Setting the Tone for the New School Year

Beginning the new school year with a positive, proactive attitude and approach is key to setting the right tone for you and your family and sustaining it over the academic year.

Being a teacher educator who is married to a school teacher and has two girls in elementary school has taught me the importance of deliberate intention, visualization, meditation, organization, communication, and follow-up.

I have learned these conscious, mindful actions the hard way and over time. In fact, I have resisted many of these ‘steps’ because I have a propensity to challenge routine, particularly if it feels forced. That said, I have noticed over the years that my children respond very positively to consistent messaging, clear vision of home- and school-centered goals, an organized home, and predictable scheduling. By no means do my husband and I approach these actions without keeping in mind that play, relaxation, and fun are equally, if not more, important. My girls crave long stretches of interrupted play where they can draw, engage in imaginative role play, create projects, read for pleasure, and explore our backyard’s trees, plants, and insects.

So, being the teacher that I am, I am happy to share the ways we, as a family, attempt to structure and maintain a harmonious tone in our home at the beginning of and throughout the school year.

Intention is the conscious practice of calibrating and setting the tone we need, as a family, to sustain a relatively peaceful balance. For us, this balance requires a mindful approach to understanding each individual’s desires, hopes, and needs while considering how each individual fits together and contributes to our family’s collective realities and dreams. For example, both my daughters are involved in extracurricular activities that involve a financial and time-intensive commitment necessary for them to continue progressing. To set the intention to support these activities, my husband and I needed to have several conversations to organize practical and feasible ways to realize my daughters’ desires.

The intention we set as a family was a co-constructed endeavor that involved some challenging discussions around what we could and could not support either financially or logistically. For instance, one of my daughters wanted to play soccer on top of already participating in martial arts, attending gymnastics one night per week, and continuing with her weekend violin lessons. While financially we were able to support her in all these activities, schedule-wise it would have been a major hardship. Had she played soccer, we would have needed to hire a caregiver to transport our daughter to and from practices and games that were often scheduled last-minute by the school district. My husband’s daily teaching schedule and my evening university courses conflicted with the district’s projected practices and games. Though our daughter was disappointed that she would not be able to play for her second-grade school team, through deliberate discussions – where we explained to her all the variables involved – she began to understand some of the complexities.

The intention to set the right tone for our family meant negotiating and tweaking our schedule until all of us came to a mutual agreement. As parents, this right tone meant actively listening to our two girls, hearing them out, and considering their opinions. Because my husband and I had discussed our non-negotiables (e.g., we did not want to hire a person to transport our girls from activity to activity), we could listen to our daughters and hold our ground while being fair and compassionate. Once everyone felt that they had contributed to conversations around our home and school schedules, we were able to reach a space where our overall intention toward extracurricular activities was positive and forward moving.

Once an intention is set (and feels good), I have discovered that imagining the actions that follow the intention are critical to assisting me with planning, organizing, and working out any kinks. Since I am a very visual person, it makes sense to use visualization as a practical tool for these imaginings. For others who are auditory processors, talking through your intentions may prove very beneficial. For tactile learners, having a tangible planner in front of you as you are thinking through your intentions can help you transfer conceptualizations to concrete actions by imagining (and seeing) each day of the week in calendar form. For kinesthetic individuals, taking a nice walk and moving your body while imagining the way your intention will manifest into reality can be extremely helpful.

In my own experience, visualizing not only the action, but also the feeling behind the action is equally important. Manifesting a smooth transition into the busy school year means seeing each family member feeling joyous as they engage in home-, work- or school-related activities. If, for example, I see – in my mind’s eye – my daughters excited to go to their evening gymnastics practice and having a fantastic time while they are there adds to the energy and momentum of this reality being achieved. This practice of visualizing the event and associating it with a positive emotion is a process of our ability as human beings (with untapped spiritual potential) to co-construct realities we want to experience.

Meditation within the context of setting the tone for the new school year, for me, is a practice that underlies all the actions described in creating positive processes and outcomes. It is a state of being we can reach when we find congruence between our mind, heart, spirit, and body. This alignment within triggers a harmonious resonance through which calmness and a deep sense of well-being is experienced. Meditation does not need to come after visualization, nor, in actuality, is there any required order among any of the ‘steps’ described. For me, however, meditation is a way for me to solidify a knowingness that what I have intended, visualized, and felt is not only probable, but fully possible because I know and believe the reality I have co-constructed to be real and true.

Once this knowingness settles into my very core, then I can be very deliberate with organizing my actions without feeling anxious, frustrated, or overwhelmed. However, when I begin organizing without setting the intention and following through with visualization and meditation, I generally go into a panic. For instance, if I haven’t centered myself and I approach scheduling a monthly calendar of all our individual family member’s activities, I usually feel an anxious and uncomfortable energy arise from my navel. This shooting energy gets stuck in my throat. I then forget to breathe. I feel light-headed, and my pulse skyrockets. This is when arguments between my husband and I are inevitable. He may ask me a simple question such as, “Can you pick up the girls on Thursday afternoon?” And I, feeling completely ungrounded, unsettled, will reply with anger, short outbursts, and curt responses. I may even blame him for how I am feeling because, in these moments, when the energy is rushing so fast in my body, I may not be able to process that my state of being has been compromised by my lack of centeredness.

When I wrote earlier that I sometimes resist organization, I believe it is because I have frequently used organization as a tool to control inner or outer chaos. Instead of approaching organization as a mindful and conscious practice of sorting and prioritizing what is important to me and to my family members I have viewed it and used it as a last-ditch effort at cleaning up what I don’t want to look at. My resistance stems from a constructed belief that somehow organization is the antithesis to freedom. If I am disciplined and organized that, somehow, I will lose or stifle my inner creativity and spirit. So, instead of adopting organization as a spiritual practice of proactively attending to the important things in my life, I have done everything in my power to resist structuring my schedule and organizing my activities and those of my family members.

Though I have had moments of clarity throughout my life about organization and have attempted to have a healthy relationship with it, it wasn’t until I became a mother that I realized the importance of providing my daughters with predictability that could only come from organization. As a single person or even as a wife I could get away with a more reactive approach to organizing my life. In other words, I could wait until the last minute or until I had reached a desperate place before I would begin to deliberately put things in order. As a mother, however, I came to the difficult and honest realization that my negative reactions to setting up specific structures in my ‘world,’ many times, affected my young daughters detrimentally. I did not want them to get caught in my self-inflicted hurricanes, so I began to surrender. I surrendered to the understanding that organization – as a mindful practice – could provide important structures so that my children felt a predictability and trustworthiness that their world was safe and secure.

In practice, organization is now a deliberate process that is aligned with our individual and family goals. Setting the intention for how we want to feel as we create structures to ensure we can achieve our desires and needs has informed how we interact and communicate with one another. Communication has been a critical ‘step’ in understanding how each of us feels as we listen to and discuss with one another what each of us needs to meet our desires, hopes, and needs. Communication is essential in co-constructing a feasible structure that has been vetted by each family member (to varying degrees). For example, in our household, to be able to organize each of our varied school- and work-related activities, we have created a family calendar displayed on a white board near the refrigerator (which is color coded by person and shows each individual’s activity throughout the month) and a weekly menu (which is displayed on a small blackboard in the kitchen). We have divided up chores and household responsibilities (which are written down on lists) and organized specific home-, work-, and school-related events (via Google calendars).

Because we are attempting to make activities transparent in a variety of ways, it becomes important to check-in with one another and to see if the structures we have in place to organize these events are working.

Recently, my husband and I realized that much of our miscommunication about my work-related scheduled events on the calendar was occurring because my Outlook work schedule was not synching with my Google Calendar. A couple of times when I got home from work late because I was at a ‘scheduled’ work event, I detected a slight frustration in his voice. I would say, “It was on the calendar.” And he would retort, “No it wasn’t.” And I would respond, “Yes, it was. I scheduled it.” The tête-à-tête was ad nauseam. Finally, however, when the synching problem was resolved, we were able to get back into a groove that was aligned with our original intention. We were able to meet our needs, which included work needs, and felt good about knowing that we were following an agreed upon structure.

Finally, in this process of setting the tone for the new school year, my family and I have found that following-up with one another assists us in following through with the intentions and goals we have created. Following-up, for me, is interconnected with communication and is the action of speaking with one another to ensure the we each feel aligned with what we have agreed upon as a family. If, in a ‘follow-up,’ we discover that a family member is no longer in sync with or happy about the direction we are moving as a collective, then it is imperative to communicate honestly with one another and to listen with compassion about issues that are being revealed. Some of these issues may unearth not only the individual family member’s challenges, but signal to the rest of the family that a new conceptualization, structure, or intention is necessary. Following-up assists in following through. Following through is a related action and is characterized by what each of us does to continue sustaining a positive and proactive tone. Following through means to be continually proactive in our approach to communication and other ‘steps,’ such as meditation, that will facilitate healthy processes and outcomes related to home, work, and school.

When we are deliberate about actions (intention, visualization, meditation, organization, communication, and follow-up) that contribute to individual and family goals, we begin to sense an amazing power within that is freeing and expansive. We come to realize our co-creative abilities in setting intentions that have a high probability of being realized. As we become conscious co-creators, we can set the tone for how we want to live our lives.

We can see the seeds we have sown and teach our children the ways that they, through intention and action, can experience joy in all the activities in which they are engaged.

As we begin another school year, let’s make a conscious effort to set a positive and proactive tone for how we deliberately experience our life.

Setting the tone for joy,

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