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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Since my last Edutopia blog post, How Slowing Down Can Lead to Great Change was published, I've received dozens of messages asking for suggestions for how to slow things down in schools. The premise behind the following suggestions is that if we slow down, we'll have more opportunities for reflection -- to think about what we've done and how it went, to consider next steps, and also to listen to each other and therefore, strengthen our connections. Here are some steps that anyone working in schools can take to slow down:

#1. Prune your goals

Examine the goals you've determined for yourself, your students, your school, your department, etc. Prioritize them. Now, if it's within the scope of your decision-making powers, strike out the last one on the list. The primary obstacle to school improvement that I see is the problem of "doing too much." Districts have strategic plans with 27 initiatives, schools have four annual goals, teachers have six professional practice goals, and so on. This is not an effective way to make change. If we could all prune our goals (and I am aware that many of us don't fully have control over this) we'd focus and could slow down. Even if you can't prune goals, raising this as an obstacle and addressing the inefficiency of working in this way is important.

#2. Prune your calendar

Most of us overschedule ourselves, not necessarily because we want to, but we feel pressured or obligated to do so. Take as many things off your calendar as you can. For some of us, taking one thing off is all we'll be able to manage, but if you can prune it down to the essentials, do it. You don't need to go to every sporting event at your school in order for students to see that you encourage their non-academic interests, you don't need to attend the school board meeting every week in order to stay informed of decisions. Reduce what you do and the information that comes in. Slowing down is about creating space for reflection, thought, awareness. Don't fill every moment.

#3. Allocate time to opening meetings

If you facilitate meetings, allocate 10-15 minutes to the opening. Give participants a chance to transition from their previous activities, to preview the agenda and understand what they'll be doing that day, and to briefly connect with others. This takes 10-15 minutes, and yet I often see teams leap into the content of a meeting. What can happen when there's a lack of clarity on what we're doing today and why, is that teams get side-tracked and derailed. When people haven't been given a chance to physically, mentally, and emotionally arrive at the meeting (how many teachers rush from their last period of the day to a department or leadership team?) then they can't be fully present and able to participate effectively. A simple opening routine can ameliorate this.

#4. Allocate time to closing meetings

Similarly, participants need routines to close meetings. They need to reflect on what happened at the meeting, what their next steps are, what they learned during that meeting, and they need an opportunity to give feedback to the facilitator. Closing routines provide a critical moment for participants to make sense of what's happened and determine the most effective next steps. This takes some time and can't be rushed.

#5. Prune the agenda

If you plan and facilitate meetings, apply your pruning skills to your agendas. Most agendas I see (and this was definitely my tendency) are too packed; when they're implemented, we always run out of time and have to cut activities out on the spot. It took me many years to learn that I needed to ruthlessly cut and prune my agendas. For every item on your agenda, see what happens if you add a few extra minutes to your estimation for how long it'll take. I've found that when I prune and then pad my agenda, I stay on time, feel more relaxed, and participants in the meeting or PD pick up on this -- activities don't feel rushed, people have a chance to make sense of what we're doing. It's a much more satisfying feeling and it helps us slow down.

#6. Ask a colleague a thoughtful question

Set a goal for yourself -- one a week or once a month -- to ask a colleague a question that requires a thoughtful response, such as, "What's something you're feeling really good about this year?" Or, "What's been your greatest accomplishment as a teacher?" Or, "Tell me about a student you felt you made a difference with?" Ask this question at lunch or after school or in a moment when he or she will have time to respond. This kind of an interaction will require slowing down and exploring thoughts and it will connect you two more closely.

#7. Ask a student or a parent a thoughtful question

Repeat the previous activity with a student or parent. Ask, "What's something you'd like me to know about you?" Or, "Tell me what you feel really good about?" Or, "How can I understand you better?"

#8. Eat lunch

Most teachers and administrators I know either don't each lunch at all (chips and coffee don't count) or they eat while grading papers, checking email, making photo copies, etc. Start with one day per month (a realistic goal) or if you're bold, one day per week, to eat lunch and just focus on eating. No multitasking on work. This is a perfect example of how slowing down is nourishing, literally. And if you were to eat lunch with a colleague, you'd also connect with another person which would be additionally nourishing (with one caveat: no complaining about students, admin, work, etc. Complaining is draining).

#9. Take a sick day

How many of us go to work when we're sick? Unless we're burning with fever, we go, sniffling and coughing for days. Next time you're sick, don't go to work. Sleep, rest, drink fluids, you know the routine. I am aware of the possible risks of taking a sick day, ("The kids can't handle a sub/The sub can't handle the kids," "Admin said too many teachers are out," "I have to teach this lesson or we'll get off the pacing guide") but don't go. You can't reflect and make intentional decisions if you're sick.

#10. Practice self-care

Audre Lorde, the poet and activist, said, "Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare." These are words I live by. I know that if I don't take care of myself, I'm useless in this struggle to transform our schools. Again, make a small goal to incorporate doing little things to take care of yourself. This blog post describes my strategy for self care this year. When we take care of ourselves, we begin the process of carving out time to reflect on what we're doing. This is the foundation for the Slow School Movement: to be intentional about what we're doing, why we're doing it, and how we're doing it. This kind of thought would be transformational in our schools.

Please share any other ideas you have for how we can slow down.

Comments (8)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Melanie Link Taylor's picture
Melanie Link Taylor
Educational Consultant/Author, Southern California

Thank you, Elena. Sometimes we teachers (of all ages) need a little bit of mothering!

elvee62's picture
elvee62
First grade elementary teacher from Norfolk, Virginia

Thank you for recognizing teacher efforts and giving us a chance to reflect on what we already do. Knowing when to take a break and refresh is a concept that is hard for teachers to adhere to. Something we all should improve on.

Kim S - Michigan's picture

I found myself agreeing to each thing on the list. Every option is very doable! I especially like the one about eating lunch. I cannot remember the last time I ate lunch at work without doing some kind of classroom work at the same time! It has perfect timing for a break in what might be a very busy day!

Meagan Kimm's picture
Meagan Kimm
First grade teacher from Burbank, California

Wonderful list, thank you! "Prune your calendar" and "prune your goals" really made me think. I shouldn't feel bad for having to say no to something. It's difficult to take time for yourself as a teacher without thinking "what should I be doing right now?"

I need to reevaluate my goals. Instead of trying to do too much, I want to choose a few things and do them well!

Chrisoula's picture

These tips were wonderful! I will do my best to improve on not taking on so much. I need to take baby steps and not be afraid to say 'no' once in a while. Thank you, for all the great suggestions!

Veneshaw's picture
Veneshaw
High school teacher in Anguilla (The Caribbean)

It is indeed true that we as teachers never have enough time or always have too much on our plate, but are we doing ourselves an injustice when we try so hard to do right by others? The efforts that we so badly want to exhibit is basically an action that will eventually cancel itself out because you can no longer keep the momentum or the efforts you output are so mediocre that you might as well don't.

I will have to agree with the tips Elena shared. It is imperative that teachers slow down and really reflect on things being down or things being said. Just take a day, say forget school and everything related to it and treat yourself to something you enjoy most. These things are the only way you can truly be re-energized. For me personally, as a secretary and coordinator of groups, I found the first few tips very helpful and hopefully they give an improvement to future meetings.

In observation, I have noticed that many teachers have a big problem with time management. With effective time management and knowing how to give oneself an honest break and just slow down, one will have the space in their schedule to do much more. Many if not all the teachers that truly love their profession have ideas that that can improve their classroom, their school and student learning, but it's always, "I just don't have the time."

I am no different and will definitely be putting these tips into effect! A teacher recently passed away from my school and was no sooner replaced. I then realized that we are replaceable and although some may mourn for a while, life goes on. So, I have to preserve myself in order to do the great things that I have in mind.

Kelly's picture
Kelly
first grade teacher

I love your ideas for slowing down. As teachers this is something we have a hard time doing. I know this week is crazy busy with all the stuff that is due at school this week. This article helped me to take a breather and enjoy the moment. Thanks!!!!!
Kelly

Sami's picture

Each of these tips are amazing. The tips can truly help a teacher become a better teacher. Each tip also helps a teacher become a better leader. Like the meetings, a teacher leader needs to be in charge and make sure everything is covered. It could change who is in charge each time instead of always the same person. Another thing a teacher leader is great at doing is planning and creating goals. These two tips are great and very useful in the classroom. By doing these few things, it helps teacher leaders become better and not as overwhelmed.

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