All too often in education we find ourselves buried in work that spans a variety of missions and initiatives. It feels like we can never get ahead. Newer studies are showing that multi-tasking is something we should also discourage people from doing as multitaskers feel they are performing better, but in reality they are performing at a lesser quality than if they had just stuck to one task instead. In a world rich with media content, it can be easy to run multiple devices, tasks and projects at the same time without batting an eye, but what are we foregoing by doing so? Who is suffering?
Sometimes the process of starting two projects at once is beyond our control. It may be a direct assignment from a school leader, or new state initiative that has deadlines attached that must be met. In any event, we are constantly struggling as educators with the notion to prioritize the essential items first and put the other items on a to-do list for later. Thank God for things like Google Keep and Google Calendar that have helped me to stay organized and list out my priorities, but is it enough to just keep trudging through and making a new bullet to the list each time?
I have heard the analogy that compares teachers to flight traffic control engineers that state both jobs have a multitude of quick second decision making tasks all prioritized by individual events that could be placed upon the facilitator at any given time. It’s true, educators are faced with decisions about students’ well being many times throughout a regular school day. I mean sure, there is a flight pattern and a lesson plan, but when was the last time any teacher followed it directly without any interruption? With all of these planes in the air and initiatives circling above us all the time, how do we make a true prioritized list?
It’s a question that often comes up in Professional Learning Community (PLC) meetings or discussions that I have had on Twitter. Sometimes the decisions do not seem to be ours to make, like those prompted by school leaders or politicians. However, when I decided to embark on my career in education, I made an oath to myself, as well as to my current and future students, that I would always make decisions with their best interests in mind. Even if that meant I was going to buck the system or prioritize something else over the latest mandate. I’m not stating that everyone should do that, especially in your first few years as a teacher. Heck, you may want to keep your job for a while. But I am saying that it is always worth reflecting and planning before we jump into the next big thing.
As an elementary school teacher I taught my students the power of questioning. I wanted to develop problem finders as well as problem solvers. If something didn’t seem right to them, I wanted them to feel free to question it, so that we could spark up a discussion or debate. As a teacher I felt pretty good about modeling the behavior of questioning and reasoning with my students. I’m finding this to be a much harder task to do with adults in administration. My theory is that we, as current educators, are a product of the system. We all found it easier to go through the lists and check off the tasks to be turned in than it would have been to question the motives and create our own projects. This is why I strongly support MakerSpace, Genius Hour, and 20% Time in schools. I am passionate about students finding their own problems to solve and having the time to discover the things that intrigue them.
If we want to educate the citizens of tomorrow with the essential skills for the work force, we must give them opportunities to try, fail, try again, and keep trying until they find some success. We need to give them the time to plan, go through the design thinking process, and develop a prototype that they feel can solve a problem. Then they need to be given time to pitch their idea, demonstrate their product and reflect on the process that got them there. It takes a great deal of time, but a real plan is worth sticking with.