Educators have the benefit of getting a fresh start not once but twice a year. We have the start of school in September, then the turning of the calendar in January.

Fresh starts often involve fresh commitments. I propose that every educator should make the commitment today to take sixteen new steps in 2016 to deepen their knowledge, sharpen their craft, and stretch out of their comfort zone. In no particular order:

  1. Read every day. I’m not talking about all those unread emails from central office, either. Blogs, picture books, journals, news, professional articles, YA literature, or poetry. It’s all input that helps shape and inform your thinking and provides cognitive fuel to keep your mind going.
  2. Write every week. Input isn’t enough. Process what you read and think about by turning it around and putting it into writing for a real audience. Everyone (that includes you) has something worth sharing, and most probably several somethings. Write a blog post. (If you don’t have your own, ask your favorite blog or blogger if you can guest post there.) Write an article for the district curriculum newsletter or for a professional journal. Start writing that book you have been planning in your head for the last eleven years.
  3. Present to your colleagues. Corollary to #2 is to share something in person. Did I mention that everyone has something worth sharing? Other teachers want to learn from you, too. Share a technique at a faculty meeting, run an inservice workshop, or present at a local or national conference. This wine pairs very nicely with entree #7 below, too.
  4. Learn a new tool every month. Digital tech or low tech, find something new you don’t know how to use yet and start using it. Find other people who use it well and learn from them. Try stuff out. Break things. Then figure out how to fix them.
  5. Listen to someone who disagrees with you. And not just to plan your rebuttal. Really hear them. You will learn something new, and you’ll expand your awareness of different points of view in the world. It’s healthy for you and for your students.
  6. Build something with your students. Make something together that didn’t exist before and that none of you knew how to make before you started. Solve a problem, construct a toy, build a website, or create a work of art. Use your hands and your minds.
  7. Attend an Edcamp. They’re free, they’re everywhere, and they’re awesome. ‘Nuff said. (You say you’ve already been to one? OK, then become an organizer.) Oh, and since every Edcamp attendee is a potential presenter, you can check two items off your list on the same day.
  8. Expand your network. And your students’. The wider your circle, the more ideas you’re exposed to that can help you deepen your understanding. This works for your students, too, so help them connect with other students and other adults around the area and around the world.
  9. Travel someplace new. Whether you go across the ocean or across town, visit someplace you’ve never been. Repeat as often as possible, then use the experiences to feed #2, #3, #6, and #8.
  10. Teach someone else’s class. Pick a subject and grade you’ve never taught. Plan a lesson, a project, or a whole unit and teach it to a new group of students. Collaborate with the other teacher, or switch classrooms entirely.
  11. Throw out grades and homework. Examine carefully why you do what you do, and think about whether it is really as important as you think it is. If it gets in the way of actual learning, throw it out. Grades and homework are two things that most teachers do just because they’ve always done them. Take the time to really think about the purpose of your practice.
  12. Teach something you’ve always wanted to teach. Yes, you have time in your packed schedule to squeeze in one thing that you teach because you want to instead of because someone told you you have to.
  13. Try Genius Hour. To go a step further than #12, let your students tell you what they want to learn. Then get out of their way and let them learn it. Help where needed.
  14. Get up and move. Whether you add movement within your classroom routine or you get out and go somewhere else, movement is good for brains and learning. The change of perspective and environment helps keep things interesting and engaging.
  15. Make a mess. Learning should create dirty hands and piles of stuff and discarded scraps. Color outside the lines and put parts together differently than the directions say. Don’t clean up before it’s time. Or until you’re ready.
  16. Remember why you teach. Every day of 2016, you will be faced with things that discourage you and make you wonder why you should still bother. Be sure to take the time, every day if necessary, to remind yourself why you chose this. Your reasons may be different than anyone else’s, but they are still there if you look.

What would you add to this list? What personal steps are you going to take in 2016 to recharge, refresh, and grow yourself?

Special thanks to Ann Leaness, Beth Still, KL Peters, Starr Sackstein, Steve Johnson, Seth Reichgott, Tony Baldasero, and Lisa Nielsen who contributed ideas to this list.

Photo credit: “Take the First Step” by imanka