Sunday, July 21, 2013

Do Over: 5 Things I'll Do Differently

cc flickr photo by azjd14

I am writing this blog post on the eve of our first day of the 2013-14 school year.  Students return tomorrow.  It is the first post I have written since March 19, 2013 (see When Teaching Gets Tough -- a title that might indicate the reason for the unplanned writing hiatus).  Last year was a challenge.  It was my second year as the principal at Willis Junior High School, and it was a rude awakening to the realities, and demands, of the principalship.  I joked that perhaps, as a first year principal, I was naive to expectations -- moving forward, oblivious to everything I was supposed to be doing.  All of those expectations seemed to catch up with me in my second year.

I recently read a post by David Truss (@datruss), entitled Leadership and Capacity.  His comments really resonated with me and the way I was feeling at the end of the last school year, particularly this quote:
I'm not sure if it is just my personal capacity, or if it is the role of an administrator in this day and age, but I'm really struggling with how much of my job is not about educational leadership, and how much of it is more managerial and even secretarial in nature.
David talks about some advice he was given, suggesting that when things get really busy, it's important to be sure that what falls off "the back of our truck" are "things," and "not people."  It reminded me of the quote by Goethe that has been the tag line for my e-mail for the past year:
Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things that matter least. 
I did not do a good job living that quote last year -- seemingly spending an inordinate amount of time chasing after minutiae and treading like crazy to keep my head above water.  As David suggested happened to him, things fell by the wayside, include my social interactions, reflection, and writing.

In his book, God Can't Sleep, author Palmer Chinchen suggests that living a life of busyness is the equivalent of living life in a fog.  He points out that there is no correlation between hurry and productivity, and that all of us could benefit from practice at slowing down.

So, I have decided that I would like a mulligan -- a do over -- and this school year, here are five things that I will do different (drawn from Palmer's suggestions).

  1. Take breaks.  Whether walking through classrooms, eating a healthy lunch, or just taking five minutes to breath deeply, and relax -- I will focus on taking some breaks throughout the day.
  2. Minimize multitasking.  This is a tough one, since in the educational setting things come at you so quickly, but in most cases, multitasking leads to frustration and less productivity.  Focus is better.
  3. Turn off my phone.  I love technology, but laptops, tablets, and smart phones make it nearly impossible to "get away" from my job.  This school year, I am going to set limits, and shut down -- frequent electronic holidays.
  4. Do less.  I am a list addict.  I have tried every task app and program imaginable, searching for that perfect system that will help me manage all I have to do.  The bottom line is that regardless of what I use, I am always trying to do too much.  This year, I am going to narrow my daily lists, and focus on doing things well.     
  5. Fill the day with what is important.  Too often, I find myself at the end of the day with regrets about what I have accomplished.  No more.  In the school setting, this means maximizing my time with students and staff -- the other stuff can wait.
One of the great things about education is the opportunity to begin anew -- each year is a chance for a "do over."  It all begins tomorrow morning.  I'll keep you posted!

Many of you have likely noticed that this is not my normal blog -- Molehills out of Mountains.  In what is probably an unorthodox (and ill advised) move, I have decided to begin anew -- just because it feels like the right thing to do.  I will be posting primarily about education, but also about other things that catch my attention, and inspire me.  So I begin with an audience of zero, and see where the journey takes me.  


  1. You have an audience of one now, Friend!

    Glad you are writing again -- and looking forward to hearing more about your attempts to remain focused on the right things.

    That's a lesson we can ALL learn.

    BTW: My strategy for this is to stand at the front entrance to our school at dismissal time EVERY DAY. Former students -- kids who I really care about -- find me there and are so excited to see me. Their joy reminds me that I DO matter -- and their connections just before I leave can pick me up no matter how crappy the day has been.

    Looking forward to watching this blog grow...even though I LOVED the title of your old blog!

    Rock on,

    1. always, I appreciate your encouragement and support. Love your strategy of being at the school gates. I certainly notice that my stress level decreases dramatically when I am out on campus with students -- there is a real purpose in that.

      I'm not sure I am done with Molehills out of Mountains -- but thought I would try something new to get back in the swing of things. We will see how it goes.

      Have a great first day. Hope our paths cross soon.


  2. Hi Jeff, great list. I know I've read it before but I think we can all benefit from #5, Filling the Day with What's Important. Too often I find my day comes to a close and I can't recall what I've accomplished. That's likely the case because I ended up filling my day with a bunch of small rocks instead of the big rocks that should be priorities for the day. Thanks for posting. It's a great reminder for me also.

    1. Hey Aaron, thanks for the comment. Unfortunately, I think focusing on what is important is one of the biggest challenges faced by school administrators. What I am finding is that if I don't put those important things first, they get lost in the minutiae (paperwork, emails, etc.). The longer I do this, the more willing I am to miss some deadlines, or drop some things, in order to spend more time in classrooms, and with students. We will see how that works out :)

  3. Jeff
    I really appreciate the vulnerability in your wise words of reflection. I have also struggled with many of items you have listed and you have provided a great reminder for me. I would offer a 6th point that has worked for me as well - give up control and trust others. This is always easier said than done for me but in the end it provides growth to those who have been empowered and a healthy limit to what I can do. Best of luck this school year and look forward to connecting

    1. Johnny...thanks for taking the time to read and comment. Your suggestion is a fantastic addition, and another personal struggle. I think giving up control is often an issue of trust (i.e. I have a particular way I want it done), but as I new principal, I often avoid giving too much to staff in fear of overloading them. I really need to be certain that I am not underestimating them, and as you mentioned, building leadership capacity in others. Thanks again!

  4. There must have been something in the water last school year. I also took a pretty long break from writing. Sometimes I think it's ok to not learn so publicly. I am also inspired by you starting a new blog (though I really enjoyed Molehills). It seems to go with your fresh start theme. Don't worry about audience. The most important thing is that you are processing and applying your learnings. If someone else benefits from much the better!

    1. Thanks for the comment Katie. I couldn't agree with you more. I want my writing to be genuine -- reflective of what I believe as an educator. For awhile last year, I just wasn't in a good place to be writing. Appreciate your comments and support. Hope you have a great school year!


  5. Jeff,
    Thanks for not only sharing my post, but also for adding value to the learning conversation. That's the beauty of blogging... Sharing ideas and then getting wisdom from the ether.
    Re: #1 & #5
    I am actually ADDING a couple things to my calendar:
    1. Dedicated time with students & teachers
    2. Time for exercise
    It seems that no matter how busy I am, I manage to make all my calendar appointments so I'm going to add some professional and personal priorities to my calendar.

    I have yet to write my Darren Kuropatwa inspired 'Perpetual Beta' blog post, but it shares a common theme with this post. 'Doing Differently' based on a reflective practice is key to success... It is also a curse in that 'good enough' is never good enough, and our best can always be better. I'm not sure how to 'calendar' this yet, but measuring and appreciating our successes (even the small ones) is a mental health issue that I think many of us need to work on. Life is too short to constantly feel like 'things need to be better' and not feeling inspired that we are doing the best we can with what we are dealing with... And so are our students and colleagues.
    Think I'll stop here and use that last thought in a post that's waiting to be written - thanks for the inspiration!

    1. Hey David,

      Love your idea of scheduling those things that are truly important in your calendar. I have been doing that too, and find that it really makes a difference. To some degree, I think we have to get comfortable with never being quite "caught up." I find that I always have things to do, and as you said "our best can always be better." I think the key lies in setting some limits -- doing our best within those limits -- but also taking the time to step away, refresh, and be prepared to go at it again another day. Sounds reasonable, but it's a challenge.

      Look forward to learning with you this school year. Thanks for your insights and support.


  6. Thank you for sharing. Great reflective piece! Best of luck this school year. I thought of this quote while reading your post. "If you don't have time to do things right when will you have time to do them again."

    1. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment Andrew. That is a great quote -- I am going to hang on to that one to share!

      ~ Jeff