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Three Words for the New Semester

One of my favorite things about the rhythms of academic life is that we get to start fresh several times a year. A new semester brings new students, new courses, new research opportunities, and the chance to try doing something a bit differently.

Here at ProfHacker, Amy’s written before about setting New Year’s resolutions to improve on the previous semester’s experience, and Anastasia’s written about setting teaching resolutions for a new semester.

To focus my intentions and actions for the new semester, I’m adapting Chris Brogan’s Three Words process which I’ve been using for several years as part of my New Year’s reflections and planning. Brogan’s approach is simple and effective:

Pick any three words that will guide you in the choices you intend to make for 2016. They should be words that let you challenge yourself as to motives and decisions. They should be words that help you guide your actions.

The three words I’ve chosen for this semester are: Learn, Experiment, and Create. I use them as touchstones both for planning my time and in my weekly review.

  • Learn: In my second semester at a new institution, I’m still learning about how things work. I’m focused on what my students are learning from each day in my class, and from my courses overall. I also ask myself what I’m learning from each of the research, teaching, or service activities I participate in each day, because learning helps me see progress and makes me happy.

  • Experiment: This word helps me keep playful inquiry at the forefront of my research and teaching. Experimenting lets me try things out and then decide whether I want to commit to them or not.

  • Create: Focusing on creating — whether through writing, designing curriculum, or teamwork on a committee — helps keep my ideas flowing and my actions focused. (It also helps combat imposter syndrome, as I’ve written about here.)

I have found that selecting three words to holistically guide my choices through the year helps me be more mindful about setting priorities and allocating my time and energy. I’ve also found that the words I pick resonate across the different personal and professional areas of my life: I learn, experiment, and create in the kitchen or in the gym as much as I do in the classroom or at my computer. That, for me, is what makes the three words approach effective and compelling.

What are your three words for the new semester? Let us know in the comments!

[CC-licensed Flickr photo by Dave Worley]

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