Thursday, January 3, 2013

Staying Focused in our Whirly-gig Lives

As we enter a new year, many of us take time to reflect upon over our previous year and set goals for the new year.  The year 2012 has been an exciting one full of rewarding experiences, professional and personal. I've met some amazing people, had thought-provoking conversations, visited some intriguing places, and experienced many things for the first time.

However, (as I suspect of many of us) in spite of all of the positive things in my previous year, I find that towards the end of this year I have lost some of the clarity of focus on what my true mission is as an educator. It's easy to do as we race towards the end of a semester with all of the holiday festivities. Throw in speaking engagements, professional development, family commitments, grad school, illness, deadlines, professional obligations to organizations and it's enough to make your head spin. So how do we deal with it? How do we stay focused when so many things begin to blur our vision? What do we do when our lives become a massive checklist and we race from one have-to to the next?

These are questions that I ponder regularly. I have done some extensive reading on the subject of trying to take control of the crazy whirly-gig life so many of us live today. I thought I would share a few thoughts and practices that I have found helpful...even though I am still working toward mastering them each day.

  1. Create a mission statement. I know it sounds like an assignment from a well-meaning professor, but if you do not have a clear understanding about why you are doing what you are doing, whether in your teaching practice or your personal life, how will you be able to stay focused? You must know what it is on which you will spend your time. Without that mission, you will easily become distracted by anything else that pops up. My husband and I call that the "Monkey, monkey underpants" syndrome (see this post for an explanation). It is very easy to become distracted when online and follow down many random paths. Exploration is great, but not when it begins to creep in and push you off course. I actually have mine where I can see it regularly to remind myself of where I am headed...and yes, sometimes, I find I need to update it as I change and grow as an educator. My professional mission statement has two parts, one is my life as an educator in the classroom the other is my mission as a professional educator in the field of education.
  2. Prioritize. When you are around and interact with passionate people, it is very easy to jump on their bandwagon, whether it's a great new teaching strategy, new tech tool, or new hobby. All of those things definitely have merit, but in spite of all of our best time management strategies, we only have a finite amount of time. We need to set our priorities and only invest in activities that will promote and support our priorities. Eight years ago, I determined to lose 40+ pounds. I found the key to my success in weight loss and maintaining it for the last eight years, is that I had my priorities and goals set before I was presented with an obstacle. By setting your priorities up at the front end, you are setting yourself up for success. You have made a plan, you know what is important and what is not. Isn't that what great educators do for their students? We set them up for success. We should do it for ourselves as well.
  3. Limit your commitments. I'll admit, this one is a challenge for me. When we began teaching, most of us determined that we would do whatever it took to spark excitement and learning in our students and positively impact the future. We get into our classrooms, continue to grow as professionals, find success, and then the requests begin to come our way. Would you be interested in joining this committee? Would you share this great lesson with our faculty? Would you be willing to be a guest speaker at our conference? Would you write a piece for our blog? At first, we feel flattered. Even though we didn't go into education for our own glorification, it feels great when all of your hard work is getting recognized. That is why it is so important to have your mission statements and priorities set in advance because as flattering as it is to be invited, it is important that we weigh each opportunity to see if it really fits within our vision. Does it support where you want to be, professionally and personally, or is it something that blurs your vision and pulls you off course? It is tough to say "no" to an opportunity, but without keeping your focus, you will not be able to maintain the standard of excellence that brought you to the point of getting those opportunities in the first place.

I know that when my life seems overwhelmingly out-of-control with so many demands on my time, I am not my best. In spite of my best efforts, I cannot be the best teacher that my students need. My focus is too splintered. When this happens to us, we begin to lose sight of what specific students need. Our focus on truly knowing each of our students and connecting with them as individuals fades. The relationships that we have built between home-community-school begin to break down. Ultimately, our effectiveness and relevance as the leader of learning in our classrooms and our schools deteriorates. None of us want that to happen.

I realize that none of this is ground-breaking information, but it has been around forever for a works. I think what so often happens in our crazy lives is that we begin to lose a grasp on what's important a just gradually begin to drift off course. We're off-center and in the midst of all the crazy confusion, we wonder how we got where we are. It does take a commitment to be diligent and maintain focus. But, the result is a much more committed, focused person that is there for the important people in their lives: family, friends, and students. As educators, we all want to give those important people our best, and isn't that why we became make a positive difference in the future of others?

photo credit: bennlat via photopin cc

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