3 Keys to Continual Personal Development

Schools have been thrust into the fast lane of change. Teachers are working to make changes and adjustments on many of the things they do. This is necessary as there is a need for change and improvement on many levels in education.

Too often it’s seen as an end in and of itself. Change for the sake of change. If we can just reach this or that, then things will slow down or we’ll be better prepared or ….

but the pace never ceases with new change piling up on new change like ducks landing on a frozen pond.

What if, instead of looking for change destinations, the focus was on the journey?

There, just ahead, after that curve. Drive a little further, your destination is almost here.
Of course, that’s not how it works.
Not our careers, not our relationships, not our lives.
Done. You’ve arrived.
You’ve always arrived. You’ve never arrived. Seth Godin

As Seth Godin’s quote illustrates, life is a series of journeys interrupted along the way. The school needs to reflect the journey of learning, a progression of growth over time with different sojourns along the way.

Most schools are places with beginning and endings. Beginning of each school year, ending of the school year.
Often, these endings/beginnings are portrayed as “new starts” or “clean slates” or something similar. What if, instead of waiting for a new year, each day was a chance to start again or to build on yesterday, depending on the need.
Sometimes we are making great progress and each day builds upon the next. Other days, it’s better to start again tomorrow. We all need that, not next year, but tomorrow.

What if school was just part of the journey where the ending was just a shift of the learning continuum?

Can schools reflect this journey?

We Have the Ability …

Today, we have the ability to shift the culture of the school to reflect the learning journey as a continuum. We have tools for sharing, understanding about the neuroscience of learning, the ability of professionals to collaborate for student success, and if needed, the ability to gather data to determine areas of strength and those that need support. All these are available to schools and teachers.

But it requires a shift in the classroom and in schools – away from episodal reporting to continuous growth. Where assessment informs learning as much, or more than, it informs progress.

George Couros in his latest post discusses the need for teachers, administrators, and other school leaders to continue to grow and develop.

There are some organizations that are moving too fast for people, but there is also the opposite effect. A person’s growth can stagnate if the leadership is not able to push them forward.

This is not change for the sake of change, but learning and growing in order to improve the learning environment in the classroom. This is change built upon the needs of the person as part of the journey. It’s improving and growing as part of continuing to thrive as an individual.

Continuing to grow and develop is important for all of us. In Do Over: Rescue Monday, Reinvent Your Work, and Never Get Stuck, Jon Acuff says:

You know who we should fire, that guy who keeps learning how to do his job even better,” said no one ever.

Learning to become better is about consistently seeking to improve. We have the ability to use the tools to help students develop habits of learning which evolve as we develop and grow. This means that, as educators, pursuing our learning is important. As a teacher, it isn’t always easy to do this, especially if we try to do it alone.

Here are 3 strategies that might help.

1. Seek Out Other Learners

Often, as adults, learning can be an individual endeavour. Especially when teaching all day and a full schedule, learning something new or just continuing one’s learning is often fit in among the other things happening. Sometimes, it’s can seem unattainable. According to Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We do in Life and Business,

For a habit to stay changed, people must believe change is possible. And most often, that belief only emerges with the help of a group.

Learning is a habit. It’s part of our many habits and, like other habits, it can be developed over time. One key to this is to learn with others. Sometimes we need inspiration and support of others to help us along. Collaborative learning isn’t just for students.

The evidence is clear: If you want to chagne a habit, you must find an alternative routine, and your odds of success go up dramaticlly when you commit to changing as part of a group. Belief is essential, and it grow out of a communal experience, wven if that community is only as large as two people.

Whether it’s with the people in your school or with others you connect with online, seeking out others who are continuing their own learning provides social support, especially when just beginning. If you can, seek out a group of others with similar interests and start a learning group.

2. Eliminate the Non-Essential, Don’t add-on

“If you want something done, find a busy person” does have some reality to it – look around to see who is doing things and chances are they’re a very busy person. In some circles, being busy has become a sign you’ve somehow “arrived”. But such isn’t a recipe for life-long learning. Eventually, the busyness runs the person over. Instead of adding on ‘one more thing’ and search for some sort of balance among the many, shift to focus on those things that allow you to thrive in all aspects of life.

What if we stopped celebrating being busy as a measurement of importance? What if instead we celebrate how much time we had spent listening, pondering, meditating, and enjoying time with the most important people in our lives? Greg McKeown – Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less

Learning is one of the key areas for continued growth and development. The 5-Hour Rule is one that many successful people abide by – doing 5 hours of deliberate learning. It can include reading or building, tinkering or experimenting. But it is different from work. It is time you devote to learning and part of this is setting time apart – one hour a day – for learning. To do this may require setting time apart in the morning or in the evening, rescheduling your time to build this into your lifestyle. It isn’t always easy, especially with the extracurricular demands of many teachers plus the demands of family. But, what if you eliminated some of the homework you give students which then would free you up from having to do marking. Could you use that time for your own learning? How about if you began to approach planning your school day, in the same way, looking for ways to help students to pursue some of their own learning, such as with Genius Hour or 20% Time? How can you make adjustments in what you presently do that will support your learning and development?

3. Try Something New

What’s something you’ve always wanted to learn about or try? Have a topic you’d really like to learn more about? Or looking for something but not sure what? You don’t have to do this from scratch. There are a number of online courses that you can take or if you are so inclined, courses at local colleges and universities. Online course sites include Skillshare, Udemy, Coursera, Lynda, Khan Academy, TedEd, Open Culture, edX, Alison, Standford Online, Codecademy, Code.org, Udacity, i Tunes Free Courses, FutureLearn. The growth of Massive Open Online Courses(MOOCs) allows anyone with a computer and internet access to take a course. They provide the opportunity to access courses, often at no charge, on a wide variety of subjects. You can take your learning to a new level, get access to experts in their fields, and try something you’ve always wanted to learn about. George Couros has an IMMOOC scheduled for October 2017 which focuses on his book Innovator’s Mindset if you are looking for something to get started.

Screenshot 2017-08-03 10.19.56

I wonder….

1. What is something that you want to learn about? Have you ever shared that with your own students?

2. Do you share your learning with other people? On a blog? Pictures on Instagram?

3. How might focusing on the essentials help to provide time for learning in your life?

4. What’s stopping you from continuing your learning?

As always I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments on this.
You can connect with me at @kwhobbes on Twitter or email me at kwhobbes@gmail.com.

Balance – is it really the Key to Life?

Key to life?

Is work-life balance the key? Or might there be a different way to approach this? What might that be?

A few years ago  I read Chris Brogan’s post Work-Life Balance?  which offered a different take on the concept of work-life balance .

I think the question is part of the problem. I don’t think balance is the goal. I think we seek to thrive. Grant Cardone says that he wants excess in both quadrants: work and home life. Why settle for a balance where you can seek really thriving levels of success with both? And I agree.

I agree. I want to thrive in all areas of my life. To do that I had to reconsider how I was approaching this whole thing and the mindset that I had. The first was to rethink how I was viewing what I was doing. I was categorizing things as work, family, spiritual, body, etc and trying to figure out how to balance each of them. Like many others, it wasn’t working. I was frustrated because I often felt guilty when I spent too much time working on particular projects or would exercise instead of spending time with my family. Instead of finding balance, I was always trying to juggle things so I wasn’t feeling guilty. I’d give up on projects I wanted to do because the things I “needed” to do were crowding them out.

I wasn’t doing well on balancing and I wasn’t getting any further ahead.  I was running faster and harder but making no real progress. Eventually this led to burnout and almost a break down. The cycle repeated itself a few times.

I couldn’t continue this.

Change was in order but what? How?

Simplifying

The book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown explores the concept of work/life balance through discerning what is essential. The book begins with a vignette of an executive working in Silicon Valley. At one point, the executive begins to be selective about what he says “Yes” to do and, in doing so, begins to reignite his creativity.

It felt self-indulgent at first. But by being selective he bought himself space, and in that space he found creative freedom. Grep McKeown

Through this story, which could be anyone in a similar position, McKeown introduces the reader to a different way of seeing the things we are doing. Instead of trying to find some sort of balance with all the things that are going on, one seeks to thrive through learning new habits and making decisions that are focused on what is essential.

only once you give yourself permission to stop trying to do it all, to stop saying yes to everyone, can you make your highest contribution towards the things that really matter. … It is about pausing constantly to ask, “Am I investing in the right activities?” Grep McKeown

This isn’t easy to do. We live in a social period of being constantly connected and plugged in. Social media bombards us with the “perfect” lives of the people around us, showing us what we’re missing. Parents feel pressured to ensure their children have “the ultimate childhood” while the pursuit of keeping up is magnified through the lenses of cameras in everyone’s pocket. We’re inundated with new articles, lists, books and courses, telling us they can help us – In 6 Easy Steps – to reach/do/achieve almost anything. We bite, looking for some way to do/be in order to rush on to the next thing, always worried that we’re falling behind.

Being a Great Teacher

As a teacher, I was always trying to improve, to finally have someone say “he’s a great teacher/principal”. Over time, it drove me … almost almost over the edge. I was trying, reading, implementing, doing – trying to do it all but still driven, in some crazy alternate reality, to find ‘balance’. Deep down I knew it wasn’t going to happen. But it didn’t stop me from continually doing and trying. It wasn’t until I was so frustrated with my work,  emotionally drained, and dissatisfied with the current state of life that I decided it was time to act.

Today, technology has lowered the barrier for others to share their opinion about what we should be focusing on. It is not just information overload; it is opinion overload. Greg McKeown.

I didn’t want to find balance, I wanted to THRIVE in what I was doing. I wanted to be able to create, to use my abilities to their potential, to regain my health, both physically and mentally, and share and support others like I glimpsed was possible.

Connected Doesn’t Mean Doing it All

I consider myself to be a connected individual. In the past, I would have said a connected educator but I’ve come to realize I’m more than that – it is only part of who I am. That’s where Chris Brogan’s article really had me begin thinking – I wasn’t looking at the whole me, but as me as separate parts. It wasn’t until I stepped back to view things holistically that I began to understand the depth of the change that needed to happen.

If we don’t purposefully and deliberately choose where to focus our energies and time, other people – our bosses, our colleagues, our clients, and even our families – will choose for us, and before long we’ll have lost sight of everything that is manful and important. Greg McKeown

In learning to say “No”, I have learned to say “Yes” to what is the most important. In discerning what is important, I have been able to slowly move from being ‘busy and seeking balance’ to ‘focused and thriving’. To do this, changing my mindset was so incredibly important.

In Essentialism McKeown outlines three core concepts for an essentialist mindset:

  • Individual choice – we can choose how to spend our energy and time.  This is more true than we often first believe. Deciding to get back in shape wasn’t the hard decision. Following through was the hard part. It meant I had to eliminate habits and change routines which, as many know, is so incredibly hard. In fact, we often fail because we underestimate how hard it is going to be. We don’t account for the triggers and cues that reinforce the habits that undermine our success. Just because we have choice doesn’t mean we’ll be able to follow through if we don’t take time to understand our current position and what needs to change and then take inventor of our current habits and how they affect what we do each day.
  • The prevalence of noise: Almost everything is noise, and very few things are exceptionally valuable. Todd Henry calls this Peripheral Paralysis – too often we are too concerned with what else is happening around us and aren’t focusing on our path. Yes, it’s important to see what others are doing but it doesn’t mean doing what they are doing. It also doesn’t mean comparing what you are creating and doing to other’s because they are at different points of the journey than you. To often we compare ourselves to others without knowing the full story of the other. There is so much noise around us we’re distracted, ‘busy’ but lacking focus. Choosing to focus on what is vital and essential is difficult because we are suppose to do it all.
  • The reality of trade-offs” We can’t have it all or do it all. This is hard. I want to do it ALL! But to thrive, I can’t. I need to focus on specific things, to eliminate what isn’t essential and vital.  Saying ‘No’ isn’t just about the mental discipline of discerning what is essential but it’s also about the “emotional discipline necessary to say no to social pressure.”  Using the “Three Whys” that Chip and Dan Heath outline in their book Made to Stick, I  connect what I am doing with why I am doing it at an emotional level. Chip and Dan suggest that once you have decided to do something ask “Why is this important?” three times. So, why do I exercise? Because I want to be healthy. Why do I want to do that? So I can live longer and be active in my old age? Why do I want to do that? Because I want to be able to spend time  with my wife, spend time playing with my kids, be able to see my grandchildren and enjoy my doing things with my family. Yes, exercise is about being healthy but when I drill down to emotions, it connects with my future and what I dream to be able to do.

What does this mean for Educators?

Educators are constantly making decisions. I would suggest that many teachers suffer from decision overload which eventually affects their ability to make future decisions. How many educators are exhausted at the end of the day? Week? Focused on making it until the next break?  Counting down until summer vacation?

By being asked to make more and more decisions, educators are not able to use their energy for the vital/important. Educators want to be creative, to use their energy to creatively engage students and develop engaging learning environments.

How can teachers begin to change this for themselves? Teachers often are asked to do things which, it seems, provide them with little choice. Yet, there are decisions teachers can make about their use of time to determine what is essential and vital.

Areas to Explore

Outcomes/Curriculum – What are the Essential Questions and Big Ideas that can be used to connect outcomes? Are you familiar enough with the curricula to be able to combine Outcomes? Are you using a process such as Understanding by Design to  plan learning events and connect assessments with learning and develop cross-curricular learning?

Assessment/Feedback – Is the focus on assessment or feedback? Are you providing more feedback than assessment? Do you assess everything or just the vital/important? Do you know what is vital/important to assess?

Daily routines/habits – Do you employ daily routines – morning/afternoon/night  which encourage you to focus on what is vital/important? Do you connect what you are doing with your “Why”? Have you taken a habit inventory? Can you identify the triggers and cues for these habits?

Relationships – This is one area that everyone talks about – having relationships with students and families but what does that really mean? This is where the Three Why’s from Chip and Dan Heath can really be useful. Why are relationships with students important? Because they allow educators to connect personally with students. Why is connecting personally with students important? It provides insights into the students lives. Why is this insight important? It allows for trust, caring, and sharing. We share emotional life experiences with the students. This can be done with all relationships. Unfortunately, negative individuals drain us of energy. Do you need to reevaluate the relationships with colleagues?

None of this is easy. Actually, making the decision to change is the easiest part. When things are going easy, one really doesn’t need to be too creative or innovative, things happen. It’s when things aren’t going well and there are challenges that we need creativity, to see what isn’t obvious, to find solutions to the complex, to initiate change that isn’t obvious. There are no 5 Easy Steps or 10 Instant Remedies. But, in order to thrive, developing new habits and focusing on what is vital and important can help us to be our creative best.

I Wonder …. 

What might change if we focus on the vital/important in our lives?

If choice is important, how can teachers be empowered to make choices about what is vital/important?

How can teachers develop and be supported in developing habits that allow them to be creative in the work they do during times of seemingly constant change?

I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas about this topic. Leave me a comment or send my a note on Twitter at @kwhobbes.

Until next Wednesday, seek what is vital, focus on the important; find your own creative voice.

Habits, Groups, and Growth Mindset

How often do you think about which hand to brush your teeth with? Or comb your hair? What about where the bowl for cereal is located? Or the spoons? How is your refrigerator is arranged? Or your clothes drawers? Why are they that way?

Habits build up over time, often being introduced to us when we are children and developing as we grow older. We don’t often even pay attention to what we are doing or wonder why we do things that way. They can be helpful, allowing us to focus on other details while we go about the day. They can be harmful and destructive, something that we struggle with for years.

But not all habits are created equally.

Keystone Habits

Keystone habits are habits that have a profound affect on other habits. They shape and influence other habits. They can be good habits which then affect other habits. For example, when I began a morning routine, it had an effect on the rest of my day. The routine had an influence the other habits I had around organization and productivity. These have slowly developed into routines – a series of habits that I use in the morning and in the evening. Over time, some become automatic, allowing me to focus more on moment that I’m in or what I am reading. It also works the other way, keystone habits that aren’t so good.

According to Charles Duhigg in The Power of Habit, keystone habits

say that success doesn’t depend on getting every single thing right, but instead relies on identifying a few key priorities and fashioning them into powerful levers. … The habits that matter most are the ones that, when they start to shift, dislodge and remake other patterns.

We all have habits that we rely on throughout the day. These habits affect all aspects of their lives. When we combine these habits into routines, the habits can help us to build even more habits. Now these habits can be good or bad. By knowing that some actions trigger other actions, we can begin to take action, either to reinforce the good habits or begin to change habits that aren’t so goof for us.
But individuals are’t the only one with habits.

Group Habits

So if individuals have habits, can groups also have habits?
According to Hudigg, when you have a group of people, these habits become routines. In the classroom, the routines are what influence individual habits. Everything from how the room is set up to the structure of the day influence what is taking place. Determining trigger points for students can help to determine where a particular habit or routine might need to be changed. By examining the behaviours and tracing what is happening to the trigger points, it is possible to begin to identify some of the reasons behind certain things that are happening in the classroom.

But how to determine what might create change or how to change the habits and routines? According to Hudigg, this requires what research calls “small wins”.

Small wins fuel transformative changes by leveraging tiny advantages into patterns that convince people that bigger achievements are within reach.

Too often in the classroom, we react to the actions of individuals without taking time to identify what is causing the actions or reactions. There are many systems that are used and implemented in classrooms that try to manage behaviours of students without taking the time to determine if there are habits that may be causing the behaviours.

Are there are specific triggers or cues that might can be identified? What is the routine that might be resulting in the behaviour?

Habits for a Growht Mindset

Carol Dweck, author of The Growth Mindset, outlines how the mindset people have influences their ability to make changes and continue to grow and learn. Recently, Dweck began discussing what she calls a “false growth mindset” in which people praise an action but don’t take the necessary steps to go deeper to understanding what needs to change in order to improve.

False growth mindset is saying you have growth mindset when you don’t really have it or you don’t really understand [what it is]. It’s also false in the sense that nobody has a growth mindset in everything all the time. Everyone is a mixture of fixed and growth mindsets. You could have a predominant growth mindset in an area but there can still be things that trigger you into a fixed mindset trait. Something really challenging and outside your comfort zone can trigger it, or, if you encounter someone who is much better than you at something you pride yourself on, you can think “Oh, that person has ability, not me.” So I think we all, students and adults, have to look for our fixed-mindset triggers and understand when we are falling into that mindset.

I think a lot of what happened [with false growth mindset among educators] is that instead of taking this long and difficult journey, where you work on understanding your triggers, working with them, and over time being able to stay in a growth mindset more and more, many educators just said, “Oh yeah, I have a growth mindset” because either they know it’s the right mindset to have or they understood it in a way that made it seem easy.

As Dweck suggests, identifying the triggers that keep us from growing and developing are important in order to make changes to what we are doing and they take time. If change and innovation is what schools are seeking, then starting at the source, with the habits and mindsets of the teacher and students is essential to creating lasting change and innovation.

How do we identify the triggers?

One way is to develop a journaling habit. As a full-time teaching administrator I fully get how busy teachers are in the classroom and, in recent years, this ‘busyness’ has increased. Yet, with all the tracking and record keeping, management systems and reporting systems, teachers are frustrated with what is happening in the classroom. In almost all instances, the systems don’t get to the root of the issues but are directed at recording the implementation of different systems of behaviour management.

In order to change the culture of any group, there needs to be a change of culture. Without examining the keystone habits of the group, making changes will run into the embedded habits which can be difficult to overcome. Unknowingly, old habits won’t be changed. So, despite people’s best efforts, change may begin but the cultural change needed will be hampered by systemic habits which may, ultimately, undermine even the best intentions, ideas, and plans.

Cultures grow out of the keytsone habits in every organization, whether leaders are awere of them or not. … Keystone habits transform us by creating cultures that make clear the values that, in the heat of a difficult decision or moment of uncertainty, we might otherwise forget. Charles Duhigg

In schools and classrooms, spending time examining the habits of people and the systems being used is essential to determine whether there are triggers and cues that will undermind the change efforts. In my experience working through change in a number of schools, a great deal of effort goes into explaining and laying out why change is necessary/important. Very little time is spent exploring what is currently happening and examining the existing routines and habits to determine the affect they have upon the current system. Trying to innovate or change will be very difficult if the current routines and habits are not explored.

This work takes great effort and isn’t very “flashy” or “innovative”. It take patience and some time to determine the current triggers and cues in place and, if possible, determining if there are any keystone habits that might be key resistors to change. Too often, change agents want to get the process underway. Innovators want to implement their innovations. But, like so many gym memberships that are purchased at New Year’s by coaches who extol the virtues of the gym and exercise, once they have your membership, it’s off to the next one.

I Wonder ….

What would happen if we started to innovate or change by asking “Why do things happen this way?”

How the change/innovation process would benefit from a deep exploration of the current systems and habits within the organization?

How teachers might use reflection in their classrooms to explore how behaviours are affected by the current routines and habits?

I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas about this. Leave a comment or you can connect with me on Twitter @kwhobbes

Living the Good Life

This week, the topic for Summer Blogging Exposé was happiness, joy and fun.

How to Live a Good Life is a book by Jonathan Fields that is filled with stories about people Jonathan interviewed about what they considered it meant to them to live a good life.

In the introduction Fields discusses where the experience of the book began. Fields explains that

it would be many more years until I gave myself permission to own the possibility that somewhere within me lay the ember of a rough-edged ability to affect others. Both the desire and the potential to create moments, experience, and things that might inspire a change in state and belief. To incite possibility.

This is similar to my own walk.

We’ve all been in that place of “fine” and “busy”, disconnected from the people, places, and activities that allow us to work through each day utterly alive. Disconnected from our best selves. We’ve all felt like a piece of us was dying a little bit every day and we just didn’t know how to flip the switch, how to turn our lives back on.

Yep. That was where I had been. I had spent many a night wondering “What is my calling? What am I here to do?” but hearing only silence. Filling each day with “busy” and “fine” but feeling like I wasn’t fulfilling my potential, deeply knowing that I had something to share that only I could share but being unable to figure it out. I grew miserable – and spread it to those around me.

Stepping Away – The Myth of Career

The hardest decision wasn’t stepping away from teaching. The hardest decision was accepting that this wasn’t where I was suppose to be. After more than 20 years, I knew I wasn’t suppose to be here. But if not here, where?

Accepting this fact has allowed me to shed so many embedded myths about life, career, learning and teaching. I began to rethink the habits in my life and how they shape who I am and what I do. In doing so, the Good Life Buckets that Fields explores in the book have provided me with a starting place for my own life transformations.

The Good Life Buckets

Fields outlines three buckets that each person needs to ensure they fill or their life becomes out of alignment.

  • Connection Bucket – all about relationships
  • Contribution Bucket – how you contribute to the world
  • Vitality Bucket – state of mind and body

Each of these has “levers’ that Fields discusses as “the little things that will fill your buckets most powerfully.”

The book has helped me to reflect on how I view the world around me, the relationships that I have, my habits, and how I percieve my contributions. I have my own 4th bucket, Spiritual Bucket. Although Field includes this with Connection Bucket, I separate the two. Regardless of how you view these areas of your life, choosing to nourish your mind/body/spirit and the connections you have with others and with the world itself are so important.

Really, I’ve just begun this road of discovery but it has changed a great deal of how I view the world around me and the other people who are on this journey.

So what are your buckets?
How do you describe happiness, joy, and fun? What does Living the Good Life mean for you?

I’d love to hear your thoughts and insights about this in the comments or you can contact me on Twitter @kwhobbes. I look forward to hearing from you.