The start of the new year is a great opportunity to reflect on your goals, set new goals, and focus on building momentum moving forward. Some people love the notion of New Year’s Resolutions and they use this time to set goals and design structured plans. For others, it’s more of a time to reset after the Holidays and make small healthy changes. You see this with the notion of a Dry January. Still others use this time to reflect on how the previous year is going and to choose a “one word” mantra for the year. But others prefer to take a “snailed it” approach where they continue to working on the things they love without considering the role of time. For them, a new year is merely an arbitrary date.
As teachers, we will have students who are in all of these different mindsets as well. So, I’d like to share five different approaches we might use with students.
Approach #1: Create SLIME Goals
I created the acronym SLIME as a way to think through my goals for the year. I could have easily gone with MILES and had something like, “How many MILES will I log?” but, let’s be real, slime is fun and sticky and I want my goals to be fun and sticky as well. Here’s what how it work:
- Start: What practice, habit, or project do I want to begin this year?
- Let Go: What current practice, habit, or project do I need to abandon this year?
- Improve: What current practice, habit, or project do I want to take to the next level?
- Maintain: What current practice, habit, or project do I want to continue to do this year?
- Experiment: What current practice, habit, or project do I want to try out?
With the SLIME Method, I focus on one goal for each of those areas. Part of this comes from the realization that we need to celebrate maintenance. For all the talk of “new and improved,” we need to celebrate the effort and commitment to continuing to do the things we do well.
I also like the SLIME method’s focus on experimentation and the recognition that sometimes we will try new projects that simply don’t work. And that’s okay. A failed project is a failed experiment. It doesn’t mean you failed. It simply means you tried something that didn’t work. The key is that you can learn from this.
If you’re interested in using the SLIME approach with students, you can download this SLIME goal-setting activity.
Approach #2: Distinguish Between Process Goals and Product Goals
One of the things I’ve noticed is that most New Year’s Resolutions focus on a specific, tangible outcome. Run a marathon. Write a novel. Lose a certain number of pounds. You get the idea. While there’s nothing wrong with these types of goals, there’s another type of goal that is just as important: process goals. These are the goals that allow us to develop habits and rituals that will remain sustainable even after we finish projects.
Here’s a brief overview of the two types of goals:
- Product goals focus on the destination while process goals focus on the journey.
- Product goals tend to be short-term but process goals tend to be long-term.
- Product goals are project-oriented while process goals are designed to build habits.
- Product goals stick to firm deadlines while process goals stick to consistent routines.
- Product goals define success by the completion of great work. By contrast, process goals define success as growth in one’s skills and abilities.
So, what does this look like? If your goal involves running, a product goal might be finishing a marathon while a process goal might be committing to run for 45 minutes every day. If you’re a writer, a product goal might be publishing a novel while a process goal might be a daily habit of 500 words per day. Neither approach is wrong. Both product goals and process goals are important for success. We need to get finish projects and build lasting habits.
I’ve seen teachers use this in two different ways. The first is to have students create process-related goals that they can track within the classroom. It might relate to completing assignments on time or participating in class discussions. It might be minutes of reading per day. With this approach, the class focuses on building habits.
The second approach is to have students create some product goals and process goals in a t-chart and identify two goals related to one another where they can track both the product and the process. The goal here is to build habits but also use a larger project to motivate students. This works really well within a Genius Hour project. But you might want to build on this idea of habit building and take it to the next level with creative momentum
Approach #3: Focus on Creative Momentum
Creative work is frustrating at first. Sometimes it’s the “tyranny of the urgent” that gets in the way. We have pressing demands that call upon our attention.
Other times, it’s fear or insecurity. That tiny voice keeps telling you that your work isn’t good enough and you’re simply wasting your time. You feel like you don’t know what you are doing and you constantly ask yourself if you’re doing it the right way.
A dominant question is, “Am I good enough?” And often the answer is “not yet,” which can feel like it might actually be, “not yet and maybe never.” Things feel slower. You haven’t hit that place of creative fluency where you can spend hours lost in a task. Everything seems difficult. The quality isn’t quite there, either. You are able to identify quality work in others but you can’t seem to pull it off on your own and that feels frustrating.
The same thing happens when you start lifting weights or running. You’re slow. You’re sloppy. Everything takes a long time. Progress seems painfully slow. You don’t have the capacity or the stamina. Everything seems new to you – but not in that cool, exciting novelty kind of way. You feel lost. In other words, the early stages in your creative journey can feel like the first few weeks of getting into running or weight-lifting or yoga. It’s painful. It’s confusing. Everybody around you seems to know what they are doing.
Over time, though, you build momentum and if there’s enough momentum, you end up creating something epic. Over time, as you create more and more work, you become competent and then skilled and eventually prolific. But it all starts with momentum.
What we need is for skills to improve over time. Creative momentum is similar to a creative habit but it combines habits with improvements.
When you experience creative momentum, you take your craft to the next level by combining habits with skill development. You focus on the creative process but you’re also cognizant of the end result and the final product.
I make the distinction of habits and momentum in the following visual:
Note that consistency alone can help build habits. However, combining consistency with continual improvement can help lead to creative momentum. Slowly, you start improving and building up your creative endurance and eventually it gets easier to engage in daily creative work. Meanwhile, your work becomes better. Better here might be faster, with improved fluency. But it also includes improving your craft, engaging in better processes, and often feeling better about the work you do.
The beauty with this approach is that you can start out small and build. You give yourself the permission to start slow and build on it. It’s a bit like leveling up in a video game. If you’re interested in this notion of creative momentum, I have a creative momentum journal you can download. You can also buy the physical journal (hardbound) on Amazon.
Approach #4: Take a Snailed It Approach
As we think about New Year’s Resolutions, we often hear about the need to create time-bound goals. While I’m a big fan of setting deadlines and using SMART goals, this can backfire. We often struggle to determine how long certain tasks will take. If our deadlines are too rigid, we can slip into a sense of defeat, where we grow anxious about how far behind we are on our self-imposed deadlines. There’s a value in starting with creative momentum and using a “snailed it” approach that focuses on process and the quality of the product rather than the speed of the work.
So . . . snailed it?
A few years ago, my son designed a t-shirt with the words “snailed it” on it. While this started as a silly joke, it’s become a phrase I use all the time. Snailed It describes any project that took too long to finish but was worth it in the end. Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky discovered the “planning fallacy.” It’s a cognitive bias that leads us to overpredict how much we will accomplish in a given set of time. We fail to anticipate barriers and challenges and become too optimistic.
As a result, we tend to take longer than we initially planned in finishing projects (this is especially true when we are first learning a skill). We all fall into the planning fallacy. And that’s okay. We’re human.
But this “Snailed it” mindset reminds me that success isn’t solely about speed. It’s about momentum, which is the overlap of habits and improvement that leads to incremental growth over time.
Snailed It is a reminder that success is about faithfulness. It’s about showing up. It’s about continuing to try even when progress feels painfully slow. And sometimes it feels like you’re progressing at, well, a snail’s pace.
But that’s okay because when you’re snailing it, you’re looking past the urgent and focusing your long-term goals. Snailed It is a rejection of perfectionism. It’s a reminder that “fail-ure” is permanent but “fail-ing” is temporary. And creativity is less about inspiration than iteration. Snailed it is a reminder to focus on the process rather than the product and to enjoy the journey even if it’s a little messy and confusing.
“Snailed it” is a rejection of grind culture. It’s the recognition that slowing down is necessary for sustainability. And we actually need to stop and recharge our batteries. Rest is actually a critical component of the creative process.
“Snailed It” is a reminder that life is not a race. When this happens, we quit comparing ourselves to others and embrace collaboration. I know this sounds strange but for me, snailed it” is no longer just a t-shirt. It’s become a mindset that has helped me to slow down and enjoy teaching, learning, and creative work. This mindset ultimately helps me with the slow pace of growth early on in this self-doubting phase.
Approach #5: Do a Mid-Year Reflection
For many educators, the start of the new year does not really feel like a new year. It’s more like a mid-year point. Many of us (myself included) follow the rhythms of a school calendar rather than the January through December calendar. The new year is more like August than January. For this reason, you might do a mid-year “reboot.” You might choose your “one word” for the year or focus on one key aspect that you want to redesign in your classroom. But you might also take this time to reflect on how projects have been going.
One of my all-time favorite books about creative work is Messy by Tim Harford. For years, I felt guilty about unfinished projects. When I eventually finished projects, I often felt guilty about going past my own self-imposed deadlines. However, Harford shares how nearly every creative genius has tons of unfinished projects. The messiness isn’t a bug. It’s a feature.
So, as I think about New Year’s Resolutions, I’m reminded that some projects will be failed experiments. And that’s okay. We learn a ton from things that didn’t work out. Others will need significant redesign and we might just leave them on the shelf for a few months (or even years). Still others are getting closer but need key revisions or just a few small areas to refine.
The point is, that’s normal.
I created this continuum of “ditch it” to “keep it” as a framework for making sense out of your projects:
As I think about the last year, I ended up with a few projects in each category:
- TikTok: I tried to use this platform and it just wasn’t for me. I know some folks love it but I just couldn’t get into it.
- Ms. B Saves Christmas: I’m taking some time off of this project and might decide at some point to try it again.
Keep It Private
- Inner Worlds: I took a concept of “introvert merit badges” and started a card game called Inner Worlds, where introverts have to project their energy and maintain their inner world in a system that can feel draining. I might go public with this but for now it’s a fun little private project
- Boost PBL: This project with AJ Julinai is currently in a redesign phase from its initial plan with a new focus on AI.
- Cat and Doug: I attempted a visual style that was more flat and ultimately decided I liked my imperfect sketch style. I’m also changing it from a comic strip to a hybrid novel / graphic novel. I’ll be sharing some previews this month.
- Courses I teach: I am working on a major revision to a PBL-based pedagogy course I teach as well as some significant revisions on an AI course I teach
- Pawsitive Apparel: This has been a fun project that I did with my son but I want us to take a step back, look at the designs we’ve done, and clarify what we want this to be. It might be a fun summertime project.
Refine and Launch
- New Teacher Mindset: We are putting the finishing touches on a book about innovative practices for new teachers. I’m cowriting this book with Trevor Muir and the goal is to move through the final revisions in the next couple of months and launch this in late spring.
- Launch Language: I’ve been taking a “Snailed It” approach with this project and I’m hoping to have it out this summer. It will include writing prompts (visual and video), grammar / syntax lessons, and oral language development games and discussions. The focus is on a student-centered approach for ELL / ML students.
As we think about project-based learning, you might use this mid-year point to have students use the previous continuum to have students determine whether they want to launch their Genius Hour projects or keep it private. This can be an opportunity to remind students that creative projects are sometimes a messy ordeal — and that’s okay.
But it’s also a chance to use a keep it / ditch it continuum to reflect on your PBL units as a teacher. Here you ask,”What projects do I want to do next year?” Then think about which projects you would want to try again, shelve, etc. You might use the following continuum on the keep it to ditch it. Note that this is different from the previous continuum.
You might even bring students into the discussions by running a survey or doing a student leadership team activity.
Empowering Students to Set Goals
As an educator, you might choose one of these strategies for your students and empower them to set their goals and reflect on their progress. Here, you can leverage the power of AI to turn the goals into more specific, concrete plans. For younger students, you might have parents or guardians help with the process as a way to model responsible use of AI.
However, you can take empowerment to the next level by allowing students to decide which of these five approaches they want to use as they reflect and set goals for the rest of the school year.