From the Back of the Classroom

What’s your favourite place to work?

Where do you go to do deep work?

Is it different from where you do reading?

Where do you do most of your correcting?

Do you have that favourite chair where you love to read?

This is where, each morning, I spend time reading, free writing, and meditating. It’s my comfort space.

 

But it’s not where I spend time doing research or deeper writing.

Flexible Seating

I’m a big believer in flexible seating – providing students with different options for where they sit/stand when doing work during the day. I am noticing a stream of pictures and articles of classrooms focused on flexible seating. There are definitely some amazing looking classrooms with all kinds of seating arrangements and different options for sitting and working.

But is it all necessary? What are they key aspects that should be considered?

My wife, a Learning Resource Teacher, spends a great deal of time working with teachers helping them with implementing flexible seating in their classrooms among other things. Everything from standing desks to squishy seats. But, she is also very aware that this doesn’t work for all children.

As a parent, she knows that our 8 year old finds it difficult to concentrate in the classroom, especially with so many options. At times, according to his teacher, he is almost overwhelmed with the options. Although he likes the different options, flopping across a ball, bouncing on a squishy seat, he finds it very difficult to stay on task unless he’s at a more conventional seating arrangement. As parents, we’ve experienced this same situation with a couple of our children. Providing options can be a great thing but it can also become an overwhelming distraction.

As I discussed in my post Classroom Design – Not everyone likes learning at Starbucks about the importance of classroom design on learning, we need to be careful in decisions about classroom environment and ensure decisions are based on sound educational practices. As Eric Sheninger discusses in Research-Influenced Learning Spaces

We need to move away from classroom design that is “Pinterest pretty” and use research/design thinking to guide the work.” – Eric Sheninger and Tom Murray

Much like the ‘Ditch-the-teacher-desk’ that became a trend, flexible seating seems to be something that has become a topic of conversation.

The Teacher’s Desk

I know that there are great reasons for getting rid of the teacher’s desk. I got rid of mine years ago. But, I also learned that there were other considerations to keep in mind that, well, I didn’t consider before I made the move. I needed a working space in the classroom and had to make adjustments in order to manage this. When I was an administrator and a few teachers wanted to get rid of their desks, we met in each room to discuss the different ways to accommodate this while still providing options for the teacher to work. With 5 of us in the room, brainstorming ideas about the advantages and disadvantages was also a discussion about classroom design which eventually led to further classroom changes.

Barrett, Davies, Zang, and Barrett (2015) identified three dimensions, or design principles, to be considered in classroom design:

Naturalness: relates to the environmental parameters that are required for physical comfort. These are light, sound, temperature, air quality and ‘links to nature’. In particular there are specific requirements needed for children’s learning environments.

Individualisation: relates to how well the classroom meets the needs of a particular group of children. It is made up of Ownership, Flexibility and Connection parameters. Ownership is the first element and is a measure of both how identifiable and personalized the room is. Flexibility is a measure of how the room addresses the need of a particular age group and any changing pedagogy. Connection is a measure of how readily the pupils can connect to the rest of the school.
Stimulation (appropriate level of):has two parameters of Complexity and Colour. Colour is straightforward, but does encompass all the colour elements in the room. Complexity is a measure of how the different elements in the room combine to create a visually coherent and structured, or random and chaotic environment. It has been suggested that focused attention is crucially important for learning.

We all have different preferences for doing work and, usually, it depends on the work we are doing. When I’m doing research and writing, I like to work in a space that allows me to focus and is free from distractions and has natural light. My wife works at the kitchen table. Our 16 year old likes to work in the livingroom in a chair or at his desk in his room, depending on the work he is doing and his mood. The 14 year old likes the kitchen table as it allows him to be social while working. As for the 12 year old, you can find him on the floor, lying on the couch, sprawled across a chair or sitting on his bed but he likes a quiet space. The 8 year old will read to someone wherever but it usually involves a great deal of shifting and moving and probably a few side-bar conversations about something that catches his fancy. When our older daughter was in university, her favourite study place was the library (away from 4 energetic boys)


  • From the back of your classroom:

    How do you view the learning environment (as a student or a teacher)? Is this view based on opportunities for learning?
    What was the main focus for how you designed the learning space?
    Where did you get your inspiration for the space?
    Did you consider Naturalness, Individualisation, & Stimulation in the design?
    Have you asked others about the design? What were the reactions (learning focused or other)?
    Have you considered safety and movement in your design? Can it accommodate all learners?

  • 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.

    The Lure of the Listical


    When I began teaching, I struggled most with planning.
    And classroom management.
    And organization. Maybe time management.

    I was often stressed and tired, spending hours planning only to have most of the plans end up being replanned.

    The process would start all over again. Neverending it seemed.

    Oh, then there was correcting. On weekends. Usually binge correcting — the predecessor of binge watching before Netflix was a thing.

    I sometimes would borrow units from other teachers but this really didn’t cut down on the work time since I usually ended up retooling them, often only taking a few ideas from them. Often the units didn’t really work as new curricula were just coming out which was different and “resource-based”.

    Ahead of its Time — Maybe too Much!

    The curricula were ahead of their time. The idea of resource-based teaching meant that, well, there were no textbooks for each subject. Except math. There was a math textbook but one was suppose to supplement it with other resources.

    And manipulatives. All sorts of manipulatives.

    There was just one problem — it was hard to find resources besides, well, textbooks. The internet hadn’t yet become the firehydrant of information that it is today and accessing other resources was difficult.
    Thus began my obsession with resource hoarding.

    I Remember the “AHA”

    I was in my 5th year of teaching and my third as a grade 7 homeroom teacher. I was struggling more than I had ever struggled. I was entertaining thoughts of quitting. Not only did I have a large class but I was struggling with implementing the new curricula. Actually, struggling doesn’t quite cover it. I was suffering. I was exhausted. I actually cried at my desk.

    A few times.

    Then it happened.

    I remember the “AHA”. Clearly.

    I was planning in my room. I had copied the Learning Objectives and cut them into strips — a suggestion from one of the amazing teachers I worked with at the time — matching them together as I was building units. It was a unit in ELA and one of the LO looked vaguely familiar. There was that little niggle at the back of my brain but it took a while to become clear.

    It was similar to one of the Social Studies LO’s.

    That night I took my first foray into cross-curricular planning as I found that the LO’s in different subjects fit together. I could cover different LO’s by developing units that were cross-curricular. The beginning of Inquiry was seeded.

    I’d like to say that after that night things all fell together and shortly thereafter it was all better and I became an amazing teacher.

    It didn’t.

    See, that realization was just the beginning. What followed still required a great deal of work. A lot of work. Late nights. More binge correcting. I still had to plan the units, make connections and then figure out how to plan assessment. It was around this time that I came across Understanding by Design by Grant Wiggins & Jay McTighe which introduced me to backward planning. I did improve. I began to explore teaching in new ways. Classroom design became important. The effort began to pay off.

    Need To Do The Work

    In his book, The Dance of the Possible, Scott Berkun discusses how part of the creation process is actually having to do the work.

    No matter how great your idea is, there will be energy you have to spend, often on relatively ordinary work, to deliver it to the world.

    The “AHA” was only the beginning. In fact, it would take a few years before I would become what I considered “good” at planning and being able to make connections. It would take even more years before I was comfortable sharing what I was doing. It took hard work, spending time working with curricula, making plans that didn’t work in order to develop the skills to make plans that worked better. Trying them and making adjustments.

    Pursuing the process was important. It meant never being satisfied with what I had done but always looking for ways to improve it.

    This means a central skill any creative person needs is a mastery of time, which means a mastery of habits. There will always be easier things in our lives than creative work. There will always be demands on our time that are more logical and lucrative than chasing an idea. Scott Berkun

    Indeed, there are easier ways to get plans and units and, given the present conditions that many teachers face at this time, this need is being filled in a number of ways.

    I’m not against teachers paying teachers to use their creations.

    Not in the least.

    Teachers are looking for ideas and sites like Pinterest and Teachers Pay Teachersprovide a buffet of options. This is partly a result of a system that doesn’t always provide adequate resources and is geared toward efficiency and grades. The demands on teachers time have increased and teachers are looking for options that allow them to have some sort of life outside of school. Young teachers are not staying in the profession and one of the factors is the heavy demands on time.

    Teachers are not being provided the time to have those “AHA” moments themselves. Instead of being able to struggle through the process which leads to an “aha”, many teachers are just getting through the day.

    In his book, The Innovator’s Mindset: Empowering Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity George Corous suggests

    If we want to do better things for students, we have to become the guinea pigs and immerse ourselves in new learning opportunities to understand how to create the necessary changes. We rarely create something different until we experience something different.

    This is really how I ended up with my “AHA” moment — immersed in something new. But, in order to do that, there needs to be the conditions for that to happen. I would suggest this isn’t the present conditions in many schools where teachers are under extreme pressure to improve test scores and rankings. The focus is on data and documentation, making sure teachers are filling in the forms in the division-wide LMS.

    There are teachers, outliers, who do things differently. They do things differently, often without great supports.

    These outliers form pockets of innovation. Their results surprise us. Their students remember them as “great teachers,” not because of the test scores they received but because their lives were touched. George Couros

    As an administrator, there were always teachers like this in each school where I worked. Part of my role was to provide them with time, to give them the opportunity to be creative, to try new things, to have “aha” moments.

    But it wasn’t all teachers. Some weren’t ready or willing to chart new territory.

    And we have to be okay with that.

    We can’t expect everyone to be an outlier. In the past, I would suggest that often what these outliers were doing eventually found its way into many classrooms. There needs to be the opportunity for this to happen. It cannot be demanded of everyone.

    It takes time.

    And it’s hard work. Very hard.

    To create means to make something new, at least for you, and to do something new is like going off of the map, or more precisely, deliberately choosing to go to a part of the map that is unknown. In this case it rarely matters where or how you start. Scott Berkun

    Not all teachers work in an environment that supports creating. There are many students and parents that focus completely on grades. Constant accountability is stealing away time from the creative pursuit of learning in many jurisdictions.

    But there’s something else happening.

    The Draw of the Listicle

    We are living at a time of information overload and struggling with managing the amount of information that is available. As teachers struggle with ever-increasing demands, the draw of the Listicle is powerful — 5 Easy Ways to …., 10 Innovative Ideas for …, 7 Creative Ways to…. — why struggle with your own when there are lists and books which provide the options.

    Cut and paste.

    Lesson done!

    There are still teachers doing amazing things.
    However, too often the product, what you see, the highlight reel lessons, overshadow the relationships and the process. The spectacle of learning replaces the wonder of learning. The process is the learning.

    We always have more freedom than we think, we just forget. We spend so much time trying to be efficient that doing anything interesting feels like a waste of time. And in this tendency is another misconception: creativity is rarely efficient. It always involves taking chances and trying things that might work but might not. The question then is: are we willing to spend time to be interesting, to think interesting thoughts and make interesting things? We all have the power, but perhaps not the willingness. Scott Berkun

    To be willing means to forgo what’s easy. It’s hard. We need to support teachers so they can find their creativity, to delve into the process that leads to “AHA”!

    It requires hard work. It means doing and making, trying and retrying. All the while building relationships with students, parents, and colleagues.

    It’s such an amazing experience. It fuels the wonder…

    I Wonder ….

    How often do we see the struggle as being an important part of the process?

    How can teachers be supported to embrace an iterative process that, often, doesn’t end?

    What is the impact on teachers of all the ‘Listicals’ and ‘How to’ offerings?

    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.

    Classroom Design – Not everyone likes learning at Starbucks

    Where do you go to work? Do you have a long commute? Is it in the cab of a truck or tractor? Is it in a restaurant? What does it look like? How does it feel? Are you excited to get there?What is the environment like?

    Do you have a special place where you like to think and reflect? Write? Read? Share with someone else what you are doing/dreaming?

    Is there a coffee shop where you like to go?

    Do you like quiet or working in the midst conversations and people?

    Sometimes one, sometimes the other?

    What about doing creative work?

    Does it matter where you go to do these things?

    Really,
    does it matter?

    It does for me.

    Some days I like the coffee shop, other days, the quiet of writing at my desk. It can change during the day.

    What about a classroom?

    I work at so many different places — kitchen table, living room, office, library, coffee shops. Some days I like the quiet while other days I listen to music or just like the sound of conversations around me. It really depends. Not all days are the same.

    It really depends. Not all days are the same.

    Not all days are the same.

    I believe this applies to most people. For many people, there is very little choice in where they work. However, as I discussed in my previous post, this is changing as more people choose where they will work.

    As a classroom teacher, I have undergone a series of shifts related to classroom design. Like many teachers, I began with the desks in rows which was more default than by any actual thought on my part. I did what knew — desks in a row. I was worried about planning, classroom management and organization without realizing how the physical classroom design affected students.

    Over time this changed. Beginning about 17 years ago, I began to explore different classroom configurations including getting rid of desks for tables in groups and pairs, adding desks back but including beanbag chairs and wobble balls and allowing for different configurations depending on the students. I added plants and even put posters on the ceiling — you know you can tell when students aren’t listening when they begin to gaze upwards. I also tried a small tent in the classroom, a rocking chair, rugs and a variety of other non-tradtional items. Yet, through it all, I always felt there was something amiss.

    Today, much classroom design still revolves around the idea of classroom-like-box — paying attention to different factors such as placement of materials, work centers, group learning areas, individual learning areas and a variety of other factors which can affect individual learners.

    What if it was conceptualized differently?

    A recent artcile in FastCompany about the office of the future has had me thinking about design for a while. The office of the future explores how offices will change to be less focused on sitting-in-a-chair and more focused on collaboration. According to the authors

    The consensus is that workspaces generally will become more flexible (to accommodate different types of employees), more collaborative (this is the way work is going), and more natural.

    As in business where such companies as Google, which is known to “take measures to ensure its employees work in extremely unique environments that are designed to foster creativity and out-of-the-box thinking”, push the boundaries of the work environment, there are schools that push the boundaries of design. However, a vast majority of public schools were constructed between 1950 and 2000 when school design was limited to the hallway/box version. This doesn’t mean that creative teachers aren’t reconceptualizing how they use this space in new and creative ways but it does mean that there are limitations. And, not all jurisdictions will allow for a Starbucks-type classroom — there are safety regulations that one must adhere to in whatever one does.

    A recent publication by OCED — The Handbook for Innovative Learning Environments — outlines 7 Principles of learning to design learning environments.

    Each of these principles focuses on a different parts of designing a learning environment with the first two related to the physical environment of the classroom.

    Principle 1 — The learning environment recognises the learners as its core participants, encourages their active engagement and develops in them an understanding of their own activity as learners speaks to ensuring the main focus of the design is the learner and their learning needs. Such a focus requires that educators focus on designing a learning environment that has a multitude of options. However, as mentioned, many schools were built at a time when the prevailing ideas about schools focused on the direct teaching method. Teachers need to be creative when designing classrooms. One way to do this is to actively include students in arranging the room. This doesn’t mean letting students do whatever they want but it does mean having them use the room and provide suggestions for different areas of the room.

    Principle 2 — The learning environment if founded on the social nature of learning and actively encourages well-organized co-operative learning. Learning is social but it also has an individual aspect to it that needs to be recognized. Organizing the learning space may require creative ways of meeting both these needs. Like my own learning, depending on a number of factors, being social or having more individual space really depends on what I am doing at the time. Attending to different learning needs sometimes is difficult in a classroom and requires creativity. One method I found worked well was walking-discussions — students were allowed to walk around the school or school grounds and have discussions related to the topic we were exploring.

    Use What You Have — Then Be Creative

    ‘Learning environment refers to the diverse physical locations, contexts, and cultures in which students learn. Since students may learn in a wide variety of settings, such as outside-of-school locations and outdoor environments, the term is often used as a more accurate or preferred alternative to classroom, which has more limited and traditional connotations — a room with rows of desks and a chalkboard, for example.

    The term also encompasses the culture of a school or class — its presiding ethos and characteristics, including how individuals interact with and treat one another — as well as the ways in which teachers may organize an educational setting to facilitate learning…..’ Glossary of Educational Reform — A.W. (Tony) Bates OpenTextbook

    This definition comes closer to what I consider when thinking about design. I know that the traditional image of classroom does conjer up images of desks in rows with a board and other tradtional classroom fixtures but that is beginning to change. The more the discussion can move away from stressing ‘testing, marking, grades’ to include discussions of ‘learning environment, demonstrating understanding, portfolios, collaboration, feedback, learning continuum, learning ecosystem’ the greater the possibility to envision classrooms differently.

    I Wonder….

    What would you do differently if you could design your classroom differently?

    What would your students do differently?

    Why is efficiency one of the main factors of school design?

    What if creativity was the main factor for school/classroom design?

    I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas about this topic. Contact me at @kwhobbes on Twitter or get ahold of me at www.kwhobbes.wordpress.ca

    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.