By Todd Nesloney and Travis Crowder

Every year comes, for us, with a sense of anticipation and anxiety. Even several months into this year, there’s so much uncertainty still looming from last year, we are sometimes hesitant to lean into positivity for fear all of our hopes will be dashed by whatever might be hurled at us as we press forward into 2021. But we have learned it takes courage to continue living in a world with so much uncertainty. It takes courage to be diligent, accepting, caring and compassionate.

Ali Edwards’s “One Little Word” idea has resonated with us for quite some time. Travis loves to look at one particular word for an entire year and continue writing about this word in his notebook. On the other hand, Todd loves to choose a different word for each month (inspired by Tanner Olson). While our approaches are different, we feel identifying a word (or words) helps us maintain focus. It is simple and ordinary, but it is powerful, even if you’re just now thinking of doing this (or maybe even changing your selected word!)

What is so powerful about words anyway? Words give us a focal point. They also give us a goal, something to keep in mind. We love resolutions and they, too, are powerful ways to think about the year, but choosing a word or several words gives us something different to look at across the year. We are focusing on the word, not a specific action. We’ve found the result to be more powerful.

We invite you to consider either approach, but more importantly, we invite you to consider how you can bring your faculty and possibly students into this practice. We’ve curated this list of opportunities.

Identify one word to carry with you across the year. Write it somewhere visible so you can see it each day. Find opportunities to write about this word, such as activities you have done that exemplify it, or how you have found it lives with you during moments of the day. Keep up with your writing, either in a notebook or digitally.

Maybe instead of one word, have your team think of a word for each month that they can focus on. Sometimes that seems more attainable and as life (and 2021) progresses you’ll find many people wanting to change their word each month anyway to address new paths forward.

Share your word (or words) with your faculty and invite them to think of their own. Don’t require they share, as some may be personal, but give them space to do so if they’d like. Encourage them to think about why they chose a specific word or words. (Use this template for 12 words with your teachers.)

This is also an activity you can encourage your faculty to complete with their students, ANYTIME of the year!

This isn’t an idea that should solely take place at the beginning of a year. Come back to this, month after month and talk about where people are with their words, goals, dreams. We hope you find our ideas valuable or that they start helpful dialogue with your faculty or possibly just with yourself. As you think about your own word (or words), we hope you’ll find a way to share with us, either with #SparksInTheDark and #WeLeadTX on social media or through personal communication.

We value the contribution you make to education. Thank you for your passion.

You are changing lives.

Todd Nesloney is TEPSA’s Director of Culture and Strategic Leadership. He is an award-winning educator, author and international speaker.

Travis Crowder, a National Board Certified Teacher, teaches middle school students in North Carolina. He co-hosts the popular podcast series “Sparks in the Dark” and is co-author of Sparks in the Dark.

TEPSA News, March/April 2021, Vol 78, No 2

Copyright © 2021 by the Texas Elementary Principals and Supervisors Association. No part of articles in TEPSA publications or on the website may be reproduced in any medium without the permission of the Texas Elementary Principals and Supervisors Association.

The Texas Elementary Principals and Supervisors Association (TEPSA), whose hallmark is educational leaders learning with and from each other, has served Texas PK-8 school leaders since 1917. Member owned and member governed, TEPSA has more than 5,900 members who direct the activities of 3 million PK-8 school children. TEPSA is an affiliate of the National Association of Elementary School Principals.

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