My "New" Approach
A new approach can look a lot of things. It depends on what you need, what your vision is, or how you want to feel. For me, it looks like a google sheet.
Over this last 12-14 months I’ve made some some attempts to get a handle workflows and projects that have now come to life. I started tracking a few things last spring, and was impressed with myself for sticking by the sheet systems, despite the mess it became by the end of the year.
What I decided to do, as always, was lean into my close network. They are awesome to help jog memories of things we’ve chatted about before, but maybe I wasn’t quite ready to dig into. They amazing at sharing ideas, and progress with their use over time. After having a look at some of our emails and texts, I began to do some synthesizing and I came up with what I think will be a sheet system that I can stick with.
Here are my two main sheets (with a potential third on the horizon), their tab names, and what’s inside:
Setting these simple trackers up and using them right away, every day, has been helping me keep my thinking organized and ideas in one spot. Like any new habit, it’s taking me some practice and patience to stick to the plan, but I know that because I value flexibility in systems, I can always tweak what needs tweaking. Can’t wait to get this all set up in my reMarkable 2…
Each year, January 1 rolls around, and I know that I will be seeing all these "New Year, New Me" ads and articles popping up. I look at them and may take a peek at what they are about, but I already know I am not making resolutions - again. Making resolutions is a very personal choice that needs to suit you, your lifestyle, and the place you are in at that moment in time.
I do like the feel of a fresh start, however, like a new set of Mr. Sketch smelly markers at the start of a new school year.
This year I evaluated a few of my systems and a few more of my “systems”, to determine where I needed to make some tweaks. I strongly believe in making changes when something is not efficient or valuable. This year, in the first week of 2022, I decided to make two significant tweaks. Well - one was a tweak and the other is a full system remodel.
The first change I made and has already proven to be successful is how I use my phone. No surprise that all my apps live in labeled folders. I knew I needed to do some deleting of unused apps and I also needed to figure out a more efficient way to sort the apps I check most frequently. So on my home screen, I created a folder called "Daily App Check". In that folder I have the 11 apps I check every day. I also put them in order of importance, so when I open that folder, I check my email first, then Voxer messages, and so on, and complete an app sweep in just a few minutes. After a couple hours of working, I will do another app sweep to check messages and socials again. Later in the day, I am not as mindful about the time spent app sweeping because I know I efficiently used my time during the day.
The second change I had to tackle was much larger of a brain tickle. I needed to choose how to track my writing. Essentially I needed to streamline a few of my thoughts and documents to get all bits in one place. Thank you Monica, for helping me out with that.
We can make changes any time we want, and I am happy with the ones I made this week. I hope the ones you have made have been good choices for you so far.
Adding means subtracting
Over the holiday, you may be adding a few things to your shelves, drawers, or countertops. All good! It's fun to give and receive during the holiday season, but because we often add more to our physical spaces during gift-giving season, it may be important to subtract something too.
Let's say you receive a new set of colored pens for your planner. Perhaps you go through your current set of pens to test that they work, toss the ones that don't, and consider if they still suit your needs. If they don't, perhaps you ask your pen-loving friends if they use that type you wish to discard, or send them off to a school for use.
Also, I know many of us will be adding books to our shelves this season. As you add those new treasures to your shelves, think about which ones you can trade, consign to the books shop, or donate to a school or library.
As you add to your collections, determining what you can subtract helps create a little more physical space, and you will side step having to clear clutter later.
Reflection on the Full Focus
I was introduced to the Full Focus Planner in early 2020 by my good friend, Monica Burns of ClassTechTips. I needed something to help me get all my lists, plans, and meeting notes in one place.
I have been using my FFP during goal-reviewing and setting at our quarterly Prime to S.H.I.N.E. meetings with great success. This practice has helped me move forward with several things I was getting stuck in.
But.... around the year-mark of using the original FFP, I found I needed to make some changes. I found I wasn't using all the pages I was originally because I had been able to feel some sense of automaticity with some routines - I suppose that means a goal was met!
I came to believe that the full Full Focus Planner has had it's place in my life and now I am downsizing to the mini.
The mini-planner still has the annual goal setting, goal detail and week-at-a glance, and notes pages at the back of the book. For right now, this feels more streamlined, less chunky, and a better use of pages at this moment in time. I have introduced the small notebooks into my note taking routine because I have several projects that I wanted to keep the note living in their own places. I'm going to try this for a quarter and see how we go. I have since found my Rocketbook, so I may shift again in the spring... we shall see!
EdTech space Essentials
I've had fun this year peeking into spaces, both live and virtually, of some of my dearest friends and esteemed fellow educators and consultants.
This week on her blog, my good friend, Monica Burns of ClassTechTips shared her workspace.
Here's how she breaks down her EdTech space:
I love how simple this sounds! Head over to her site to read the details and see the photos.
What Grateful means
Isn't this just so true?
Today Americans celebrate Thanksgiving - the kickoff to the holiday season. A season that can bring up many strong emotions for people. Many of us will experience joy, many will feel sadness and loss, and many many many people will be feeling the stress of entertaining, traveling, cooking and cleaning.
This holiday season, find happiness, joy and gratefulness with those you love and care about, first and foremost.
Spend time together.
Laugh and play games.
Eat some pie, sip some wine, and drink lots and lots of coffee.
Compliment each other.
Do something for someone else.
Share your gratitude.
And that will bring you happiness.
Chatting with Sue
This morning, my co-author and I recorded a podcast episode with her friend and former colleague centered around our book, The Minimalist Teacher. The more we talk to people about this approach, the more realizations I have.
... the takeaways that readers are experiencing,
... the need for this approach in education,
... and about me.
One of Sue's Takeaways:
Christine and I intentionally wrote the book so it didn't have to be read as a whole. The intention was for readers to read the chapter(s) that popped out to them, grab nuggets and role with them. In our chat with Sue, it was clear that she gravitated to one chapter in particular - decluttering instructional strategies and assessment. While it was completely satisfying to hear that our intention was achieved, the conversation we had about strategically choosing low-prep yet high leverage instructional practices that cross time, content, and grade level was exactly the thinking we hoped readers would consider and run with.
Needed Approach in the Field:
The book is called The Minimalist Teacher, yes, but it's written in a way that we hoped would pull in any educator, regardless of role. Our field is a volatile place and we are not seeing much being done to truly support teachers and giving them time and autonomy to focus on teaching, and keeping themselves well. The minimalist movement is about much more than decluttering closets and cupboards. It's a transformative process that can potentially change how educators feel about remaining in the field.
After our last couple of conversations with folks for podcast recordings, I'm realizing more and more how much I really do rely on this way of thinking and living. It's a natural process for me to question and find the purpose of what I'm doing. There are definitely times when I lose site of my purpose and I have to reprioritize, but I am more aware now how helpful this really is.
Five Things a Day
This morning in a team meeting - somehow - we jumped into a short but meaningful chat about "things".
It's not a foreign idea for us to talk about things in our spaces, items we've collected, etc. I always get excited to hear about how people sort and organize their items and collections. But I love even more when people talk about how they up with ways to reduce the amount of things in their spaces.
Removing items can make us feel anxious when we think of this potentially time-consuming and emotionally-charged task.
I was super excited to hear how a teammate is implementing the "5 things" rule. Each day, she chooses five things to remove from her space - anything - as long as there are five things. She does this is a way to ensure she is successful AND instead of thinking of ALL: the things she wishes she could get rid of - that's too much to think about for anyone!
If you're looking for a solid entry point to minimalism at home, in the office, or classroom, this is a great one! You could even remove just ONE thing - it's the perfect starting point if you feel a bit weary about making these changes. And who knows, maybe you will influence someone else to join in the journey with you!
A Dope Space
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.
It All Comes Back
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.
A Starting Point
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!
Start with The Mindset
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.
Contentment in Your Space
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?