It hardly seems that long ago that summer began. I am sure that some of you may already be back working in your districts and businesses (or, maybe you never got the chance to leave for summer), while others of you may be gearing up these last few days to get ready to return to school. The final countdown has arrived for many of us.
The start of a new year always brings many new blessings and new challenges! As educators, we are fortunate to work in an environment where “we get to start all over again” which always brings a flood of things to think about, to make decisions on, and to do.
Let me ask you, “How do you keep the main thing the main thing” in your work?
In education, there often is simply “too much to do and not enough time to do it in.” It is sometimes difficult to make an impact by keeping a singular focus. To help keep “the main thing the main thing,” I adopted the practice of choosing a touchstone each month and using that same touchstone throughout the entire month. A “touchstone” is a simple word or short phrase I think about each day before starting my work at school. It helps focus my attention on an important idea or concept, and I incorporate it as I speak, make decisions, and do various tasks throughout the day much like the practice of setting an intention.
Have you ever heard the story about the professor and the jar of rocks from Stephen Covey in First Things First? There are many video versions and written versions of the story. If you haven’t heard of it or read it, it is a powerful story about priorities. A professor does a visual demonstration for his college students using a mason jar, rocks, pebbles, sand, and water. He starts by putting the rocks in the jar. Next, he adds pebbles to the jar. Later he adds sand to the jar, and finally he adds water. He asks the students for the significance of the demonstration, and the students don’t understand. The professor explains that had he gone in reverse order, starting with water and ending with the big rocks, they wouldn’t all fit. The professor’s point: if you don’t put your big rocks in the jar first, they don’t all fit.
A principal in my district, whom I greatly admire, shared with me today that he is working on “integrity” in thought, action, and deed starting this school year as his “touchstone” or “big rock.” He is focused on demonstrating he is “a man of his word.” If he says it, he is doing it. What a powerful focus to choose in our world where it is so easy to fall into the traps of distraction or forgetfulness despite one’s best intentions.
I wonder sometimes in schools if we don’t start the year being focused and mindful of the big rock or vision that we want to achieve in the new school year, but somehow, we aren’t very good at maintaining that focus throughout the entire year, and we get distracted filling up our jars each month first with water, sand, and pebbles rather than the big rocks first?
What is your “touchstone” or “big rock” you are focusing on as a district, leader, or teacher this school year on your “To Do” list?
And, speaking of “To Do” lists, do you have a “Stop Doing” list for school this year? Jim Collins, Good to Great and co-author of Built to Last, asserts that having a “Stop Doing” list may be even more important than having a “To Do” list to effectively allocate one of the most valuable resources of all: time.
It makes me think about our schools. So often we start the new year with new ideas, plans, and targets both as administrators and teachers, but how often do we reflectively make and follow through on a “Stop Doing” list? How often do we tell our teachers that they no longer need to do “x” or “y?” If we aren’t extending the school day or school year, then some things need to be on that “Stop Doing” list so we have time, energy, and focus for the new things we are adding on our “To Do” list.
What are you putting on your Stop Doing list at the start of this year? What is your district sharing with you as things teachers and administrators can stop doing to make way for the new?
Finally, an important topic that LFPA has been discussing in our blogs throughout this summer: the importance of school culture.
What is the “spirit” or “culture” in your workplace?
Spirit does not need to be “brought into” an organization or school. Spirit, or culture, already exists whether you like it or not. The problem is that over the last decade or so, many schools and organizations because of their commitment to quality and outside political pressures, have spent so much time, energy, and money focusing on systems and processes that they have forgotten or overlooked their more powerful resource for change: PEOPLE.
Many schools and districts are at the stage where they need to focus on regenerating the spirit in their workplaces and working on their school culture. Too often schools overlook the critical component of building culture, and focus instead on structural changes.
How are you building a healthy, collaborative school culture before implementing structural changes in your district?
Dr. Anthony Muhammad (@newfrontier21) asserts, “Culture eats structure for breakfast.” In other words, if you are only planning for technical/ structural change and aren’t addressing cultural change, the chances that your technical/structural change is going to be successful and make a systemic positive impact is very low. His latest book is currently listed as #1 on Amazon for new releases in Education Administration!
Want to learn more? Come learn how to transform your current school culture!
Learning Forward PA is excited to have Dr. Anthony Muhammad as our fall presenter on October 5, 2017 to be held at Harmony Hill Estate in Middletown, PA. Come hear him speak about Building a Culture that Creates Capacity for Leadership and Learning.
And, like summer, Learning Forward PA is in “the final countdown” for our Early Bird discount You have until August 15th to register to get that discount!
Hope to see you there!