Peering into people's spaces is something that we have gotten used to over the last year and a half. We have been getting glimpses of people's home lives through our little Zoom boxes, getting to know each other in ways we perhaps had never anticipated.
But what fun this has been - getting to see the design, decor and essentials in people's workspaces!
Since a lot of us remain in that virtual world for work, I knew I had to reach out to a few more successful educators so we could find out about the vibe and essentials in those spaces we see so often on our own screens.
This week, we are peeking into the DOPE space of Craig Martin, 2018 National Distinguished Principal, otherwise known as - the Principal of DOPE!
There are so many amazing things I could share about Craig, but you will easily find some of that out when you read his responses below. Here's what Craig had to say about his home workspace.
ME: How do you feel in your space and what makes it feel that way?
Craig: I generally feel cozy when I am working in my home office or school office because the elements that are present were specially chosen to add joy to my day. I am 6'3 and it's hard for me to sit and/or stand at anyone's desk these days. As a 20+ year education veteran, I spend most of my days on the move. When I do settle down in my office, I need to enjoy the bliss of a standing desk and a high chair that will allow me to dangle my feet a bit (smile). For me, it is important that my space feels clean, organized, and therapeutic or restorative. It's why I have environmentally-friendly surface cleaners, color-coded storage bins, aromatherapy oils and diffuser, and a comfy lounge chair and coffee table.
ME: What are the essentials you keep there?
Craig: My workspace essentials are a sound speaker to play music (a little jazz, Broadway, Christian rap, or a good podcast keep me going), aromatherapy (lavender and lemongrass scented oils and mahogany teakwood candles are my faves), a fridge with Gatorade zero or sparkling water, Papermate flair pens, and gum.
ME: What plan do you create or action do you take when you get busy and you lose track of your system/order/time to regain the feeling you need in your workspace?
Craig: When things get hectic and I find that I am overwhelmed because I am behind on a million action items on my five different organizers (Google Keep, Google Calendar, notebook, whiteboard, and notes app on my phone), I pause, breathe, and clean. I seem to find myself more prepared to take on the world when things are in their rightful places and I see things more clearly (as the song goes...). I find myself creating one whiteboard or anchor chart with all key action items that must be done within a week's time. I hunker down and I begin to plow through the items until I hit benchmarks of 25%, 50%, and 75% of items completed. I never hit 100% done because new things show up every day that restarts a new cycle. My advice to anyone who is reimagining how to make their space more fitting for the busy lives we tend to lead--I would posit that your space must remind you of what is important, inspire you to do better each day, and feel like an old friend you can't wait to spend time with--soon.
I love the thought and intention Craig has put into his essentials and space to ensure he can keep his cool, collected self in check, even when the to-do list kicks into high gear. I have a lot to learn from you, my friend!
Take a peek at his set-up below! Thank you sharing, Craig!
For all Craig's goodness, follow him on Twitter.
This week I've been thinking a lot about what makes teams effective since I just came out of a couple of work related events in which there was brainstorming, listening, collaborating, reflecting, and more.
Yes, I've read articles, blogs, and some video clips over time, but most importantly to me, I have experienced effective teamwork.
When I think of the teams I've worked in, they have been pretty diverse.
Here are some teams I've worked with throughout my career:
- grade teams
- magnet leadership team
- school leadership team
- EdDesign team
- conference session planning teams
- mentorship planning team
- consultant teams
You can relate, right?
Now... were all these teams as effective and efficient as the previous or next listed? Of course... but they all offered me some sort of learning experience.
Here are 5 things I learned working on teams:
1. More people does not equal a better team.
2. Diverse perspectives matter a lot.
3. It is possible that the process or action steps will shift but the goal remains the same.
4. It is hard to maneuver personalities and styles.
5. Teamwork is necessary and a lot of ... fun.
Here are 5 things that I know make teams effective and efficient:
1. Having a shared vision, purpose, idea, and/or goal AND routinely check in to ensure you are on track.
2. Finding the right people. People that can feel like a natural fit make it easy to follow the path to meet your goal, but make sure you include people with different views. Think outside the box and zero in on people's natural strengths.
3. Delegating. This is why we have teams! We are not meant to do everything ourselves. Delegating means shorter to-do lists for each member of the team.
4. Trusting each other. Active listening and reflecting together build trust in the process and each other.
5. Keeping things simple and clear. It's easy to get muddled in tasks and creation, but if you keep your goal or purpose aligned with your top priorities, you can stay focused. Simple doesn't mean easy or less thoughtful, it means the opposite. It means you've spent the time to think through your needs and purpose, and the best path to achieve your goal.
If you are struggling in a team, think about the above points to see what stands out and ask yourself what it is that doesn't seem right. From there, make a plan to check in with your team. This list is not exhaustive, but it can get you started and help with getting your team on the right track.
This week I went back into the classroom. Not my own classroom though. It's a rented space of sorts.
I'm subbing for a couple of weeks as their year begins, which has been both so much fun ... and also so draining.
As I was preparing for this week, I began thinking about all the responsibilities I used to have at the start of a school year when I taught full-time, and I wondered - how in the heck did I not curl up into a ball and cry each year?
All I was doing to prepare for this two-week teaching stint was read through some plans, get to know some language, and get my mental bearings in a track to prepare to be ON all day. I was anticipating that rude awakening of what in-person teaching and planning was going to be like again.
Now that I'm a few days in, I'm back on track like I hadn't been out of the classroom for a year and a half. All the teaching things just happen naturally in a some way or another, like riding the bike or driving. You don't forget, you just do. I don't think you ever really lose your knack for teaching once you become immersed back into it. But that sense of overwhelm was real. It had me really appreciating teachers more than I ever have, because honestly, right now, they are pulling off some superhero stuff right now.
While I'm thankful I get to be in this new space to support the sweetest kids at the start of their school year, I do wonder how I managed all those full-time years.... actually - I DO know why I didn't curl up in a ball every year (well, maybe one or two)... It's because I got to teach all these sweet (and saucy) kids over the years. Each a special person in their own way. And because I still get to be a part of student's lives and their learning journeys - that gives me energy to see past some of that overwhelm, to what enjoy the best part of teaching.
Not all things hold the same value. Not monetary value, not sentimental value, nor usefulness value. Just because we have things in our space also doesn't mean it needs to be there because it is expensive, because it once meant something to us, or because it used to be a useful thing.
Part of the exhaustion we face in our field of education is waste fatigue. There is just so much stuff all the time. We spent so much time thinking about it's use, feeling guilty for not using it, spending so much time thinking thinking thinking and attaching emotion to something that doesn't need so much attention and mental space.
How can we get past this? How can we clear our minds of all the things we need to think about or take care of?
1. Take a step back and look at things with a clear perspective, and ask yourself: what value does this really hold for me?
2. Take the emotion out of it. Assessing value is much quicker to do when you can think objectively.
3. Think ahead to how you want to feel when you have less cluttering your mental and physical spaces.
Reducing stress due to too much is what we all need to focus on if we want to be our best, in whatever capacity that needs to be.
Christine, my co-author, and I don't pretend to have all the answers when it comes to shifting to a new or reshaped approach to teaching, but we have done a lot of research and have tons of experience and insights about how we can all make some moves to becoming a minimalist teacher.
We do like to think that we are pretty realistic in knowing that all of us have our things that are part of our routines, habits, and the like, but yet we will grab what speaks to us, and hopefully give some implementations a try.
We wrote a piece for ASCD's blog with some thoughts and tips for how to make your move into a minimalist teacher lifestyle.
Would love to hear your thoughts and actions you take!
The other day there was a comment that there is no such thing as a minimalist teacher. You all know how I feel about minimalism, and teaching, so....
Many of you also know that my good friend and I wrote a book about this exact thing, and that comment was at the bottom of a photo with the book cover.
Here was my thought process after I read this:
I felt defensive, then a bit angry and simultaneously a bit sad. But then, hope revealed itself.
A lot of thought came out of what was probably intended to be a 'whatever' comment, but it's our job as educators to share and learn from each other so we can be better practitioners and create better learning opportunities for our students.
I've been contemplating space use.
How do you feel in your spaces?
Mellow? Comfy? Stressed? Content?
I ask this because I wonder if we can be extremely intentional about what we add into our spaces and keep our emotions in mind. Can we resist the urge to binge and fill them with things, but instead find contentment in what's already present? Perhaps reimagine how we can find purpose for what's already there?
I bring this up because I have been so used to living in small spaces for the last couple of decades. Now I live in a large space that has been near empty for the last few months and I am feeling reluctant to put things in it. To say a felt a little cringe-y on the weekend when we brought out some art from our travels is a bit of an understatement. Perhaps I'm taking the joy out of developing a new living and working environment because it does require quite a bit of work to make it right and then maintain it. We have what I need right now and feel content in the space. I also know that when we find the right things, we will add them with intention.
I wonder if this sentiment can seep into classroom spaces as teachers and students begin to fill spaces that are once again restricted for distancing. Can we bring some of the thoughtfulness of space a little bit each day to find a little sense of peace in the places we spend so much time? Only having the things that add purpose, yet also a feeling of contentment without feeling empty or unfulfilling?
Is this something we are willing to focus on?
"Making hard choices can actually be liberating because it helps you define who you truly are and demonstrates the power we all have to shape our lives."
These words have been on my mind since they popped up in my inbox this week.
These words come from Susan David, Author of Emotional Agility. Someone who knows her way around humans and the role of emotional intelligence and agility in our lives.
These words brought me to this point in time specifically.
A time in which teachers, school staff and students are heading into a new academic year.
A time that still holds so much uncertainty even after a year and a half of turbulence.
We are moving from an extremely challenging year only to follow it with another.
We already know that the most challenging decisions to be made are the norm. As teachers continue to make considerations about how to accommodate their learners in their spaces, let's envision for a moment that teachers begin with one immediate hard choice.
To do more, with less stuff.
Less, not just because we need to be mindful of the spacing requirements necessary during a pandemic, but...
Less, because we want it that way.
Less, because it helps us focus.
Less, because this practice can change our lives.
What will this mean to you as an educator this year?
Will this give you a sense of satisfaction knowing you are ridding yourself of some burdens?
This choice is not to be made for admin, other teachers or parents.
The choice for you.
For you to begin your year with a little clarity.
When you commit to making this kind of hard choice, you are preparing yourself to create space to focus on what matters.
You are committing to changing something that you know means to be changed.
And that says a lot about how you need your teaching life to be.
You've heard this before, right? Quality over quantity? You've probably even said it. I know I have.
But what does this really mean and do we actually do this?
I've taken to thinking about this in a few areas of my life.
1. During my weight workout. The slower pace and quality of repetitions always makes me feel like I've had a better workout than if I move to fast. Quality usually decreased with speed.
2. When grocery shopping. I'm pretty intentional about what I purchase at the grocery store. I'd rather purchase some good quality whole foods rather than a bunch of things in packages that aren't going to give me the same nutrients and satisfaction in eating them.
3. In my writing. When conveying a message, I try to keep my written words concise, despite all the thoughts in my head. Fewer words for a clearer message.
There are a number of other ways I attempt to apply the quality rule, and those are definitely works in progress.
Think about all the things you have on your desk. In your car. In your kitchen cupboards. In your work bag. In your Google Drive.
Are you taking some time to organize these spaces in the next short while?
If so, think about this.
Never organize something you know you will discard anyway. If you think too hard about it, get rid of it. Your time and space is valuable and occupying it with too much is not necessary.
Something that I try to do when I feel like there is too much stuff in my spaces, there are words or lists on a planner page, or there are just ideas in my head, I stop and identify what it is that's causing this feeling of "too much".
In a physical area, I look around and assess what's taking up space and then ask myself:
On my planner page, if my list looks out of control, I take a moment to:
Ideas that take a lot of mental energy and cognitive capacity end up on a chart paper or in the back of my planner to be reviewed later.
The idea here is that there is always something you can do when there is too much "something" in your spaces. Start by thinking about what your "too much" is, and then choose your action to begin the process of getting your spaces sorted out.
Tis the season to pack classrooms and offices up for summer cleaning. If you haven't done so already, you will be and this may be stressing you out. This was always a love-hate part of the year for me. Love doing an end-of-year cleanse, but damn, so much stuff to go through.
If packing up has you feeling all sorts of ways, here are a couple of tips to help you get things packed pretty quickly, and will also have you set to open up your boxes at the start of a new academic year with a little less angst.
1. As you move something from a shelf to a box, assess the value of the item. This is not a Marie Kondo version of "does this spark joy?" - no time for that. This is a quick "did I use this and will I use it next year?" Quick question, quick answer. Don't think about it, just go with your gut. If it's a "yes", place it in the box.
2. The items that your "no's" do need to get placed somewhere. These items still require a bit of consideration because you do not want to toss still useful items. Have enough room to be able to separate out the items and make separate piles or have other boxes for what needs to be returned elsewhere and what needs to be tossed. Again, quick and easy.
The key here is to start the process of keeping only what you know adds meaning to your teaching in preparation for your next year. When you return to set up your office or classroom again, you will have less to sort. At this point, you will work through a different process when you have more energy and patience.
I've often wondered why people get into the work that they do. And when I find out why, it all makes sense. It usually ties back to a challenge that someone experienced in their own life, and then decided to provide support for people with similar challenges.
So here's why I'm so focused on organization, finding focus, and keeping our spaces optimized for success.
1. I've moved homes 19 times in about 26 years and have occupied many types of dwellings.
2. I've "lived in" about 13 classrooms in 23 years.
I'm sure many of you can relate to moving, whether moving houses, offices or classrooms. And what is it that stresses you the most about moving? Is it the being in a new space? Or is it that you have to move all your stuff?
When you move this much, you have to be able to find peace in your space fast. It's far easier to move into a classroom and leave all the junk it from the previous five teachers, but it's not helpful or healthy for you or for the teacher after you to bear all the stress from what's hiding in those cupboards. I know they haunted me!
Moving stuff requires huge amounts of time and energy, organization and money, and those are four things that often cause stress already! We don't have the time, energy, skills or the extra money to spend on moving things that may not even add much value to our lives.
Prior to moving, it's a solid idea to do a purge as you pack, which is something I got pretty good at and find a lot of value in. Then I usually do another purge after moving and when unpacking. Sometimes those things I thought I "needed" in the new space end up not suiting the space, my needs or vision.
The point here is not to rid yourself of all things, or even bare down to the absolute essentials. That's not reasonable. But do think about what causes you unnecessary and unproductive stress, and what adds real value to what you do and your life in general. It may make your life easier in the long run.
Today in a work session, an awesome lady in the group said something that perked my ears up.
She mentioned how she identifies herself as a disorganized person, yet others perceive her as very organized.
Is this your reality vs perception? Are you disorganized with your things, yet super organized for others? I know others just like this, and surprise - "objects in mirror are closer than they appear!
We cannot realistically expect ourselves, or others for that matter, to always be one way all the time with their organization styles. We are people and our roles, ideas, and needs change.
Now, I will add that there are times when it is essential to your sanity to keep things set up in some sort of system whether it's a stack (almost a system) or a file folder! You have to start somewhere and you can always refine.
If the "disorganized you" is freaking out right now - it's okay! There's a way to identify where you can start as a "once-a-year" type organizer.
In another chat today I was discussing house renovations with a friend who also is in a reno process. I must have started sounding a little overwhelmed because he offered some advice. Get ready for this...
He said: When you look at all the things as big picture you get overwhelmed and you will not get anywhere. Look at each piece of the work and go from there.
Hello?! Have you all heard me say: "chunk it"?! His message to me echoed loud and clear the benefits of breaking things down into manageable chunks. So if you are feeling like getting your reality organized is too much for you, just tackle one thing at a time.
Want to grab the Organizer Identity cards and get a glimpse into your Organizer-Self? They are free here at this link.
How often do you find something that is EXACTLY what are looking for? Like perfectly exact?
Let me guess... never? But sometimes you find something pretty close, right?
Here's a great thing about finding something that is pretty close to what you are looking for - you can zhuzh it up to suit you.
A while back I created a toolkit to help people take some control over their to-do lists. Since then, I've heard some awesome ways in which people have used it!
I love when people share their a-ha's and successes - whether in the on Facebook. via email or live on Zoom!
Jamie of Learning Partnerships LLC, is a member of the Facebook group Organizing Teaching Life and Spaces and has shared a couple of her successes with the group in the last few months. She's great at grabbing some ideas from conversations and posts, and morphing them to suit her needs.
Here's a snippet of how she morphed the to-do toolkit to suit her needs:
"I downloaded the To-do list Toolkit, but didn't do much with it until now. I am using it to set up the days in my new planner. I struggle with planners, especially when the day is scheduled out. Using the set-up from the toolkit makes so much sense to me. It's only been about a week, but I am already more productive and motivated. Thank you, Tammy, for creating such an easy and manageable way to tackle the to-do lists."
Yahoo! Love this! Want to see how Jamie set up her page? Hop over to Organizing Teaching Life and Spaces to see!
I'lll tell you - the more I read productivity books, the more ways I think of chunking all of my to-do's too! The value placed on finding efficiency in our everyday lives has to be a priortity to help us find some clarity and calmness. We can achieve this with the right structures.
If you have some tips to share, drop a comment below. We'd love to hear what works for you!
Want to try out the To-do List Toolkit, grab it for FREE here!
Learn more about how Jamie supports young learners with dyslexia. She also offers children's yoga! She meets the needs of the whole child! Visit Learning Partnerships LLC.