Monday, October 17, 2011

Time Is On My Side (Yes it is....)

     I was inspired by a recent post by Chris Brogan ( "The time we're losing" that Darcy Mullin (@darcymullin) brought to my (and others) attention. In it Brogan argues that we have plenty of time to accomplish our goals but get caught up in other people’s “urgent and emergent” or get distracted by time wasters that prevent us from reaching our goals.

     I’d like to take the notion a little further by suggesting that time is our most precious resource in schools today.  How we use that time says a lot about our priorities and, in essence, defines what our school is all about.

     Think about your last staff meeting.  How much time was devoted to professional conversation compared to “administrivia”? When you get together with your colleagues is more time spent on the “great late debate” or on improving outcomes for students? It becomes apparent very early on in my visits to schools when I hear the nagging conversations focus on hats, food in class, and tardiness that a shift needs to happen if we are to move forward with the real reason we’re in the education profession. I’m not suggesting that these items should be blithely ignored but that they need to be addressed and then monitored (but less frequently than academic and social-emotional outcomes). Consider the discussion on tardiness. In essence this is a time waster focused on devising a consequence that will eradicate this problem. As if 150 years of public education and the educators over that time have never discussed the issue or found the silver bullet. Over the years the conversation is rendered moot when I ask any gathering of educators if there is anyone who has never been late to a staff meeting. It’s the rare occasion when I see a hand raised, and that individual is usually challenged by their colleagues on the veracity of the notion.

     I like to start my work with groups off by asking people who or what inspired them to become teachers and to recall a positive moment in their careers. I love watching how animated the discussion becomes and how positive and alive people are during the five minutes. Inevitably I end the sharing far too early which reminds me of a couple of things. First, teachers like to talk and share good news. Second, we don’t get enough time to do that. While I agree with both these sentiments, I conclude the activity by reminding the group that, more often than not, they have not taken even five minutes nor shared with a colleague a positive experience that occurred in recent memory. Yet, most will have spent considerably more time than that on things that did not generate have the excitement the five-minute activity did.

     The challenge for us is to keep the focus on “the main thing(s)” and not get distracted by all of the background noise. If the starting point is to create a five minute chunk , what’s holding you back?

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