cc photo by Jeff Delp | Student at Good Neighbor School – Port Au Prince, Haiti
And every day, the world will drag you by the hand, yelling “This is important! And this is important! And this is important! You need to worry about this! And this! And this!”
And each day, it’s up to you, to yank your hand back, put it on your heart and say “No. This is what’s important.” ~ Iain S. Thomas
For most of us, the school year is quickly winding down. If you are like me, you are excited about having a bit of a break, but also feeling a bit of trepidation about the amount of work you have to get done, in a short period of time. As alluded to by the quote by Iain S. Thomas, there is no shortage of tasks, people, distractions, and worries that vie for our time and attention. Without an appropriate amount of perspective, and planning, those things can quickly overwhelm and set our teaching, and leadership, off course. That has happened to me on more than one occasion. Here are three things that typically throw me out of balance, and what I try to do about them.
1. Lack of Focus
Most of my work days vacillate between controlled, and uncontrolled chaos. Interruptions are the rule, not the exception, and things never quite go the way I plan. However, I am often guilty of not having a clear plan to begin with — winging it, and allowing each emerging crisis, and my e-mail inbox, to control my day.
Recently, with the help of a few technology tools, I have started to get a handle on this issue — approaching each day with a little more focus. I use Wunderlist to track my tasks. I have tried many different task-list tools, but I like the simplicity of Wunderlist. Here are a few of my keys to making Wunderlist a useful tool:
- Only attach due dates to tasks that actually have a due date
- Use the “star” tag sparingly — only for those tasks that require immediate attention
- Use hashtags, in the Windows and Mac applications, to filter tasks
- Minimize the number of folders
- Create a list for tasks that can be accomplished in a short period of time
In addition to Wunderlist, I use Evernote to keep track of all of my notes, and create a daily plan. I outline my agenda, and develop a focus for the day — the key things I must accomplish in order for the day to be successful.
While things still go awry, mapping things out, and having a clear focus, leads to less stress and more success.
2. Having a Clear Purpose
Whether in the classroom, on campus, or in our school community, each of our actions should have a clear purpose. In many cases, our work (or a life) out of balance, begins with failure to clearly define what matters most. Teaching, or leading, with intentionality requires planning activities and actions that clearly support a defined purpose. Proceeding without purpose, leads to days of frustration and a focus on things which often matter least. Without a clear purpose, I get caught up in day to day minutiae — getting a lot of things done without accomplishing anything meaningful. In education this might look like:
- Filler activities without any connection to standards (or worse, worksheets)
- A focus on grades, instead of student learning
- Meetings held without a clear benefit to participants (or just to disseminate information)
- Homework assignments without relevance
Having a purpose relates directly to planning. In an effort to be more deliberate, I have started spending time at the beginning of each day (or the night before), defining goals for my day that are related to the “big rocks” in my work, and personal, life. Again, I outline these ideas in Evernote.
Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things that matter least. ~ Goethe
When it comes right down to it, I spend a lot of time worrying about things that don’t really matter, or simply won’t come to fruition. That is wasted time. Worry is a personal demon — something that has the ability to consume my time and energy like nothing else. It robs me of effectiveness on the job, takes away from relationships with those I care about, and negatively impacts my physical and mental health. When you really stop to think about it, there is very little that we have to worry about. A recent trip to Haiti has helped me gain some perspective, and develop a new approach to my job.
I try really hard to remember that being an educator is all about being an advocate for the students I teach and care for. At the end of the day, if I have done my best to make decisions, and take actions, with their best interest in mind, I can walk away feeling good about what I have done. No worries. I have also started reminding myself that while I am passionate about my career as an educator, I have other areas of my life that are equally, or more, important: my faith, my family, my health, and my hobbies. Being a principal is part of my identity, but it is not who I am.
Worrying is like paying on a debt that may never come due. ~ Will Rogers
Remember, when the world grabs your hand and yells this is important, it is your job to pull it away. Have a plan, be intentional, and keep perspective.
I am wishing all educators a peaceful, and stress free end of the school year. You deserve it!