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Inspired Ideas

Setting New Year’s Resolutions with Your Students

Although every day presents a wonderful opportunity for building new habits and attitudes, New Year’s is perhaps the most symbolically charged holiday for change. As you gear up for another calendar year, consider planning a New Year’s resolution activity to help your students set meaningful goals. Here are some tips for getting started:

Reflect and Reevaluate — Before students set their resolutions, instruct them to take time to reflect on the past year. Encourage them to celebrate their accomplishments and recall moments in which their resilience, tenacity, and love for learning carried them through difficult situations. Then, ask them to recall times in which they did not possess the tools to accomplish what they wanted. This exercise allows students to pinpoint areas for growth while simultaneously giving them the confidence to make ambitious plans for the future.

Teach Growth Mindset — To make the most of the year to come, students must recognize they are capable of more than they can imagine. You can start by instilling them with growth mindset — or an understanding that abilities are not set in stone and that skills can be improved with time, practice, and hard work. This is key because research shows that students who lack confidence in their potential will have a much harder time progressing than their peers.

To illustrate growth mindset in action, consider exhibiting a map of the brain and explaining that although it might not look stretchy, the brain has plasticity, or elastic qualities — which is to say it can generate new neural pathways and adapt in response to different behaviors. When scientists scanned the brains of people studying new languages, for example, they found observable, positive changes compared to how they looked before. The same applies for any of the areas with which your students are struggling in school. Helping them understand the science behind growth mindset will provide empirical proof that they can and will improve if they try.

Process Over Outcome — To further nurture growth mindset, emphasize the process of learning over the outcome of, for example, getting strong grades. By focusing on the day-to-day rather than high-stakes assessments, students will feel less acute pressure to perform and will instead feel comfortable taking risks, trying, failing, and trying again. Encourage students to reframe their thinking by adding “…yet” to the end of negative statements. Instead of believing they “are not good at science,” they should recognize they “are not good at science… yet!” This shift in perception will fuel the fire they need to work toward achieving their goals.

Set SMART Goals — Another way to set your students up for success is to show them how to be intentional with their goal setting. One way to do this is by making resolutions that are SMART, or Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-Based. Instead of resolving to “do better at math” or “read more,” students may aim to spend an hour studying every day or to finish three books by next month. They can also set goals related to organizational skills or classroom conduct; for example, rather than deciding to “keep their space cleaner,” they could dedicate time to organizing their things at least twice a week. A more reserved student may resolve to contribute to class discussions at least once a day. Prepare to check in with students periodically throughout the year to see if they are sticking to their plans — you can do this via a class discussion or a journaling exercise. Either way, it is important that they continue to revisit and reflect on their progress to keep their resolutions top of mind.

We hope you have a wonderful year to come — one in which you, just like your students, use the power of growth mindset to accomplish your goals and reach new heights professionally and personally. Let us know if you’re setting any New Year’s resolutions yourself this January.



Resources, ideas, and stories for PreK-12 educators. We focus on educational equity, social and emotional learning, and evidence-based teaching strategies. Be sure to check out The Art of Teaching Project, our guest blogging platform for all educators.

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