By sheer numbers, New Year’s resolutions are doomed. U.S. News & World Report shares that 80% of goals fail during February (they look most specifically at fitness goals, but the trend can be generalized). So, it’s with great delight that I share my resolution is still going strong. On New Year’s Eve, my husband suggested that we make resolutions that are fun. In the past, we've taken on fitness goals (that were decently successful), organization goals (that were somewhat successful) and mental health goals (I’m actually the worst at these). I think he thought that it would be nice to reframe what often feels like expected drudgery and instead think about it as play. He set his goal (visiting two new states), and I set mine: I resolved to cook 52 new recipes by the end of 2019. Why 52? I know myself. I know that I like the accountability of a number and preparing something new every week feels manageable to me. I do, after all, cook every day. Adding over 50 new things I’ve tried to make also feels significant, and there’s something I like about that.
I’m doing well so far. Here’s what I’ve made: Rice pilaf Cider-mustard chicken Instant Pot chicken pot pie Chicken paprikash Instant Pot salsa chicken Polenta Skillet chicken with broccoli and rice Chocolate covered strawberries Beef tacos (in a homemade spice and sauce mixture)
I’m six weeks into the year and finding that this goal is really engaging. I appreciate that I’ve chosen something I enjoy as a subject, I like the parameters I set to measure my success, and I love that there’s a research-like component to each week’s preparation. I feel deep ownership of what I’m doing; it’s satisfying. (It’s also satisfying that my 15-month old has tried—and enjoyed—most of the dishes I’ve made). I’m preparing, executing, and most significantly, learning about both my skill level and myself.
There are some obvious connections to learning that I can draw.
1) Learning that someone wants to do is powerful. When you’ve decided you want to master something, you invest differently. If my husband had said he wanted me to make something new each week, I probably would have done it a couple of times, but I really doubt I’d carry it through. Plus, I’d probably look for new dishes that he wanted to eat rather than trying to find dishes that would be interesting or challenging for me to make. It would be a challenge I executed for him. I deeply respect and love my husband, but I’m not going to be nearly as successful if I do this for him rather than doing it as a challenge for myself. The more opportunities we can give to students to let them pick their learning and not just do something because the teacher wants them to, the more likely students will be powerfully moved by what they discover.
2) When you define how a thing is measured, you have a deep understanding of why that metric matters. I attached a number to my goal, and I did that largely because I want to do this regularly and that holds me accountable to regularity. I could have created other goals with other meaningful benchmarks: Creating dishes that capitalized on the most seasonally appropriate ingredients would be a good challenge for me, too. I could have chosen a goal around using spices or ingredients that I have but don’t use often or a goal to use all of my pantry items in ways that I haven’t yet tried. All of these resolutions would have been ones I could throw myself into, but they all have different values embedded within them (and so different ways to measure them). Each piece of work we ask a student to do has a different value embedded in it, and I wonder, how often are we letting our students pick the value? 3) Success can be defined in many different ways and talking through how and why you define it in a particular way is often more illuminating than a conversation about whether or not you merely hit a goal. At the end of this year, I will be able to say either “Yes, I accomplished my goal,” or “No, I didn’t make it.” I think that sounds a little like “Yes, I passed the test” (or its opposite). I think that’s a pretty superficial measure of success. I’d rather have a conversation about my favorite dishes, learning that inspired me, what was hard but worth it, or what I’ll never make again. I’d love to talk with someone about why I want to do this weekly and what regularity and consistency mean to me. I think it could also be powerful to have someone talk to me about why this kind of goal wouldn’t work as well for them or how they’d frame it so that it aligns with values they’re working on or deeply appreciate. How amazing would it be if, after students picked the value they wanted to embed in their goal, they reflected on what that says about who they are and what they’re working on?
4) Learning should be fun and rewarding. Not every moment of completing this goal is fun. I like grocery shopping, but I get stupidly frustrated when other folks don’t have any sense of spatial awareness in an aisle. I like looking through cookbooks, but I hate going through my pantry to remind myself what I already have. I really hate hauling bags of groceries into my house and putting them away. But I’ll do each part because I understand that they’re all a part of this. (And, to be fair, I usually get help with the hauling and putting away). It’s not that I’m psyched about all of the small steps; I’m doing some tedious work. But because I’m invested, I’ll do it all. And then I’ll get to try and chop all of my vegetables into similarly sized pieces and smell onion browning in butter, and I’ll love it. Our students, too, will take on a variety of tasks, some that they enjoy more than others, and they’ll do them differently when they feel a sense of ownership. I believe that it’s never too late to start, so what will your fun resolution be? P.S. The chocolate covered strawberries were delicious, and the coating adhered really well to the berries. My next step will be figuring out how to get the consistency of the chocolate smoother and more consistent throughout the batch. Preliminary research tells me that I need to think differently about the heat (I thought I was burning the chocolate so removed it; I now believe that was an error) and need to use berries that are really at their peak (I thoroughly washed and dried them, but I think a couple were a little mushy, and that can change the consistency of the chocolate). Images courtesy of Sara Bailey