage artificial intelligence (AI) or make connections through the metaverse. These can be a benefit when teachers are well-trained to apply the technologies and keep students engaged without losing their focus on the lesson.
Research also shows that classroom use of technology can also worsen student inequities. This is based on three main factors: connectivity, proper training for teachers, and a school’s organizational ability to decide on the right technology, implement it, and maintain it at scale. When they can’t, it can create a “digital usage divide,” alongside various ethical questions.
Equity advocate Nidhi Hebbar of the Edtech Equity Project told EdWeek, “What I would’ve wished is that schools had the capacity to reimagine the ways they leverage technology...on a pedagogical level. But because the adoption of technology happened in such a crisis, that wasn’t really what I observed on the ground.”
The Edtech Equity Project has published a list of questions schools should ask edtech companies before agreeing to a purchase.
Creating engaging lessons
That said, not all technologies are a lost cause. In the attention economy, it’s easy for new apps like BeReal and TikTok to attract the curiosity of everyone from clued-in administrators to our youngest students.
“The human brain—especially the brain of a young person—absorbs vast quantities of information about the surrounding world, and it wants to be engaged. Whether they know it or not, students are looking for something to be interested in—something stimulating,” writes Eric Eisner, a Los Angeles-based National Board certified high school English teacher of 21 years, in an EdWeek opinion piece.
But this requires a delicate balance. Still, Eisner asks an important question: “How can we make the classroom more engaging than TikTok, especially for our least motivated students?”
With an understanding of how young minds work, educators can capitalize on it for the good of their learning.
The subconscious need for stimulation is why “so many love social media that offers up a never-ending stream of exciting, stupid, scary, hilarious, racy, and, yes, sometimes even thought-provoking content,” writes Eisner.
“It is this same principle that YouTube and TikTok exploit and which we, too, must harness if we are going to compete for our students’ attention. Teachers must create personally engaging and stimulating lessons that allow students to feel ownership over the curriculum.”
Now it’s your turn
What are your educational New Year’s Resolutions this year? If they include creating a more resilient team of educators at your school, you’re not alone.