by Ryan B. Jackson, Ed.D
I believe in clean slates.
As a high school assistant principal, who previously served as an English teacher for the better part of the last decade, I encourage, promote and model a clean slate approach — Tabula Rasa when I taught the TN curriculum’s “foreign phrases” SPI. When working with teens, especially those afflicted by the intense stressors of poverty, a great educator quickly learns and embraces the imperative powers of forgiveness, empathy and optimism. Even sooner do we realize not only the healing powers of these imperatives for ourselves and other educators but also the dire need to model, teach and cultivate this form of growth mindset for our students.
Celebrating the new year is undoubtedly life’s clean slate alarm clock, an embedded reset button both personally and sociologically understood. “New year; New me.” “Out with the old; In with the new.”
You get the point.
I finally took advantage of life’s proverbial rerouting tool two years ago when I made a New Year’s commitment to live an alcohol-free lifestyle. Honest yet hard conversations as well as a thorough reflection on potential barriers to goals led me to isolate drinking alcohol as a lynchpin to my personal and professional growth. The absence of alcohol may have been the catalyst but the byproducts were equally awesome — improved health, mental focus, reaffirmed relationships and a newfound sense of discipline and efficacy that only comes from committing to and sustaining life-changing goals.
There was nothing trivial or spontaneous about my decision to exorcise alcohol out of my life. I had become consumed with Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning and increasingly fascinated, if not infatuated, with the idea that a human being’s greatest act, our most powerful ability, comes entirely from within: our ability to choose. Compound this with Frankl’s assertion that absolutely no person, place, thing or idea has the capability or ethereal prowess to influence this innate power and I finally surmised that a new direction to my life was in order and I was in control.
For those not familiar, Frankl vetted his ideology during his well-documented tenure as a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp, conducting his own action-research experiment while trapped behind razor-wire, choosing life not death, hope not despair, good not evil. No doubt Frankl’s story, teachings and logotherapy left an indelible impact on me while recalibrating my thinking at a pivotal moment in my adult life, yet the universal nature of his theories go far beyond to drink or not to drink, to love and not to hate, to understand and not to judge. Frankl’s life and teachings succinctly cemented man’s greatest truth: rarely, if ever, is one truly in control of his or her circumstances but how we choose to accept those circumstances is entirely up to us. In the midst of unfathomable macabre, Frankl chose hope, honor and optimism.
Frankl only highlights our own clean slate, our own new beginning. Ultimately, we have the choice to reboot whenever we want. For so many of us, however, a clean slate means an exponential amount of behavioral change, so much so we allow self-doubt, fear, or the simple act of discomfort derail our well-intended choice before gaining any true traction. Through a teaching and learning context, I liken this kind of thinking or behavior to an educator’s unwillingness to effectively plan. So many times we have a profound vision or unique albeit untested lesson or activity yet we refuse to implement — or implement effectively — due to inadequate planning and the fear of true behavioral or pedagogical change. When teaching, this sense of fear or anxiety is only combatted through a healthy, committed dose of planning.
This planning, coupled with experience and a sincere desire to improve, sets a foundation stable enough to withstand the inevitable doubts, fears and intermittent bouts of entropy that should be expected. However, for so many of us, these doubts, fears and life’s inevitable, gravitational pull towards chaos stymies our start; well, delays it would be the more honest euphemism: embodied none better than by the infamous Chicago Cubs fans’ mantra “Wait until next year.”
More often than not, this derailment is a result of not only lack of planning but equal parts lack of reflection. Whether your philosophies or ideologies lean towards antifragility or growth mindset, 7 Habits or logotherapy, all initiatives require tremendous reflection — the introspective act of measuring our successes against our goals, while dividing our limitations and subtracting our barriers.
This new year may your Tabula Rasa act as a troika of planning, acting, and reflecting. Don’t just start fresh. Plan with inspiration. Start with confidence. Reflect with humility. See your start as a bona fide journey, an Oscar-worthy three-act film complete with challenges, setbacks, self-discovery and redemption.
The irony of it all is this simple truth: whether you start or don’t start, whether you’re planned or unplanned, whether you reflect or avoid intrapersonal growth — the choice is uniquely yours.
Happy New Year!