2021 Here We Come!

At the beginning of 2020 I wrote one of my first blog posts on this site. The post looked at my word for 2020 – intentional. In that post, I mentioned that I had some pretty big personal goals for the year, “blog every day, read 50 books, run a sub-24:00 5k, etc.” While I didn’t go into much detail or elaborate any further in the blog, I did share these as goals.

Recently, I listened to Jim Collins on a podcast. He talked about goal setting and measuring the effectiveness of his goals. There will probably be another blog post in the future which will dive a little deeper on this topic, but for now I wanted to focus on two ideas Collins shared.

Jim Collins is meticulous and incredibly disciplined. He actually has a spreadsheet where he tracks how he spends his time each day. That time is allocated into three blocks – 50% creative time, 30% teaching time, and 20% other “random stuff” that needs to be completed. During any 365-day period, Collins ensures there are a total of 1,000 creative hours. (I used this idea to create a 2021 goal.)

Collins also revisits goals he sets and gives them a grade. This assessment holds him accountable and allows him to determine what is working and where he needs to improve.

So, I wanted to first go back and grade the success of my goals for 2020. I wanted to blog everyday. This actually happened for the first three months of the year. Then, as we got deeper into the pandemic, I got away from blogging daily. So, I’m going to give myself a C on that one.

Goal #2 was to read 50 books in 2020. I ended up reading 22 books last year, so I’m going to give myself a D for Goal #2. Could I have read more books? Yes. Am I still pretty pleased with reading 22 books last year? Absolutely. I knew my goal was lofty, and that has helped me with one of my goals for 2021. More on that in a minute.

My third goal was to run a sub-24 minute 5K. On that one, I’m not going to grade myself. There were so many 5Ks cancelled last year, that I had a hard time finding a reliable race to run. I’m going to place more blame than is probably warranted on the pandemic, but that’s just life sometimes.

So that was 2020. What will 2021 look like? I’m going to set three goals for this year. I wanted to continue to focus on writing because I genuinely enjoy the process. Instead of the rigid approach that I’m going to write a blog post each day, I’ve decided to take a page out of Jim Collins’ playbook. I’m going to say that in any one month period, my writing minutes need to average 1000 words per day. That might be writing a blog post, creative writing, or any other form. So, I’ve fired up a Jim Collins-like spreadsheet to track my minutes.

Goal #2 for 2021 will be to read at least 25 books. I’ll admit that the 50-book goal I created for 2020 was an arbitrary number. I did read 22 books last year and feel like I could add three additional books to that number this year.

Goal #3… I’m going after that sub-24 minute 5K goal this year.

So that is my assessment of 2020 and my look ahead to 2021.

2021 here we come!

Goal Setting

When I was about nine years old, my grandfather took me to a park behind his house. There was a quarter-mile track around the park, which he had me run. He stood at the start/stop line with an old fashioned stopwatch – think opening of 60 Minutes… tick, tick, tick, tick, tick. When I finished he’d tell me my time and always compare my results to my previous runs. It always amazed me how he remembered them. Before I could catch my breath, he’d say, “Okay, what’s our goal for the next time?” This was my first exposure to goal setting.  

Years later I started setting goals more regularly and across other areas of my life. At first, my goals were vague. I want to run faster. I want to read more. I want to save more money. The problem, I soon realized, was these goals were very hard to quantify. Then I read about SMART Goals. These goals create a structure and help focus your efforts. SMART is an acronym for:






SMART Goals can be used in all areas of our lives – personal, professional, financial, etc. They can even be used in our classrooms. Let’s say I’m working with a group of students and want them to improve as readers. Wanting my students to become better readers is not a SMART Goal. The objective can be adjusted, however, to meet the criteria of a SMART Goal.

Specific – Goals need to be specific. Wanting students to become better readers is not specific. There are so many areas of reading that could help students become better readers – phonics, phonemic awareness, comprehension, vocabulary, etc. We could create a fluency goal, comprehension goal, etc. Maybe you want students to read more books because research shows reading more helps students become better readers. When making specific goals it helps to ask questions like:

  • Who is involved in me achieving this goal?
  • What do I want to accomplish?
  • Where might I need to go to achieve this goal?

Measureable – This is where I really struggled when I first started setting goals. I was usually missing the measurable component of SMART. I want to run faster is hard to measure and quantify. I want to run a sub-30 minute 5K is a measureable goal. We can literally measure it with a timer or my grandfather’s old-fashioned stopwatch. If we want students to read more books, we need to make this a measureable goal. I want my fourth graders to read 5 books. Now we are able to measure and determine if they were successful or not.

Achievable – The goals we set need to be achievable and realistic. I always wanted to play in the NBA, but I’m only six-foot tall and can’t jump very high. It’s not a realistic goal. Similarly, saying I want my fourth graders to read all the works of Shakespeare by the end of the school year, is probably not going to happen. Students will read five children’s books. That is much more achievable.

Relevant – Is this a relevant goal? If we’re trying to improve students’ ability in reading, we can’t set a goal to have them learn to juggle. That isn’t relevant to what we’re trying to achieve. A goal to have students read a five books is much more relevant to becoming better readers. Learning to juggle is fun though.   

Time-bound – When will this goal be achieved? In a month? A year? The way our school years are structured helps create natural time barriers, which help with goal setting. When do we want student to read their five books? Students will read five children’s books each trimester. Now we have a timetable for when our goal should be measured.

SMART Goals are a great tool to help with all areas of our lives. Creating them takes some time and will often involve some failures. This requires adjusting the process and goals. If we’re always meeting all our goals, do we need to revisit our goals and increase our expectations? Should failure be part of the goal setting process as well?

Healthy Teachers

If you’ve ever flown on an airplane, you’ve seen the flight attendants explain what to do in the event of an emergency. (I’ve always thought this was an unsettling, yet necessary, way to start a flight.) In the event that the cabin pressure should drop, oxygen masks will drop out of the overhead compartment. If this happens, the flight attendants say, “Please place the mask over your own mouth and nose before assisting others.” The point is, you can’t take care of others unless you’re taking care of yourself.

This is a great metaphor for teachers. A teacher can’t take care of others, primarily students, unless he takes care of himself first. We need to put the mask on before we can put the mask on our students. So, if we’re not taking care of ourselves physically, emotionally, psychologically, and even financially, we’re going to be in the best condition to take care of our students and teach at our best level.

With that in mind, I’m setting off on a mission to learn how teachers, myself included, can take better care of themselves. Personal care has not been a great quality of mine in the past, but I’m determined to change that over the coming months.

I found a fantastic article in the New York Times titled “How to Be Healthy, in Just 48 Words.” As the title suggest, it contains health tips in just 48 words. It is such a wonderful, concise article to get started. I decided to use it to reflect on whether my habits are healthy or not and identify where I can start making improvements. Below are the 48 words from the article and my personal rating for each. I scored myself as excellent, okay, and needs to improve.

Don’t smoke (2). Excellent

Get vaccinated (4). Excellent

Avoid trans fats (7). Needs to improve: I’ll be honest, I don’t really pay attention to labels as much as I should.

Replace saturated fats with unsaturated if you can (15). Needs to improve: Same as trans fats.

Cook from whole ingredients — and minimize restaurant meals (23). Okay: I do try to use whole foods as often as possible, but could improve in this area.

Minimize ultraprocessed foods (26). Okay: I do like to eat ice cream but otherwise not too bad.

Cultivate relationships (28). Need to improve: There are many times I put other areas of my life above taking the time to cultivate relationships. It’s a definite weakness of mine.

Nurture sleep (30). Needs to improve: I’ve always been a night owl. Typically I go to bed around midnight and wake up at 6 a.m. This is definitely an area where I need to improve.

Drink alcohol at most moderately (35). Excellent

Exercise as often as you can enjoy (42). Okay: I love running but haven’t been great about getting out as often as I’d like.

Drink only the calories you love (48). Okay. I recently quit drinking Coke. Trying to only drink water and tea right now.

Identifying areas where improvement is needed is the first part. Now comes the real work.