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New Beginnings…

Fresh start roadway.

By: Lisa Thomas 

It’s hard to believe that we are starting another school year! To many it means the end of late nights, sleeping past 6 am, and spending days by the pool. As a parent, I can say I will miss the late evenings and casual weekends, but I also know how important the school year is for children. So as we wrap up the last evenings of summer and start to prepare for a new school year, I am hoping you will consider the start of the school year as a time for new beginnings. A time to set goals, create new habits, and form new friendships. As a parent and educator, I hope you will join me in a few ideas to help you and your students start the year off with a growth mindset and understanding of the importance of new beginnings for everyone involved. When considering a growth mindset, it’s the work of Carol Dweck that leads us in this direction. In her work, A Summary of Growth and Fixed Mindsets: it’s “how we word things that affect confidence. Using words such as ‘yet’ or ‘not yet,’ “gives kids greater confidence, gives them a path into the future that creates greater persistence.” We can change mindsets. As a new teacher, I took this approach without knowing about the work of Carol Dweck. The beginning of a new year was exciting for me and I wanted both the students and families to know that I believed in each of them. This started weeks before I would meet students and families at the Back to School Open House.  

To ensure I put my best foot forward I would go in weeks before school started and set up my classroom by creating bulletin boards, organizing the classroom, and setting up the independent library in the classroom.  I would purchase items throughout the summer to create this warm environment for my incoming students.  I found that it was the attention to even the smallest detail that made a difference to the students in my classroom. I took personal pride in making sure that the environment was inviting, comforting, and engaging for all students. So on that first afternoon, as students entered the classroom to meet me for the first time, I wanted to make sure they knew that we were going to have a fun and engaging year! So let’s talk about how to create the opportunity for “New Beginnings”.

So whether you are a parent, educator, or even a student I wanted to give you 5 ways to start the year off and embrace the idea of “New Beginnings”.

Tip 1: Set Goals: 

Ask the question, what do you hope to achieve this year? What would you personally like to accomplish and in what areas would you like to grow? I have this conversation every year with my son who is an incoming seventh grader who just turned 13. We often set goals of how many books you want to read this year. What subject do you want to improve on and how will you accomplish this goal? Consider both short and long-term goals. Often when you set short-term goals, it helps to show achievement and keep you motivated for the long-term goals. The other key to success is not only setting goals, but checking in throughout the year to see if the goals are being accomplished, and if not, what is preventing the accomplishment. In order to succeed in your goals, you have to work with Tip 2 and establish new habits.

Tip 2: Establish New Habits: 

Creating new habits are usually challenging, but worthwhile at the same time. For example, with the start of a new school year, it’s about setting routines. Whether we want to admit it or not, routines are a part of life and keep us moving in the right direction. Maybe one new habit is what you will eat for breakfast. Make sure that you start the day with the right foods to fuel the brain and the body. Another new habit is infusing exercise into your new day. With an earlier start, you may have to plug exercise in at a new time and you may actually have to schedule it into your day. This is important for both students and family members. Creating routines is important both at home and in the classroom. Children crave structure and routine. That is what we can provide as teachers and family members supporting them along the way. This really leads us to Tip 3, setting expectations.

Tip 3:  Set Realistic Expectations: 

Setting expectations can seem like a daunting task. I call it a task because sometimes it may seem easier just to let things roll. I think back to my own parents and how they raised three daughters. Even though we each grew up in the same household, my parents were great at recognizing the strengths and areas of improvement that we each possessed. For example, we were each expected to get “good grades” and in my house that meant honor roll. Of course, we would strive for all A’s, but for me in particular I struggled in Math so I would often get a B. So even though I was encouraged to strive for more, my parents knew if I was working hard in that area. It is important to set expectations and hold ourselves accountable, but keep in mind they need to be realistic and will be different because we are all individuals. This leads me to Tip 4, take ownership.

Tip 4: Take Ownership: 

When we think about ownership, many things come to mind. I wanted to look at it from the perspective in that we can’t really make Tips 1-3 work unless we take ownership of making it happen. As an individual, we have to “own” the new habits and set expectations and goals. Taking ownership is a huge opportunity to demonstrate your willingness and drive to make something happen. For example, this year with my son being a seventh grader, it brings the opportunity to play more sports for his school. But over the years from the various “experts”, I have talked with they always remind me that he is a “student-athlete”. Notice the word student is first. So in this example, I want my son to understand that school comes first and he has to own the work as a student and be responsible for his learning. I think he would prefer to focus on sports first and then school. This is why we have this discussion and why it’s important to shift the ownership to him versus the adult in this situation.  One way to take ownership is to be organized. I asked a colleague, what advice do you give to middle school parents and she shared the following: “The first thing I tell my middle school parents and students when they ask for advice is to stay organized! Better organized students tend to do better in school than their non-organized counterparts.  Being organized helps students learn how to prioritize activities, set and achieve goals and reduce stress.  Organization is the key to successful middle school years.” ~ Angie Culicerto, Marvin Ridge Middle School Physical Education Teacher, MS,NBCT

Tip 5: Supporting One Another: 

As you can see from Tip 4, it takes others to help us with setting our goals, creating new habits, setting expectations, and owning the work that we are putting into these efforts. We always hear it takes a village to raise a child, but I believe it takes a community to work together in order to accomplish our goals. I often think of when I start a diet or exercise program, it’s easy to get started, but often hard to continue with it over time. I have also found when I have someone to do it with me or hold me accountable I stick with it for the long haul. That’s how we can view a new school year, a new beginning! While all these tips are important, I think Tip 5 can really support all children, families, and educators. It’s working together for the same end result, success for all students in their own individual approach. 

As you think about applying these tips, keep in mind, that the first day can bring jitters to many students, educators and families. While the beginning of each new school year brings familiarity and excitement to many, it can also bring stress and anxiety to others. It is during this unknown that we can provide encouragement and support to create a successful year. As Mrs. Stephenson, NBPTSR, First Grade Teacher in UCPS, shared in a recent conversation, “I no longer have first day jitters, but rather an excitement. I can’t wait to meet my little learners and bring them into our world of learning together.”

So as you begin to think of a new school year, I know it can be scary, nerve-racking, and exciting all at the same time. So whether you are a parent, educator, or student I am hoping that approaching this new school year will bring you excitement and joy for what the year can hold. Good luck with these five tips and I hope you each have a great “NEW BEGINNING…..”

 “The start of something new brings the hope of something great, and anything is possible.”


Lisa Thomas is the NC Account Executive for Scholastic Education Solutions. In this role, Lisa continues her work with districts to craft literacy plans, and school improvement plans along with best practices in family engagement strategies. Lisa works with districts and schools to customize the best solution with the right combination of programs and professional learning services to meet their specific needs. You can count on Lisa to bring her 25-plus years of previous experience from classroom teacher, district curriculum leader, consultant, professional learning manager, account executive, and years working as a Vice President in training and development across the country. Lisa still considers herself a teacher at heart and serves as a Board Member for the Union County Education Foundation.