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Always Strive to Be a Better You

Less Is More

We've got district initiatives, government regulations, grant stipulations, contracted obligations, state mandates. Heck, our plates are full! Let's remove some of the clutter from our plates by removing some of the clutter from our teachers plates.

Spotted on the grounds of the Old Penitentiary in Boise, Idaho, the modest tombstone bore the following carved inscription:

Here lies the body of Lester Moore
Shot by a guard with a .44
Now there is no Les no more

Today, we're going to present the argument that less (Les) is indeed more (Moore), at least in schools. We'll leave the argument for prisons to sociologists and political activists, though it was early education reformer Horace Mann who noted, "Jails and prisons are the complement of schools; so many less as you have of the latter, so many more must you have of the former."


Think about today's schools. We've got district initiatives, government regulations, grant stipulations, contracted obligations, state mandates--a million different pushes coming from a million different directions. Meanwhile, as research about how our brains work becomes more sophisticated, and as we gather more and better information about how children learn, the deluge of directions about how we ought to teach comes pouring down upon us.

So what do we, as responsible principals acting as the buffer -- a filtering system to prevent teacher overload from splintering our personnel into fragments so small they become no more than bark mulch in denim -- do to our staffs? We bury them in committees, schedules, supervision, volunteer programs, data analysis, before-school and after-school meetings, materials, activities and evening events, training, special programs--and sprinkle a little goal-setting, demands, testing, accountability, evaluations, and relentlessly high expectations for change and improvement on top for good measure.

But we have to realize this: their plates are full.

Heck, our plates are full, too. We need a buffer -- a steel umbrella, actually!

Let's remove some of the clutter from our plates by removing some of the clutter from their plates. Instead of trying to do everything perfectly and right now, let's allocate our energies into doing the most important things -- verily, the most essential and necessary pieces of our instructional puzzles -- well.


In minimalist architecture, building designs emphasize the necessary elements and eschew the extraneous, which magnifies the natural aesthetics and increases practicality. In schools, we don't have to be lvaro Siza Vieira to design an education system that works more economically. We don't need fancy programs, the newest doohickeys, outlandish materials, and matching laptops to teach children to read, to perform scientific investigations, and to uncover the relationship between hard work and success.

We need instead to KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) and focus on:

Relationships. Programs don't teach children; teachers teach children. Think back to your own school days for a moment. Which was the teacher you might consider the best one you ever had? Probably not the one with the most content knowledge, likely not the one with the coolest wardrobe, surely not the one with the most elaborate materials, and definitely not the one who followed an instructional program lock-step like a droid. If you're like every other adult I've met, yours was that special teacher who got to know you the best, the teacher who spent time making you feel worthwhile, like you had potential and that s/he believed in you. That relationship piece that we all-too-often take for granted -- that we ignore because of curriculum and pacing demands, and that we shrug off when discussing our toughest kids -- is the piece that separates the great teacher from the ordinary--and may well make the difference between a child's success and failure.

Goal-setting. Did you ever think that Stephen Covey may have been on to something when he penned chapter two, "Begin with the end in mind," from his landmark book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People? How much precious time and valuable energy have we frittered away chasing our highly-educated tails? Have you ever observed a teacher droning through a lesson from a textbook just because it was the next lesson in the textbook, even though it might not match the grade-level standards or the essential learning outcomes for the course? Remember (yesterday) when you winced while watching a teacher meander aimlessly through a lesson, leading the students in an activity, or passing time with a discussion that went absolutely and indefatigably nowhere at all? When we set goals and identify a target, we can chart a path that will lead us to our intended destination -- without the detours or tangential distractions.

Prioritization. True prioritization, about which I've quoted Mr. Covey, comes with identifying the behaviors that are most important and most urgent, and acting upon them. Here's where the steel umbrella buffer comes into play: we need to shield our staffs from the barrage of initiatives and pushes so they can focus on the most essential elements of their professional duties. What's the most important thing? Maybe it's building relationships. Perhaps it's streamlining the curriculum. Possibly it's creating thorough end-of-unit assessments. Perchance it's identifying the learning objectives for each unit of study. When we can focus on something -- anything -- we can learn more about it, we can experience it with more depth and precision, and we can maximize our efforts. This is a step we must take if we're to truly live in accordance with our mission, for it is that which drives us to do anything and everything. If not, we ought to say no.

Elimination. Any good pediatrician will explain the importance of practicing healthy elimination routines, and we'll follow their lead by encouraging educators to get rid of the excess stuff they've got piling up on their plates. Here's a good ratio:

“Pretty soon you’ll be passed out on the couch next to an empty pint of Häagen-Dazs with pins in your eyeballs and one leg stuck helplessly behind your head.”

For every new directive or adoption, we should select two nonessential activities to remove. There's always a newer and better mousetrap coming down the pike, and when it arrives it should replace the old mousetrap and the outdated snares that accompany it. Without a solid process of elimination, we find ourselves backed up and spread so thinly that we can't really accomplish anything with any degree of effectiveness. Success will escape us. Don't believe it? Let's get healthy. Try tackling a new diet. Then tack on a new exercise regimen. Now enroll in a yoga class. Try adding acupuncture. You read about a highly effective new diet, so you'd better try that, too. Are you taking stress medication? If not, you'd better start. You're not getting healthier, you're overwhelming yourself to the point of no return. Pretty soon you'll be passed out on the couch next to an empty pint of Hagen-Dazs with pins in your eyeballs and one leg stuck helplessly behind your head.

Time for some spring cleaning, wouldn't you say?

Always strive to be a better you,

Article by Pete Hall
Education World®
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