Since I started thinking more intentionally about how I teach and what matters to me, I’ve noticed that my biggest problem has been an issue of abundance. I’ve always loved having a choice, and so, with abandon, I would stock everything in my world to the gills. The pantry, my classroom spaces, and my own mind. That made me feel comfortable. But as it turns out, all that abundance has really created a ton of chaos for me.
I know that this is not only an issue for me. A good chunk of the world is consumer-oriented and the goal for many is to have and be and do everything. The newest, the latest, the biggest, the smallest, the best. Social media provides minute by minute accounts of all people have and do. It fills our brains. Education does it too, pushing out more and more of the latest ideas and initiatives to make schools better.
Here’s the thing. The more I understand being intentional, the more I get that it’s about simplifying. Doing less, but doing it better. When you take out the unnecessary, then you can really focus your energy on the important things in your world and truly enjoy them.
Here are my tips for focusing on what matters most at school:
Say “no” more
There will always be work/trainings that are mandatory. But aside from those things, the rest of the things you do are optional. You don’t have to support every cause or participate in every committee. You should really do it if it’s of interest to you. Think about it this way. Every minute you devote to the issues and topics that are inconsequential to you is time stolen from those things that do matter.
Spend time doing things that are relevant to your “why”
If you say no more, then that will free you up to devote more time to things that are more in your wheelhouse. Spend time with committees or research important initiatives, take on professional development opportunities, and as much as possible, embed your interests and passions into your teaching. The more time you spend on things that feel important to you, the more focused you become. You will feel like you are doing things that address your “why”.
I really like to focus on behavior and I want to have some say in building policy about behavior, so I joined the PBIS committee. I think equity is important and sort of related to behavior where it comes to some of my students, but I don’t feel the same passion for it. So I do what I can to ensure that I’m being equitable, and I let other people lead me there. They will do a better job than me.
Disconnect from tech
I’ve already talked about our consumer-oriented culture and technology is a huge part of that. While I think being able to ask Google anything is amazing and I have gratitude every day for that opportunity, I also think the internet fills my brain with too much chatter. And with 24-7 access, the chatter can be non-stop. Which is why we have to take time to disconnect.
And if we can’t exactly disconnect, at least be intentional about how you spend time with it. Limit mindless time with tech. Find other ways to spend your time or better yet, give yourself some quiet.
A couple of years back I was feeling overwhelmed and unhappy with teaching. I felt like there was never enough time to get things done and my to-do list was ever-growing. Why couldn’t I get a handle on it? The biggest thing I learned that year was that I had no clue how to prioritize. I knew how to make a long list of things I wanted to do, but I had no actual plan for getting the list done.
I’ve learned since then to be far more proactive in what gets added to the list. I no longer do random Pinterest visits or write down every good idea I see. I focus on those ideas that will help me get the work done for the next few weeks. This has cut down significantly on my mental clutter and my list has gotten significantly shorter. Along with that I only add a handful of items each day. That way I can say I got things done and feel good about it.
In terms of getting the list handled, I used an app called Wunderlist. With it, I can add tasks and give each item a due date. I can see the days tasks or the week’s tasks. This way I know things will get done. It has other features I like such as repeating events, so I don’t have to keep adding it to the calendar. This is how I ensure that things get done by the time they are needed. And because I’m really only focusing on things that matter now, I feel more accomplished when I can check the task off and my day says you are all done!
My last piece of advice is to literally, stop and do nothing for at least a few minutes every day. Our fast-paced lives don’t allow us to stop and think enough. As we are running from place to place or idea to idea, our whole purpose can get lost. But if we stopped once in a while to clear our minds, we would have space to ponder and realize things. I don’t think it has to be anything more formal than sitting on the couch and not saying anything for 5 minutes, but meditation is also a great way to give your mind some space. The Calm app is giving away teacher subscriptions right now, which is a pretty cool thing.
What are the things that matter most to you in terms of teaching? Tell me in the comments below.