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Why We Constantly Forget Our Goal to Not Do Too Much
This year there is one thing we can all do to improve our mental health and performance—take back more time and energy for ourselves. Who here can’t help but be an overachiever? Who finds themselves doing it all no matter how many times you’ve said “okay one thing at a time”? I bet almost all of us would be raising our hand right now. And it makes sense. Doing too much is almost...too easy. I admit, I have a history of overextending myself. As a motivated teacher, business owner, coach, partner, etc, there are a lot of opportunities to join new initiatives, committees, and projects. When a friend or school tells me about the work this one organization is doing, the excitement interrupts the voice of reason. Excitement is a big motivator for us. We get excited when we get the chance to learn something new because we are life-long learners. It’s the excitement to get loud and disrupt oppression that gets us on board. It’s the excitement of imagining our students coming to life when they enter our class that gets us to experiment with new strategies over and over until we get it right.
While it’s great to see how passionate teachers and leaders are, it’s not so great to see how overcommitting is affecting our minds and bodies over time. Every time I have overextended myself, I’ve noticed a sharp decline in my energy and a limitation in the capacity I have for the people I serve. There’s a set of phrases a friend once shared with me: "I'm having a rope day” or "I'm having a string day”. On “rope days”, there is room for doing more and feeling like tasks are attainable. Other people can hang on the rope with me. But on “string days”, all of that is gone. There’s nothing more we can give because we’re exhausted and the string will break if anyone else grabs on. It’s my hope that all of us will be able to have many more rope days than string days from now on. We have to learn how to stop letting it get to that point of burnout. We have to take some preventative measures.
This year, it’s a big year of transition coming back from the pandemic and figuring out how to stay innovative with your teaching. There is more pressure to support your students as they navigate these times. Colleagues may also turn to us for feedback or to step in when something comes up. So as you can see, the entire school stands to benefit from you showing up as your best self.
My #1 Tip For Staying Your Best Self
Here’s how I suggest planning:
Rather than thinking about what needs to be taken off your plate, start with an empty plate and go from there. You have a limited capacity which you can visualize as a small plate with only enough room for a few options. What you decide to put on that plate is very important; It could be something that checks off multiple boxes (like a food that has carbs, fats, and protein) if it’s going to take up valuable room on your plate. The things that I found most important to check off in my day were: supplying my students with information through a resource, making space for them to process that information, and then giving them an opportunity to apply that knowledge to some sort of project/assessment. As leaders, we need to have flexibility and be responsive to students and colleagues. For you, this could look different. It doesn’t matter why you choose to put this one thing on your plate instead of that other one because you see the value in focusing on that and that’s what will drive good results.
“Making sure we have the ability to be flexible when challenges arise and that we're able to take time to listen to students, to colleagues, to families, is critical not just for individuals, but also for community and collective well being. That's what the school year calls for; and to do this well, we need to have only the essentials on our tiny little buffet plates.”
Don't Be Afraid to Communicate with Your Leaders
Now you may be wondering how you can have this freedom to choose when leaders in the school are telling you to work on A, B, and C. I believe that there are ways to compromise if we’re all willing to be flexible. The things we usually expect teachers to do like grading, emailing, and planning could be automated in some ways. Leaders, make sure you are making time to get feedback from teachers about what they want to change or take off their plate. See how you can support them whether that’s hiring to fill in gaps, outsourcing to another role or eliminating unnecessary processes. My last tip is to have a counselor available for educators to go to during the work day. This is an amazing way to promote their wellbeing. Make sure you sound off below how you are planning to have more rope days this year!
To dive deeper into learning how to engage students, I have great news! You can register for my free 1 hour masterclass HERE or below. For more, check out my Curriculum Boot Camp course or the “Just the Protocols” module now so you can create your own project-based units grounded in justice in no time at all!
Continue the conversation below in the comment section and join our community of educational visionaries on Instagram, LinkedIn, and Facebook. Until next time leaders, continue to think big, act brave, and be your best self.
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Lindsay Lyons (she/her) is an educational justice coach who works with teachers and school leaders to inspire educational innovation for racial and gender justice, design curricula grounded in student voice, and build capacity for shared leadership. Lindsay taught in NYC public schools, holds a PhD in Leadership and Change, and is the founder of the educational blog and podcast, Time for Teachership.