Doing, Not Reading, Leads to Change

Each summer a new list of “must read” books crops up.

And, I must admit, I go through them checking to see what’s been added to the list. What should I add to my “Reading List” that continues to grow at a rate only slightly slower than my 16-year-old son.

About a year ago, I noticed that despite all the reading I was doing and had done, many things were pretty much unchanged. Sure, there were slight differences. I felt smarter and more capable, especially during Twitter chats and evening parties where I could offer a book suggestion for many topics.

But, still not the significant change I had expected. I mean, wasn’t something supposed to change? Isn’t that what the whole 5 hour rule is all about? What was I missing?

It was another great “AHA” moment! These people read in order to DO!

Doing Leads to Change!

See, in order for change to happen, you have to do.

Instead of consuming more, I had to create more.

Instead of planning more, I had to execute more.

Routines aren’t any good if all you do is write them out.

You need to set the alarm for5 AM and then get out of bed!

You need to develop a fitness plan and then execute it.

You need to organize an eating routine and then follow it.

In order to write better, well, you have to write.

I mean, really, look at what it did for my reading!

Doing to be Creative

So for the last year, I’ve been doing more, consuming less. I write more blog posts and journal more.

I develop routines that I don’t need to write down every day – they’re routines!

I was spending so much time looking for that “perfect” way to track time and workout and … I was spending more time consuming and not near enough time on doing.

George Couros, in The Innovators Mindset: Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity, says

What you can do is create the conditions where change is more likely to happen.

To create these conditions, one has to do something. It is in the act of doing that something is created. But to do this, you have to begin to find your own voice.

Todd Henry, the author of Louder Than Words: Harness the Power of Your Authentic Voice, says

When you are pouring yourself into your work and bringing your unique perspective and skills to the table, then you are adding value that only you are capable of contributing.

As a teacher, this is so important. It is the act of creating, of bringing your unique voice to the classroom, that great things will happen. It may take time for you to find that voice, but until you spend more time creating and less time consuming, the voice will be lost, covered over by layers of other voices, one’s you’ve read.

What are your consumption habits? Do they keep you from being creative and doing more?

Are you spending time learning about being more creative or are you doing more to be more creative?

Are you always looking and reading about ways to find “balance” or are you making decisions and doing things to thrive?

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

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

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.

Creative Habits

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Habits – they help us to get through the day. We develop them over time. Many of them are helpful but there are some which can be damaging.

We become so use to them, we don’t even notice how much they influence what we do or affect the choices we make.

Until we do something like move.

Moving Habits

Our family has moved a number of times – 10 I believe but I might have missed one or two somewhere. When you move, you briefly become aware of your habits although you usually don’t see them as habits.

  • Why are kitchen utensils in THAT drawer?

  • Where is the large roaster?

  • Has anyone seen the shampoo?

All these little things that we use each day are in specific places for a purpose – they help us to go about doing various tasks and getting on with our day without having to pause to wonder where we put your socks this week.

It’s like so many of the things we do. We tend to take the same route to work each day. It’s easier for us to navigate. Ever notice how you feel when you have to make a detour because of road construction? Does it mess things up? Do you talk about it when you get to your destination? Would you discuss your drive if it was just routine?

 Routines and habits are necessary for us. They help us to navigate through each day without becoming exhausted from decision-making.

But (you knew that was coming)

these routines and daily habits can eventually lead us to be less creative. As we go through each day, our habits often have us doing things before we really know we’re doing them – turn right at the lights, turn left two lights later – Did you notice the new sign? Was anyone sitting at the outdoor patio? (If it was winter you might notice!)

The routines and habits do serve a purpose as they help us to focus on areas of greater need and not become overwhelmed figuring out where we put the cereal. It’s also why sometimes solving problems is more difficult or coming up with ideas is strenuous, especially if we are in a routine-structured environment such as a school.

What if we want to be a bit more creative?

Kafka Effect

Franz Kafka  was a German-Language writer whose stories would take unexpected turns and twists that seemed to make little sense.

His work, which fuses elements of realism and the fantastic,[3] typically features isolated protagonists faced by bizarre or surrealistic predicaments and incomprehensible social-bureaucratic powers, and has been interpreted as exploring themes of alienation, existential anxiety, guilt, and absurdity.

The Kafka Effect, named after his writing, describes how a person’s creativity seems to increased after something in a person’s life happens which doesn’t seem to make sense such as a spouse leaving, a major move, or another such event. Nick Tasler in The Kafka Effect describes how scientists have discovered that people’s creativity seems to increase  when things don’t seem to make sense.

  •  In a series of correlational studies and experiments, Heintzelman and King found that when people believed their lives made sense, they let their intuitionguide their actions. But during times when they didn’t feel life was as meaningful, their brains shifted gears. “Before a trauma,” Heintzelman and King write, “a person was likely on auto-pilot, relying on intuitive processing. However, after a traumatic event, effortful processing may be crucial to making or reinstating meaning.”

This change in the normal creates dissonance. We aren’t sure what we’re suppose to do and our brain begins to look for patterns.

It works like this: When we detect something that doesn’t make sense—when the spouse we rely on to be our rock suddenly starts flaking out, or the neighbor in the Kafka story acts like a horse for no discernible reason—a cluster of brain functions called the salience network immediately activates a powerful set of cognitive skills that go to work finding other meaningful patterns around us. Once it starts, your brain won’t stop looking until it finds something to fill the void in meaning.

According to Tasler, such events create dissonance which creates a “seed incident”.

A seed incident is what stimulates people to explore new ideas because something happened which the same old stories we tell ourselves couldn’t quite explain. The seed incident sends us on a journey of discovery. What we end up finding on that journey is another story.

This seed incident introduces a change to our habits and routines which then opens us up to new ideas or ways of seeing things. These events can can lead us to see things in new ways which allow us to solve a problem unrelated to the event being experienced.
But no one is waiting for a major life-changing event to happen just to be a bit more creative.

Tasler suggests that this isn’t necessary. Instead, we can do things in our daily lives that help us to create dissonance that can lead to creativity. He suggests such things as taking a different route, going for a walk in a different part of the city, meeting with people in a new location or trying something you haven’t tried before can all open us up to new ideas.

Schools are Built Around Routines

Schools and classrooms rely on routines to help organize the people who are there. This isn’t a bad thing. Routine is comforting and helps us to be able to focus more on the non-routine things. Any teacher will tell you that disruptions in routine can really affect students and their ability to focus and concentrate.
However, the routines don’t always lend themselves to students being creative. So how can this be changed? How can we help students be more creative?

Tasler suggest that it’s in the messiness that creativity take shape.

researchers like Kaufmann make a compelling case that it’s right there in that messy, scary period of search and discovery that many of our most important innovations—our legacy-leaving creations—begin taking shape.

Classrooms of Creativity

Re-image the classroom as a place of creativity. There is a time for sitting and working deeply which is an important skill. However, by also allowing for flexiblity in seating and the design of the classroom, students can move out of the regular routine.
Take new approaches.

  • Go for a walk before settling in to do learning tasks.
  • Take journeys around the school or the school yard but not in the usual ways.
  • Have everyone draw pictures with their non-dominant hand and share them and discuss the process with another student.
  • Write across the page from right to left.

There are any number of ways to break away from the regular habits creating a little dissonance which may lead to a bit of creativity. It may not but, by building in these ‘seed incidents’, the normal routines are slightly disrupted which opens things up to possibility. Besides, it’s fun and who doesn’t want to have a bit more fun!

I wonder….

How do you already break the regular routine(s) to allow for creativity?
Have you every experienced something like the Kafka Effect?
What are ways you help develop creativity in students within the classroom?

I’d love to hear your ideas and insights.

Welcome to Teacher Creative

Welcome to Teacher Creative

This is the beginning of a great adventure. My hope is that this site will develop as an exploration of the Teacher Creative; helping educators develop their own unique voice.

What is Teacher Creative?

The inspiration for this comes from a few different sources the most notably being Todd Henry’s The Accidental Creative. Todd’s work focuses on helping people be creative. As he states “We teach people and teams how to be prolific, brilliant, & healthy”.

My goal is to help teachers see the creative within themselves and unleash their brilliance in the work they do with others.

Teachers as Creatives

I believe teachers are some of the most creative people around. They come up with amazing lessons, ideas for meeting the needs of students, work with other teachers to help create and sustain cultures of learning and exploration, and so much more. Often, however, they don’t have the time to really think about how creative they are or how they might unleash greater creativity in themselves and their students because of the demands on their time and resources.

As an educator I didn’t think of myself as creative. I had bought into the whole idea of a teacher as just someone who works with kids. Although I often had great ideas, I didn’t know how to implement or grow those ideas into practices within the classroom.  I wasn’t aware of how my own habits and frames of thinking were holding me back from being the teacher I knew I could be. This happened again when I became an administrator. I could see there were many possibilities but didn’t have the time, skills, or knowledge to bring those ideas to fruition. Although I learned a great deal, I was often frustrated because I knew I could do so much more if I just had the tools and time. Over time, I have come to understand that I was spending all my time building someone else’s version of me as teacher instead of developing my own voice and using my strengths to become better as a teacher.

It Takes Effort

In a world filled with ‘Listicals’ – a concept I borrow from Todd Henry, teachers have become inundated with lists of How To’s and What For’s. Add to this the constant barrage of “quotables” found on social media, which sound great but have little substance, and teachers are being overwhelmed with what others think they should do and what others think it means to teach.

You can’t argue with “All students matter” or “Do what’s best for students” but how do teachers and administrators get beyond the quotable? What does it mean to live “All students matter” or “Do what’s best for students”? What does it mean in your classroom? In your school? In your community?

More and more teachers are being told to be creative but then told how to be creative according to someone else’s ideas. Worse yet, they don’t value their own ideas but instead are directed to this list or that list, this book or that book with an outline or steps of what someone believes good teachers do. Their periphery vision leads them from one thing to another but they don’t focus on developing their own unique voice as a teacher. Todd Henry describes this a ‘peripheral paralysis‘ – unable to make progress because you are constantly drawn from one thing to another, comparing what you do to what they do.

Develop Your Voice

We’ve all read somewhere the quotes about you’re either building your dream or you’re building someone else’s. There are many people who will sell you their idea of education and teaching. Many sound great and get you excited but eventually you’re looking for the next book or list or conference workshop.  Why?

Like anything that is worthwhile, you need to build your own version not someone else’s. It requires putting in the effort to truly find your own voice as a teacher, what works for you within the classroom, and developing the habits and structures to nurture your own learning and growth and that of your students.

Finding your voice as a teacher is so important. Now more than ever, teachers need to find their own voice and develop their own uniqueness, talents, and gifts.

That is what Teacher Creative is all about – creative, inspirational, sustainable, healthy – create your own voice to help others create theirs.