According to the calendar, the new year begins on Jan. 1, but for me fall is the start of the new year. The changing angle of the sun, the chill in the morning air, the rustle and smell of dry leaves underfoot -- all signal a new season and the promise of change.

For nearly every year of my life, fall has meant going back to school, although these years I return not as a student but as a faculty member.

It was with anticipation for new possibilities that I wrote to my students in the Management of Technology Program in the University of Minnesota's Center for the Development of Technological Leadership. It was the beginning of our relationship as teacher and student, and the beginning of their two-year program for their master's degrees.

In that message I tried to convey my excitement about working with them to improve their written and oral communication skills. Together we would explore strategies for analyzing their audience as well as for writing and speaking with greater clarity, precision, emphasis and personality. We would also work on identifying and eliminating the kinds of errors in grammar, punctuation, word choice and spelling that might undermine their credibility.

Taking a fresh look

I encouraged them to challenge what they read in the course textbooks and what they heard in class, to take a fresh look at those ideas and concepts and to ask themselves if they agreed or disagreed. I urged them to take the long view, to identify what information and concepts seemed most relevant to their professional and personal lives.

Finally, I asked them to consider their strengths and weaknesses as communicators. What did they want to learn from my class? What, specifically, did they hope to accomplish?

With this new season upon us, with its promise of fresh starts and new beginnings, what do you hope to accomplish? How might you improve your communication skills? What are your strengths and weaknesses, and how do you plan to make progress?

Soon winter will be here, a serious season, a time of contemplation and activity, when we can lower our heads and find ways to apply our newfound knowledge.

"The coming of the snow adds zest to my activities," Sig Olson writes in "The Singing Wilderness." "Now there will be time for a multitude of things that during the feverish moving about of summer and fall were denied me, leisure after the long and constant busyness."

Are you looking forward to what lies ahead? Are you committed to getting things done and accomplishing your goals? Are you excited about the possibility of acquiring new knowledge and applying new skills? Do you have a plan to make it happen?

For Sig, "the real meaning of the first snowfall" was "not a cessation of effort, but a drawing of the curtain on so many of the warm-weather activities that consume so much time."

Winter was a time to put things in order, a time to get things done.

Does your life still hold the promise of growth and development? Are you ready to begin anew?

Stephen Wilbers offers training seminars in effective business writing. E-mail him at His website is