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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

New Year New You?

thinking-person-md

At the end of every academic year teachers and principals reflect.  Let’s be serious, we reflect for about thirty seconds on what went well and what we are proud of, and then we torture ourselves all summer over what we will do better next year.  If you are anything like me, you think about it constantly and over analyze it to death.  Questions like…How can I decrease the time it takes for teachers to submit data in a timely manner?  How can we be more efficient with our student support team?  How can we access necessary mental health programs for our students?  In what ways can we be better overall?  However, recently I have asked myself this question:

Is it me and my leadership style that needs to change to move our school forward?

It sounds a little selfish, I know.  But really, how many times do you stop and think about yourself and the impact your behavior and actions have on others?  I realized recently that I also welcome collaborative reflection as a part of my process.  Allowing others to have input provides multifaceted perspectives I may not have considered.  Using an individual and collaborative approach has helped me arrive at some very important conclusions for the future of our school.

Last year, we spent much of our professional development time establishing and modeling effective professional learning communities (PLC).  Each of us took a version of the Meyers Briggs personality inventory.  Some members of our staff had been involved in personality identification and training prior to this year; however, after finding out what their four letter combination there wasn’t much done with the information.  Our teachers used their four letter combination to determine who they were individually as a professional.  The next step was to take inventory of all the members of the PLC and identify a collective personality style.  Finally, we spent time discussing how we give and receive information in the PLC setting and how that could be deterring our teams from our mission:  to be the best for our students.  As administrators we participated in the learning along with the teachers.

I learned my personality type is an ESTJ:  The Guardian.  After searching the web to find power words to summarize ESTJ’s here is what I found: objective, decisive, realistic, analytical, practical, dependable, organized, logical, responsible, and systematic.  In knowing all of these things about myself, most of which I knew before this professional development activity, I have been more aware how others receive information I communicate to them.  For example,  we have an amazing teacher in our school.  Her personality type is an ISFJ: The Nurturer.  We had a really difficult time communicating simply because she wanted to be heard.  I listened, but found I jumped too quickly to try to solve the problems she shared.  Just knowing that about her, I was able to receive information from her without jumping to the analytical, take charge me to solve problems.

Back to my question:

Is it me and my leadership style that needs to change to move our school forward?

There may be a more self-aware version of myself leading this school year.  I have read some terrific books over the last few months that have energized my passion for the challenges we face in schools.  I know our teachers will recognize this renewed spirit as we begin the school year.  My goal, rather than presenting a new me this year, is to be the type of leader who makes those around me better.  I plan to do this by committing to be a better leader today than I was yesterday by using constant, honest reflection.  How will you make this year better than last year?

Sincerely Yours,

HMG

Next Up:  Why You Should Be Afraid of Pandas