The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.
Lately, a common theme has emerged from conversations with educators. The theme sounds something like this: Where do I start?; What do these terms mean in practice?; How do they these ideas fit together?; How do I make time for all of these?; How can I do all of these well?; Where does what I have always done fit in?
To sense make, to break new ground, and to connect old to new, can all be daunting propositions. Especially when we are attending to already established initiatives. Especially when we have children in our care who deserve our full attention and presence. Especially when the educational landscape is shifting daily, with new words, concepts, approaches, practices, and projects.
We may, like squirrels in fall, launch into action and gather up as many new projects as possible. Everyone else is doing it, right? Don’t want to get left behind! Before we know it, we are knee-deep in initiatives. We are keen and fearless but somehow we don’t make the head way we imagined we would. Quite frankly, we end up dabbling only superficially with each new initiative and before we know it, our interest and enthusiasm wanes. Eventually, our new initiatives lie abandoned, like discarded oxygen canisters at the base of Everest, varied in colour but empty none the less.
Is there another way? Can we reduce the clutter? Can we come together to create a cohesive story for what is at the heart of the matter? How do we navigate the increasingly cluttered educational landscape?
Articulate Your Big Picture
“If you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will.”
If you don’t have a big picture of what you are after, get one. Make it detailed. It doesn’t have to have every detail. You can fill in as you go. Make it big, but not too big. Make it big enough so that all the smaller initiatives can fit inside.
The big picture (or call it vision, the why, or big rocks) should get to the heart of the matter of what you do. It should clarify for you what you are after. It should describe what you are trying to create. It should inspire you. It should stretch you just the right amount.
The big picture should add clarity to everything you do. Everything you do should be in service of this big picture. If you can’t come up with a big picture ask someone you trust and respect to help you with this process. If you don’t have such a person, rely on research based principles such as the OECD principles of learning. Or look out into the educational field to thought leaders and see what they are saying. Regardless of the source, work towards articulating the big picture in your own words. Make it meaningful to you. This is important.
Refer to this big picture every day. Refer to it several times a day. Write it down on index cards, on rocks, on posters. Just refer to it. All the time.
My big picture looked like this:
- Make space for student ownership
- Play school less, play learning more
- Create a self-sustaining community of self-regulating learners
These simple statements helped me to judge whether a new initiative was worth my time and energy. Just because a new initiative appeared on the landscape, didn’t mean it was going to serve the big picture. I needed to ask myself if the initiative revealed more detail about how to create the big picture, or did it create another pile of clutter?
For example, even though Jupiter Grades was extremely popular at that time, I didn’t jump on board. I decided that Jupiter Grades wouldn’t help create the big picture I was after. In fact, Jupiter Grades would have maintained the status quo I was hoping to move away from. Jupiter Grades didn’t make room for student ownership. Jupiter Grades was really good at playing school but it didn’t help to create clarity about learning. Jupiter Grades wasn’t an obvious yes, so it was an obvious no!
To recap, some ideas for clearing clutter:
- Articulate your big picture – Make it meaningful, make it yours, and make it visible. Use it as a filter for identifying clutter.
- Before you add, let go – Just as with children’s toys, entrance way closets, and kitchens, we need to edit on an ongoing basis. Decide what practices might be vestigial and let go. For me, this was elaborate daily quizzes, marking absolutely everything, and huge assessments. Eliminating these practices freed up time for me to introduce new routines to create the big picture.
- Stop to synthesis – Reclaim some time to think. Use any found time to sense make, to think, to fill in details. As with students and the internet, we have to rely on our brains to be the filter for the irrelevant and the clutter. Your big picture is valuable. Don’t let junk obscure it.
- If it isn’t an obvious YES, then it’s an obvious no – If a new imitative doesn’t jump out at you as helping to create the big picture, then walk on by.
- Treat your time and energy like money – Protect the asset of you! Scrimp and save for what really matters. Say no to the cheap and small items. We have finite energy units to spend on creating the picture we are after. Spend those energy units wisely.