The holiday season can be very stressful for a lot of reasons. Family, travel, money, illness.
It's easy to get sucked into an abyss of all the things you feel like you have to or need to do. Here are three ways we can think about our circumstances differently, which can help us manage all that the season brings.
1. Reframe how you view your to-do's.
Instead of saying, "I have to do this..." or "I need to get..." try being a little kinder to yourself. Telling yourself that you have to or need to do something can create a sense of urgency and unnecessary perceived stress Instead, try saying, "I get to go to..." to frame the to-do list in a positive ways. Perhaps this will even help you remove some items from your list, just by changing the way you think about them.
2. Ask yourself some questions.
You know I love a question stream! Try asking:
3. Spend time instead of money.
If you are feeling financial and time pressure, offer spending time together with your people over using your time to find just the right gift. Or maybe you decide to go to a concert or a nice dinner together. Spending money on experiences together can relieve some of that pressure you feel.
Still unsyre about the holidays? Step away from your device and give yourself sometime to determine what is most important for you to focus on during the season. Your people will appreciate your thoughtfulness, however you decide to spend your time, money, and energy.
Less is More
It’s easy to think that the more we take on in our professional or personal lives, the more successful or fulfilled we will feel. We think to ourselves, “I can squeeze a little more out of an hour here”, or “I’ll just work a little later tonight to finish up my to-do list.” It’s a trap we can all fall into, and before we know it, reaching a “work-life balance” feels like a totally unrealistic goal.
In our work at Professional Learning Partnerships, we aim to transform learning and leadership by leveraging key ideas from brain science that allow students and adults to thrive. One of the biggest misperceptions that people have about our brains is that we can “multitask” (doing multiple tasks that take focus simultaneously), and that “multitasking” leads to higher productivity. Research shows it’s actually the opposite – our brains aren’t actually capable of “multitasking”. Instead, our brains are “task-switching”, switching back and forth between multiple tasks that require our attention and focus, only truly allowing us to focus on one task at a time. Research shows that the more we task-switch, the more mistakes we make, the longer it takes us to do each of those tasks, and the more tired and drained we become (American Psychological Association, 2017; Betts et al., 2019). When we attempt to “multitask”, more is actually less.
What would research suggest about how we actually achieve more, with better creativity, quality, and happiness? Less is more. When we are able to prioritize fewer more important goals and tasks in a day, as well as prioritize meaningful parameters for our job roles, research suggests we are more likely to accomplish those with better quality, more creativity, and more satisfaction. We have more cognitive resources to dedicate to important work and feel less drained as compared to when we stretch ourselves too thin and juggle too many responsibilities. New studies even show that the closer your cell phone is to your desk when working, the lower your working memory and fluid intelligence will be, even if you never interact with your phone at all (Ward et al., 2017)! Even the temptation to check your messages is enough distraction to impede clear thinking, attention, and productivity.
The saying we use over and over again in our professional learning work with PLP partners is Less is Always More. Whether we’re guiding teachers in how to design a meaningful lesson for students, or supporting administrators in how to create an impactful presentation for their school board, or coaching a professional team on ways to maximize collaboration by clarifying roles and communication, the key concept is the same – identifying fewer priorities allows for better and faster results. When you focus on achieving a shorter set of important and meaningful goals, you’ll do it more effectively and theoretically feel more fulfilled because the work was purposeful. When you work to communicate a more concise message through teaching or presenting, the people involved will feel less overwhelmed by trying to remember or understand too much, and can more easily concentrate on your simple and important message.
Some critical questions you can ask yourself to see if you can focus on less in your work are:
It can be an uncomfortable shift to downsize our mental workload because it feels like we will lose a little control, or disappoint peers, colleagues, or loved ones. Or some of the tasks we don’t like are mandatory parts of our job, and we can’t get out of them. BUT, the place we have the most agency and regain our empowerment is within the areas of our work or life that we CAN control, which is usually more than we realize. Look at the areas of your work or personal life in which you have control, and begin to think, “Where can I do less, so I get more meaning and more enjoyment from my time?” Start small. The breathing room we get back to focus on what matters most in our work (and life) helps us sustain the passion, energy, and motivation we need to do our work well in the long-run.
About our guest writer:
Julia Skolnik, MSEd is the Chief Learning Officer & Founder of Professional Learning Partnerships (PLP), an organization committed to transforming learning and leadership through applying key ideas from brain science in long-term partnerships with schools and districts. Julia leads the design and facilitation of research-based professional learning and coaching for educators and leaders, and cultivates sustained partnerships with a growing network of innovative districts across the U.S. Her passion for connecting the science of learning with the practice of education has continued to grow over the last 20 years working in a variety of settings including schools, research laboratories, universities, and museums.
But Who's Supporting the Work?
We've been seeing more and more people preaching about "doing less in schools"... Yes I am one of them. But as I see these posts come out, I wonder who's actually doing it and supporting the work?
Embodying minimalism in your school setting and teaching life is a challenging task - one that takes time. It takes time to unpack mindsets and a development of understanding how critical this work is.
We are supporting this work. We have held sessions for many educators from Halifax to Warsaw. We have worked one-to-one with teachers who want to make changes for their sanity and to improve their teaching practice. They see the value and want to do it. We are here for the journey. And it is a journey.
I just read Daniel Goleman's book, Focus - a great book about getting people, leadership, and companies to the next level by choosing focus.
On the final page are some words of the Dalai Lama, and they are what seem to be sticking right now because it reminds me of doing less to set our future generations up for success.
"Start the task even if it will not be fulfilled within your lifetime. This generation has a responsibility to reshape the world. If we make it an effort, it is possible to achieve. Even if it seems hopeless now, never give up. Offer a positive vision, with enthusiasm and joy, and an optimist outlook."
This is how we begin to change systems that negate our desire to do and be well.
Extending the Network
What does it mean for us when we make additions to our professional networks?
Sometimes even attempting to "add" new people to our networks can feel overwhelming especially when we are already managing so much, and even more so as an introvert. But what if we are ready for the addition?
I love the folks in my network. I am always learning from my close network. We have meaningful conversations, reflect together, and ask each other for guidance. When thinking about building out my network, I know what I can look forward because of my experience.
I look forward to new branches of growth and new perspectives.
New questions to ask and answer.
New connections to make.
New collaborations to get under way.
I'm ready for the growth and I know the benefits. These are healthy outcomes of extending my network.
Are you ready for further growth?
If you’ve just wrapped up your school year, or are about to in the next few days, I know you may be feeling a couple of ways. You might be wanting to hibernate for a few days, and in this case, you may be looking for some ways to seek comfort after a trying year. Or, maybe you are the person who can detach from the year quickly and begin your summer frolic! Whichever way you chose to get your summer rolling, here is something to think about as you start your mental and time decluttering.
“Historically and culturally, minimalism tends to be represented predominantly in the lifestyles of white Scandinavian and Asian cultures. When thinking of Scandinavia and minimalism, we probably first think of architectural and furniture design [Ikea]. But it goes much deeper than this in traditional culture, as described by the Danish term hygge and the Swedish word lagom. These terms encapsulate ideals such as life balance, well-being, comfort, and enjoying life and our time. Japanese culture is known for living small, it has deeper roots in Zen Buddhist values in venerating simple lives and rejecting material possessions. Minimalist approaches have more recently been popularly adopted in many countries around the world. Furthermore, we can trace minimalist values to many different religions, philosophers, and leaders around the globe and throughout written history.”
Do you think learning some ideas from these cultures can help you in decompress from your tough academic year? If so, how? We’d love to hear!
Triple P Decision Making
Do you know about our Triple P Decision-making framework? Here’s some background information and how it might help when you are trying to make well-informed decisions about what you might be introducing to students or teachers.
“When discussing ideas for this book, we knew introducing new educational jargon or acronyms that did not meet the goal of transforming to a minimalist approach would be a poor decision. Yet, we knew we needed a simple phrase that would stick in a cluttered teacher’s mind to move the work ahead. After we boiled down many of our professional conversations, as well as conversations we have had about writing this book, we were consistently coming back to three main points resulting in what we have called the Triple P questions part of our Triple P framework.
1. What is our purpose?
2. What are our priorities?
3. How can we pare down resources?
Purpose: Every day we ask ourselves easy-to-answer questions. “Why am I running when my knee hurts?” Easy answer. “Why am I using this product instead of that one?” Easy again. But when we ask ourselves, “Why would I teach that?” or, “Why would I teach that in this way?” we must peel back the layers of teaching and learning, because there are so many “Why am I doing this?” questions to ask.
Priority: Now, here lies a great challenge. How do you prioritize when there are just so many “things” that require attention? Go back to your purpose to help you build your prioritization muscles. Your priority will always be the well-being and learning experiences of your students. Always and forever. Remember this when your mind is swamped because we know from experience that our priorities are masked by other clutter. In schools, items for discussions are usually prioritized by time and money, not by student or teacher needs. How do you unmask these mandated compliance tasks in a short time frame while still ensuring integrity in your teaching and, quite honestly, your sanity? While the Triple P questions become more intricate when peeling back the layers, remain simple in your response: your students are your priority.
Pare Down: Last but certainly not least—how does one pare down all that “stuff” so that priorities match purposes? How do you really do more with less? This may become the most challenging part of the transformation of practice. The challenge comes with letting go of things, control, and feeling overwhelmed to make space for increased efficiency, productivity, and new feelings of satisfaction and supported well-being. We will work with you through this process of letting go.”
What part of the Triple P sticks out for you? How might this be helpful?
The term “culture” can bring to mind various images or meanings. This can encompass anything from language or food to the arts or family structures. Ultimately, a culture is a shared set of values and practices that a group of people holds. A culture of minimalism requires members of a group, in this case, your classroom, to recognize and work toward making use of currently available resources and no more in order to best support the requirements and expectations of the community. While a minimalist culture in classrooms may seem unconventional, overly innovative, or unrealistic now, this approach is becoming more and more socially acceptable. Rather than superficially attempting to meet students’ needs by buying “things,” adding more tasks, or creating more paperwork, there is a shift to instead maximize existing resources in the community and create a lifelong practice and lifestyle of appreciation, efficiency, and sustainability.
Refocusing on your purpose in teaching assists in creating a mental space in which you can tune into your students. This helps you prioritize students and their needs, and helps pare down those non-essentials that clutter up teaching.
How would creating this culture add value for you, and for your students in the upcoming year?
A New Cycle
This past week - the first week of August - was a set of essential planning days for us.
This was precious time for our teacher team to begin this year’s school development cycle. Because our priorities were clear from the beginning, we used our time efficiently. In just three days, we learned about each other’s strengths and passions, AND we made significant headway in framing the learning experiences.
Last year was the school’s inaugural year so some structures were not yet in place so when we were building the calendar for this academic year, we knew how important it was going to be to build in teacher work days. These days will be times to reflect on units and frame out the upcoming ones.
This was a lot of fun. I love a cycle, a process. And collaboratively planning instruction should be just that. A cycle. We can never think that we can plan a year out or develop school goals once at the start of the year. Time built into the calendar is essential to help us keep our vision in focus and our priorities in line.
Robin Jackson, author of the ASCD book, Stop Leading, Start Building: Turn Your School into a Success Story with the People and Resources You Already Have, tells us we need to get off the old-school hamster wheel of school improvement planning - once a year, same-ish plan, no time to reflect and revise, and then keep running on that same "improvement" plan year after year. We have to stop this damaging cycle. It wastes our time and energy and keeps us only in a lane of compliance.
Whether you are the lead planner or a participant in the process, consider a new planning cycle strategy to facilitate success for your school community to avoid getting caught on that hamster wheel.
Bringing Back Joyful Learning
Perhaps more than ever, schools face a multitude of challenges in meeting the needs of the students they serve. The pandemic introduced a new set of protocols for classrooms to implement, along with the myriad of responsibilities already in place for classroom teachers. Considering these many expectations, it is easy for teachers to find themselves pouring all of their energies into managing their students and learning environments. In an effort to control variables, attention can become hyper focused on to-do lists, as well as tracking behaviors, shortcomings, and predetermined outcomes. We can lose sight of the individual student, and instead focus on collective performance and outcomes. In doing so, we slowly rob our students of ownership of their learning, self-discovery, and expression, thereby stunting the natural joy in learning. And, it isn’t only the student who experiences diminished joy in this environment, so does the teacher. The more external control and lack of autonomy students feel exerted upon them, the more disengagement, dependency, apathy, and lack of motivation they feel. A perfect storm for behavioral issues to appear.
A solution to this exists. A simple, natural, human-friendly solution; make students partners in their learning journey, and infuse natural elements of play and exploration in learning experiences. Turn over some of that control and responsibility to the learner, it is their journey after all. Allow them to devise ways to connect play, exploration, and experimentation to learning targets. Consider this quote by Susanne Leslie, “Play is not more important than science, literacy, physics, or math - it IS science, literacy, physics, and math. It is the FOUNDATION for learning.”
How do you incorporate play into your plans? What kinds of play and discovery opportunities are you opening for your students?
This post is part of a series about joyful learning. Friend and fellow ASCD Emerging Leader, Abby French wrote this post based on a conference session we presented together for Washington State ASCD and New Jersey ASCD Whole Child Institutes.
I have the privilege of working with amazing teams of professional learning facilitators, teachers, AND students. I really do get the best of three worlds. From time to time I'll be writing posts for the Resonance Education Consulting blog. We are sharing pieces called called SEL in Action, a sharing of experiences from working with students and supporting the development of SEL skills in the classroom.
This is post was originally written for and posted on ResonanceEd.com/blog. To learn more about Resonance Education. Consulting and bringing sustainable social emotional learning systems to your school, click here.
Some of the most special moments we experience as teachers are when we watch our students live the skills we teach.
We’ve been digging into empathy this month in our newsletters and blog feed. This is because empathy is a complex concept to teach and there are many skills to model and practice. Supporting our young learners in developing their empathy skills is critical for their long-term development as well-rounded individuals.
When we are teaching, we may have social-emotional expectations of students that may not be met. Often what we witness are students struggling to work with each other. Why is that? It could be because we haven’t spent the time necessary teaching the skills needed to collaborate, empathize, and make responsible decisions. In my current school setting, we discovered when there is a struggle, it is necessary to slow down, back up, and teach some specific skills to develop the bigger picture competencies.
I have the good fortune of substitute teaching in a small multi-age group school. Some time each day is spent together in the whole group learning. This approach has pros and cons and can be a solid representation of social-emotional learning in action.
Sometimes though, we assume students at the ages of 10 or 11 automatically have the skills necessary to work with 5- and 6-year old students, because they are students themselves.
When students work together, they draw upon both inter- and intrapersonal skills. As such, we must be mindful that we are explicitly teaching those intrapersonal skills first. Primarily, patience, empathy, and perspective-taking.
Patience is an intrapersonal skill, meaning it’s a skill we learn to develop within ourselves. But how do you teach kids to be patient? What makes them impatient in the first place? Recently, when observing upper grade students work with lower grade students, there seemed to be a quick increase in level of impatience as the older students tried to read with their little buddies. We noted this frustration and realized we hadn’t prepared the upper level students to read with their younger counterparts.
We decided to slow the process and explicitly teach the skills needed when working with the younger students. We began by having students identify their intrapersonal strengths and then moved into strategies they could use to feel calm when their patience was thin. Students soon realized already familiar techniques such as breathing or pausing could be applied in this situation when experiencing frustration.
In addition to some quick patience-building techniques, we knew that we had to talk about empathy, another intrapersonal skill. We knew building a bank of strategies with the upper level students could help them understand how the younger students are at different developmental levels. Once we shared stories of “remember when you were five?” and brainstormed ideas around “what do we think we need to do to help someone is only five?”, Intentionally and explicitly naming the skills and allowing them to internalize the situation, provides the skills needed to effectively work with the younger students.
Finally, after a few weeks of explicitly focusing on and practicing some intrapersonal skills, we noticed the upper level students were more patient and empathetic towards their younger schoolmates. Were they 100% improved? Of course not - they are still learning themselves. The point is that was an improvement in the interactions during mixed-level activities. Students displayed patience and empathy through their ability to pause and listen, rather than showing their frustration with a younger student. When students practice the skills, they are better able to make caring, responsible decisions.
Time invested pays off longer term, but we have to continuously teach and reteach these skills throughout school years. If we do, our students are equipped for having positive relationships with others, and themselves.
Christine and I were super excited when Naomi of Growing Minds Consulting asked us to write a guest post for her blog. Naomi's area of expertise is in in UDL in math and we have had some conversations about the cross-over we see in the principles of UDL and minimalism. This piece though, isn't in that lane yet (it's coming, we promise)! This piece showcases three tips that can get you started when adopting what might be a new mindset for you!
"Educators can make up to 1,500 decisions per day. Adopting a minimalist mindset in education means that we are working towards keeping our minds clutter-free. For our minds to remain in optimal problem-solving and decision-making shape, we must have some strategies in place for clearing out what’s irrelevant, to make way for the tasks in our proximal priority zone.
If you are someone who can easily and quickly navigate working through a list of tasks, keep tuned into what’s most important at the right times, and maintain a clear line of focus most of the time, you’re already on the right track. If you are someone who needs reminders and a consistent flow of ways to keep yourself sorted out, we’ve got some ideas for you."
Click here to read the full post with the three tips on Naomi's site.
I was a bit reluctant to click on an Uber Business blog post when I was doing a search for the benefits of working in-person versus remote.
I'm happy to report that the first item on their list of why returning to a workplace is important was what I hoped it was... for human connection. But the second point really caught me - optimal workspaces! Hello! Speaking my language!
There are studies that show both benefits to going to a workplace and working from home, but I wanted to focus in on the benefits of getting back out into live collaborations as I head into some starting this week.
I've spent the good part of this last couple of years in transition between countries, condos, and now home office spaces. I've finally got something set up that I think will help me stay as productive as possible. But... even having our designated workspace at home can mean there are some blurred lines.
This week I am looking forward to some in-person work time with teammate, Nicole. We have done all our collaborations online, much like Christine and I as we wrote our book and continue our work together, however this dedicated work time and separate space is going to bring our productivity to a new level, allowing us to reduce a list of items that we kept adding to in a shorter amount of time than when we work online.
We've got a lot to do, and I am confident that we will get our work lists sorted out, completed, and still get out to ... goat yoga.
Not all questions
300 questions. That’s how many questions a four-year old may ask in a single day according to some studies. How many questions do you think adults ask per day? We can be sure that it’s not 300. It’s not even 100, or 50. Some studies report that adults ask less than 20 questions per day. We can formulate some ideas for why this is.
As we gain knowledge and understanding we may start asking less questions, it would benefit us to start asking more.
Good questions can help us clarify our purpose.
Inquiry cycles can help us broaden our perspective.
The right questions can help us move past obstacles.
Spending more time intentionally inquiring about our tasks and challenges would yield more refined and targeted outcomes, allowing us to tackle obstacles and move forward with our individual and communal successes.
This is post was originally written for and posted on ResonanceEd.com/blog. To learn more about Resonance Education. Consulting and bringing sustainable social emotional learning systems to your school, click here.
Guest post by Nicole Dissinger
We learn so much during our years in school. We learn a variety of concepts from mathematics to writing, visual art, and science. When we think back on all that learning, how much of that has transferred to our everyday lives?
As a teacher I often think, what skills are my students taking with them into their daily lives? Do they use those communication skills we practiced when they are having an issue on the playground? Will they be able to transfer and apply their self-management skills between the science activity into their independent math activities?
Over my years of teaching, I’ve developed a clear understanding of the importance of teaching skills. I’ve learned that providing students opportunities to learn and practice skills is more valuable than just teaching them content. Communication, thinking, self-management, social, and research are some of the skills that students wil need tol use when when thinking critically and making decisions in order to solve problems.
A common belief arises from both my experience as a teacher and from experiences of other teachers around the world: these skills are essential in students becoming independent and responsible learners. So how do we shift our teaching practice to reflect our beliefs?
What do we want our students to be able to do? Simply understand place value and construct a proper sentence? Sure these are important skills, but these aren’t skills that apply to all aspects of their lives. Let’s think bigger. Do we believe that clear communication is important? Do we value clarity in expectations? Do we value using our time and space efficiently? Do we believe that relationships are a priority? If our answers are yes, we need to teach skills that translate from school life to daily life. These values guide the learning and classroom environment and teachers who model these values will see them reflected in their students.
Do you have your favorite and most used sites saved in your Google search history, on a sheet, or bookmarked on your browser? Me too.
Have you tried to use a OneTab filter system so it looks like there’s only one browser open, but then found your baby (laptop) is running on high because those tabs are still actually running? Me too.
What I didn’t realize was that I could have all my most visited sites on my one browser, in plain site, and simplify how my bookmark looks, making it easier to use.
As you know, a bookmark bar isn’t the bar you go to to read books and drink a cocktail. It a place our eyes always land when we live in the land of computer work.
I can’t take credit for this trick. I did read it in someone’s tech tip blog a few months ago and partially implemented it right after I read it, and then tightened it up in the last couple of weeks.
Here’s what I’ve done to simplify what’s on my screen, yet give me the comfort of knowing it’s still there.
As much as I love words, they cluttered up my bookmark bar. We use symbols for a reason, and all the sites I use have recognizable symbols that make it easy to know which site are listed in my bookmark bar.
That’s it. It’s an easy to implement system. And one you can tecah your family and students.