Category Archives: Professional Growth

Lessons learned through reading

Less But Better – Essentialism in Schools (Part 1)

“If you don’t prioritize your life, somebody else will.”  Greg McKeown

Before boarding an airplane this spring, I stopped into a magazine and book shop looking for something to keep my interest during the flight.  I stumbled on a book that drastically changed my professional perspective, and how I approach my daily work habits.  Seriously.  I think my closest colleagues may be a little tired of hearing about it.  I just can’t stop sharing the knowledge I’ve gained from reading Greg McKeown’s Essentialism:  The Disciplined Pursuit of Less.  The many personal and professional lessons learned by reading this book can’t be shared in a single post!  Instead, the essentialist theme will weave through my posts this school year demonstrating essentialism in action.

Why did I decide to buy this book at the airport?  Inside the front cover it reads:

“Essentialism isn’t about getting more done in less time.  It’s about getting only the right things done.”

Then you read four questions:

  1. Have you ever found yourself stretched too thin?
  2. Do you simultaneously feel overworked and underutilized?
  3. Are you often busy but not productive?
  4. Do you feel hijacked by other people’s agendas?

Answering “yes” to all the questions above, I was intrigued to learn more.  McKeown defines essentialism as a disciplined, systematic approach for determining where our highest point of contribution lies, then making execution of those things look almost effortless.  I am guilty of being the person who wanted to be involved in everything.  Some closest to me would say I have a desire to control those things.  While I agree to some extent, I also know that I am naturally curious and my commitment to schools was never narrow in scope.  I wanted to know more about every detail of schools and the operational versus instructional side.  I still do.  Does that remind you of anyone in your professional circle?  Something troubled me as I began to notice the aura I gave off to those around me.  They approached me with a question and began to apologize for asking because they believed I was “too busy” or “juggling so many things right now”.  Did I appear too busy to be supportive?  What was I working on that made me appear this way?  Was this work vital to the mission of our school?

Then it hit me.  Flying at 35,000 feet and buckled into my seat, it hit me like a ton of bricks.  I was working on so many different projects that I wasn’t able to devote necessary energy to the tasks and the people that needed it most.  I was doing everything but accomplishing very little.  According to McKeown, “Essentialism is not about how to get more things done; it’s about how to get the right things done.”  This started a spring and summer of self study: essentialism in training.  After finishing the book I realized I am a natural essentialist in many ways, and with a few adjustments in my approach to taking on projects and responsibilities I can be better at focusing my energy where it is needed most.  I was challenged to identify areas in which I can make the highest contribution.  With the help of great administrative colleagues, we have identified those areas:

  1. Development of the whole child – emphasis on positive behavior supports & enrichment experiences to enhance our curriculum
  2. Teachers:  High Expectations & High Support – emphasis on observation cycles with specific feedback
  3. Parent Education & Support – emphasis on consistent and purposeful communication

McKeown was correct when he said, “everything changes when you give yourself power to choose.”  The contrast between the non-essentialist and the essentialist is crystal clear.  The non-essentialist believes “I have to” while the essentialist believes “I choose to.”  While there are things we must do that will forever remain out of our control, the amount of energy we put toward those tasks will always remain our choice.  McKeown shares that when we forget our right to choose we learn helplessness and fall prey to the priorities and agendas of others.  Being specific and intentional about how to make the biggest impact, decision making becomes easier and connected to those specific areas.

McKeown stated,

“What if we stopped celebrating being busy as a measurement of importance? What if instead we celebrated how much time we had spent listening, pondering, meditating, and enjoying time with the most important people in our lives?”

I don’t know about you, I have a lot of life to live beyond the walls of my school.  I am dedicated, committed, and passionate about my professional work.  I also have two school age children who deserve a present and attentive mom.  I have a husband who deserves a present and attentive wife. I have an extended family who deserve the same.  I am challenged by the thought of less but better.  I am excited to try it in action.

How will you become more like an essentialist in your role?

Sincerely yours,

HMG

Next Up:  Education:  Searching for Silver Linings

Launching an Effective Year

How many of you operate on a balanced school calendar?  We do, and its no secret how much I love the benefits!  That said, there is one – and only one – major drawback.

Our first day of school is July 30th!  

b2school

You heard me right.  July 30th is our first day of school with students.  We are fortunate enough to have our teachers with us for two work days prior to the students first day, so they return July 28th.  Gone are the days when school began as summer ended.  We’ve yet to have a 90 degree day in Indy, but summer is still in full swing.  Here are a few tips to use to launch a successful school year, even if you are launching it in the summer:

Get organized –  Make a commitment to organize your work flow, whether it is lesson plans or lesson observations.  Ensure your environment, a classroom or office, is conducive for maximum productivity.  If being organized isn’t something you are naturally driven to do, reach out to colleagues for tips and advice about how to keep one step ahead.  This will decrease stress and anxiety!

Establish a classroom/school community –  Establish clear expectations and allow students to contribute to the norms in your class.  A highly effective teacher teaches children to self monitor choices and behavior while positively impacting those around them.  In my experience, posting rules is a path to classroom management disaster.  Instead, teach children to set class goals, and then reward them when they meet a goal together.  Building classroom communities who make a positive impact upon each other is a way to focus on the development of the whole child and simulates what children are expected to do as they entire our global society.

Build relationships with students and families –  Break home and school barriers by building authentic relationships with students and parents.  Use your skill and training to help parents understand “school” ,and then give them tips on how to support their children for success in your class.  All teachers and schools are a little different.  Be clear and communicate with children, and their families, exactly what you expect. From my perspective in the office, many parents are doing the best they can.  I have many families tell me exactly that!  Once you’ve established a caring and trusting relationship, together you are a partner in helping their child grow and succeed.

There was a teacher I worked with in the past who only communicated negatively about many of her families.  While she loved the children, she was judgmental and lacked empathy when speaking of their parents.  My question to her was always, what could you recommend they do differently?  How can you help them understand they are not helping their child be successful?  Of course, there were no answers to these question on the part of this teacher.  However, I believe those who do have answers create relationships where an entire family grows from the experiences with that teacher.

Build relationships with colleagues – Get involved in professional organizations and school activities to get to know your colleagues.  The “grown ups” at work are those that will be there in happy times and carry you through the tough times.  Some may think, “I don’t need friends at work!”  Colleagues don’t have to be friends, but with a little mutual respect a professional friendship can be just want you need to grow and feel supported.

Celebrate –  Take pride in your accomplishments and those of your students!  Start each day asking what is going well and focus on the good.  Make a commitment not to get caught up in things that didn’t go your way, and remind yourself that it is through failure when we  learn and grow the most.  Teach your children about taking risks and promise them you’ll love and support them if they fail.  The idea of iteration, which is the act of  repeating a process with the aim of approaching a desired goal, target or result, will help children (and adults) understand that failing is a part of the learning process, and we always have an opportunity to make changes and try again.

Speak up and advocate –  Don’t hesitate to tell school critics that you and your colleagues are doing a good job!  Refuse to become any part of a conversation, in our out of school, where you aren’t sharing the positive.  Negativity can divide an entire group or community, so see yourself as an advocate to spread the good word of our schools.  Remember, your voice matters!

Just relax and remember that you are only one person, and you are doing the best you can.  Most teachers put a great deal of pressure on themselves to be perfect.  Keep that perfectionism in check as it has a tendency to negatively impact you and those around you.  Finally, keep a sense of humor!   To be most effective an educator has a sense of purpose and a strong passion to reach the goal.  However, we lose many great teachers because they forget that play is a part of being successful with your students and colleagues.

Have a great start to your year!

Sincerely yours,

HMG

Next Up:  Innovative Classroom Instruction