Have you ever told yourself that there isn’t enough time to get to professional development or create original curriculum? You imagine that your students will suffer if you don’t spend more than 2 hours grading and planning lessons. But here’s the thing: you have the time, you just don’t believe in using it for the possibilities. This is something I still struggle with too. There’s that tunnel vision telling you to focus on the concrete—on whatever’s in front of you demanding attention.
Excuses keep you stuck
I’ll share the 2 most common responses I hear from teachers when presented with a PD opportunity. Here’s one:
The “I can’t take time from grading/lesson planning” response. So, how can we reframe that initial response? Try asking yourself these reframing questions: What if the professional development I spend time on teaches me how to plan efficiently and grade faster and it actually saves me time in the long run? What if it helps me build engaging learning activities so that students are on-task and excited to learn every day? What if it means I would be able to stop taking work home—the planning/grading work and the mental stress?
Here’s another one:
The “I can’t miss class for PD” response. When teachers are offered a chance to attend a school-day PD (like visiting another school or a curriculum planning day or a workshop off-site), I often hear teachers say: I can’t leave my kids; they’ll miss out on a day of learning. How might we reframe this? Try asking yourself these reframing questions: Would I sacrifice one day of student learning and the time it takes to prep sub plans (which is often harder than prepping your own lessons) if it meant me and my students would be energized and engaged for the rest of the year? What if it just increased engagement for a semester? One unit? What if the thing I could accomplish by missing ONE day of class could drastically improve student engagement and achievement? My biggest growth spurts as a teacher came from taking the time to learn a new approach and try it out.
“Don’t underestimate the power of investing in your learning, even if (or maybe especially if) it seems like your time or energy is stretched too thin to take on one more thing!”
In general, we only have so many hours in a day, so it really comes down to spending our time in ways that get us the big results and the life we ultimately want.
Another belief that might be holding you back is thinking that you owe your time to other people. Remember, there is always an opportunity cost to saying, “Yes.” You need to determine if the cost is worth it. For example, if I agree to stay after school, I won’t be able to run today or cook dinner with my family or fill-in-the-blank-here. Am I willing to sacrifice that? Learn to say “No” so that you can say “Yes” to something else. That something else may be spending time with family, exercising, sleeping, whatever it is, your “No”s make room for “Yes”es in the areas that matter most to you.
David Bayer talks about the limiting beliefs we hold put us in a state of inner conflict, which steals our time, energy, & presence. We can lose hours of time each day here, years of our life! We’ll talk more in the next episode about clearing the mind to create more energy and creativity.
Determine Your 3 Priorities
Take a moment to brainstorm and list your top 3 priorities. What do you want to spend more time doing? This list will help you say “No.” You can use the list as a litmus test by asking yourself if saying ”Yes” to something will take too much away from your priorities.
Consider how your list of priorities can help you actually say, “No” to something.
Write your script!
I’ve heard different iterations of the following script:
Thank you for asking. I’m excited about what you’re doing. My current priorities are: ____, ____, and ____. I’m unable to say yes to anything outside of these right now. Most people are not going to feel rejected by this kind of answer. In fact, most people I’ve heard share their feelings of this experience say they felt inspired. I should note, you can suggest a way to integrate one of your priority areas with the ask if it’s possible. Here’s an example: If you want to join me on my afternoon run/walk, then I would be able to have that meeting.
Alternatively, you could say “No” as a full sentence. Count to 10 in your head afterwards to fill the awkward silence if it bothers you. In Emilie Aries’ book, Bossed Up, she notes a moment when Anderson Cooper asked Hillary Clinton if she wanted to respond to a comment, and she simply replied, “No.” Complete sentence. Boom. We don’t always need to explain ourselves! As we begin doing this work for ourselves, we’ll also be modeling for those around us, this is a great additional benefit! By doing this for YOU, you can transform your workplace culture.
Transform your limiting beliefs
David Bayer suggests rewriting a limiting belief (e.g., “I can’t say no to people”) as an empowering belief, and checking our thinking and decision-making against that belief. What are the beliefs getting in the way of you living the life you want to live? How can we take action on the beliefs that limit us? Take a moment to rewrite your limiting belief to an empowering one or list out the top 3 priorities in your life right now and use this list to make decisions for the rest of the month.
To help you, I’m sharing some Boundary Reminder Images as this week’s freebie. You can print or save on your phone or computer to remind you of living into your values. (bit.ly/boundaryreminders). Next week we will examine the topic of clearing the mind.
Also, if you want me to take you on an in-depth walkthrough of how I saved 700 hours of planning time in one year as a teacher, my self paced online course, Work Less Teach More, is now open for enrollment. The course is $197 and I don’t know about you, but my professional and mental wellbeing is worth way more to me than $200. You can enroll today at bit.ly/wltmcourse
If you’re a school leader wanting to help your teachers free up the time and energy to tackle big transformative things, you can purchase this course for your teachers as a pilot for one department or grade team or for the whole school. Want to chat to see if the course would be a good fit? Connect with me at email@example.com
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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.