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Volume III Issue I

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Happy New Year

Bruce Oliver

Bruce facilitating a Leading the Learning® workshop


It is traditional at this time of the year to greet friends and colleagues by wishing them a “Happy New Year!” It is a phrase that is repeated almost automatically. I wonder if we ever take much time to think about what happiness really means, what would bring true happiness to ourselves and others.

During the final days of the old year and the first days of the new year, educators have the opportunity to take some time off from their usual routines. We all appreciate the chance we have to relax and spend time with friends and loved ones. But all too quickly the days pass by and soon we return to our tasks of educating young people without giving much thought to how we are living our lives. Before you are totally caught up in your day-to-day responsibilities, take a few minutes to think about how you can make your life and those around you more satisfying.

A new calendar year can bring with it the possibility of new beginnings. Even though we are halfway through our school year, it is not out of the question for us to think in terms of how we can make changes in our lives that can result in increased happiness for ourselves, our families, our students, and our co-workers. We can make changes in how we deal with the world around us and, more specifically, how we approach our jobs.

There are some things we have control over and other things we cannot control. Spending time thinking about the external forces that affect our happiness can be a frustrating and fruitless exercise. To increase happiness we should turn inward, do some personal introspection, and think about what we can do to be a happier person. Author Jeff Rockwell writes about what he calls “the symptoms of inner peace.” He describes the symptoms in the following ways:

  • An unmistakable ability to enjoy each moment
  • A loss of interest in judging others
  • A loss of interest in conflict
  • A loss of interest in interpreting the actions of others
  • Frequent episodes of appreciation
  • Contented feelings of connectedness with others and nature
  • Frequent attacks of smiling through the eyes of the heart

In order to acquire inner peace, it is important to have the proper attitude. One of my favorite quotes about attitude comes from Charles Swindoll who addressed the topic in the following way:

The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important that the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company….a church…a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past….we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude. I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it. And so it is with you….we are in charge of our attitudes.

We can turn a positive attitude into actions by building bridges in our relationships with others. Of special importance during this time of year is the support we can give to our newest teachers. In her description of the phases of first-year teaching, Ellen Moir, Executive Director of the New Teacher Center, writes about the different stages new teachers go through. They begin their careers in the anticipation stage during which they are excited about beginning to teach, and they have an idealistic view of what they will accomplish. During the first month of school they enter the survival stage during which they are bombarded with the reality of what a teacher’s job entails. As they struggle to keep their heads above water, they enter the disillusionment stage after several months of teaching. They begin to question their commitment and their competence as a teacher. Things start to look better when the new year begins as teachers enter the rejuvenation stage. The winter break gives them time to reconnect with family and friends, and they feel a sense of relief that the first half of the year is almost over. It is during this phase that new teachers begin concentrating more on curriculum development, long range planning and developing a wider repertoire of teaching strategies. The rejuvenation stage also affords veteran teachers the opportunity to reach out to new faculty members since the novices are more prepared to listen, to engage in professional dialogues, and to accept the assistance that veterans can provide. Helping new teachers make a successful adjustment to their chosen career can be a source of satisfaction and personal fulfillment for an experienced teacher. In her book, The 21st Century Mentor’s Handbook, Paula Rutherford includes a mentoring calendar that provides a compendium of ideas experienced teachers can use throughout the school year as they work with the newest staff members. Building bridges with fellow staff members just may bring us the inner peace and happiness we might be seeking.

All of us have heard about the importance of providing students the chance for personal reflection as they attempt to master new material. Good teachers routinely build in reflection time for their students. However, reflection should not be limited to our students. As adults and professionals, we rarely take the time to reflect on our jobs and how we carry them out. We simply forge ahead. We must periodically stop, think about our personal and professional lives, determine what we truly want to accomplish, and then decide if we are on the right track to reaching our goals. As we reflect on our lives, it is important for us to ask ourselves if we are as happy and fulfilled as we want to be. The following questions may help us to think about where we are and where we might want to be:

  • Are we taking steps to reduce the stress in our lives and attain a greater sense of happiness?
  • Have we taken a proactive stance as we seek ways to make our personal and professional lives more fulfilling?
  • Do we have the best attitude possible in order to achieve a greater sense of inner peace?

Providing ourselves with reflection time has to be a conscious and deliberate decision. Otherwise, it’s business as usual. We fall into old routines, and put ourselves on automatic pilot doing the same things in the same ways. Below are several suggestions that may help individuals be more proactive in creating ways to think reflectively:

  • Take a look at your work day or work week and plan in advance to give yourself some quiet, private time. This may occur before school, during planning time, or after school.
  • Make a conscious decision to do something each day that you are pleased with or proud of, and take time to reflect on this event or occurrence.
  • Take time to express your thoughts through journaling which some individuals find to be a very satisfying and relaxing experience.
  • Engage in quiet conversations with a trusted friend on a regular basis in which you talk about the positive accomplishments in your life.
  • Reach out to students more proactively, getting to know them better as individuals.
  • Pamper yourself.

An anonymous quote that captures the essence of the importance of happiness and having a positive attitude appears below:

“Your life is determined not so much by what life brings to you, as by the attitude you bring to life; not so much by what happens to you, as by the way your mind looks at what happens. Circumstances and situations do color life, but you have been given the mind to choose what the color shall be.”

And finally, if all else fails, remember the words of Herm Albright:

“A positive attitude may not solve all your problems, but it will annoy enough people to make it worth the effort.”

Here’s wishing everyone a new year filled with time to reflect, increased happiness, a positive attitude about life, and a greater sense of inner peace.


Permission is granted for reprinting and distribution of this newsletter for non-commercial use only. Please include the following citation on all copies:
Oliver, Bruce. “Happy New Year.” Just for the ASKing! January 2006. Reproduced with permission of Just ASK Publications & Professional Development (Just ASK). © 2006 Just ASK. All rights reserved. Available at www.justaskpublications.com.