Updated: Apr 29, 2022
by Tim Tibbitts
I have always loved the sense of a fresh start, a new beginning, offered by the start of a new school year each fall. With that new beginning comes the promise of new opportunities and new friendships. From the point of view of academics, I’ve always loved the chance to start with a clean slate. I wrote earlier in the summer about being intentional with one’s time during a break. As school begins, let’s reflect on some ways that being intentional can make your learning more satisfying and your school year more successful.
Start the New School Year with a Specific and Measurable #1 Goal
Whether it comes to improving one’s mile time, building a bookcase, or working up to one’s academic potential, setting precise goals is more effective and more motivating than simply announcing broad hopes. So, for example, instead of saying “I’d like to do better in school this year,” a more precise and therefore more useful goal might be: “My primary academic goal for the first quarter is to get at least three A’s in my classes and to earn no quarter grade lower than a B.”
Identify the Key Habit That Will Lead to Your Success
Once you’ve got clarity about a goal, it’s important to be able to see your way forward. Once my students have identified a primary academic goal, I encourage them to reflect on and then to complete the following sentence: “The one thing, if I did it consistently and well, that would have the most positive effect on getting me to my goal is ….” This “core habit” won’t do the trick by itself, of course, but reflecting on and identifying this habit helps to simplify and clarify the process of achieving a big goal.
“… to start my HW within 30 minutes of getting home from school”
“…to limit video games to 30 minutes—and only after I’ve completed at least half my HW”
“…to make a habit of reviewing notes and materials along the way and not just waiting till the night before the test to study”
“… to find a math study partner”
For another perspective on a “game-changing” habit, see Jacob Connell’s thoughtful blog The One Surprising Habit that will be a Game Changer this School Year.
Don’t Forget Non-Academic Goals.
I’ve always resisted implied distinctions between “school” and “the real world.” During our school years, school is a major part of our life, but it is still only a part. What else is going on that’s important to you? As we make this new beginning this fall, make sure to identify—and to track—an important personal goal as well.
“Eat fresh fruit and veggies daily and exercise at least three days a week.”
“Work to expand my circle of friends by making a habit of just saying ‘hi’ to people.”
“Join the rock-climbing club.”
Monitor Progress Toward Your Goal(s)
Post your #1 goal and your “core habit” somewhere you will see it every day, and have a plan for tracking your progress along the way. Also, maybe take some time to identify in advance some red (or even yellow) flags that will let you know if you need a course correction. An accountability partner—someone who is willing to check on you or to whom you regularly report on progress/challenges—can be very helpful in keeping yourself on track toward your goal. When you were younger, this person was almost certainly a parent, whether you wanted it or not. In high school, you may choose to ask a parent to continue to play this role, but a friend, a mentor, or a tutor can also be a great accountability partner.
Try to Stay Present and Enjoy the Journey
The school year can be very stressful, but I strongly encourage you to avoid wishing away time, always looking forward to the next weekend or the next vacation. You’re only going to experience today once. You only go to high school once. Once the time is gone, we can’t get it back. Try to keep some perspective and to enjoy the journey along the way. Thoreau describes in Walden his attempts to learn “to live deliberately” so as not at the end of life “discover that [he] had not lived.” Don’t get to the end of high school and find out that you missed much of what was there because of worries about the future.
Best of luck for a great start to school. And if we at The Whole Kid can help in any way, I hope you won’t hesitate to reach out.
The Whole Kid’s founder, Tim Tibbitts, can be reached with questions at 216.235.3115 or by email at email@example.com.