One Word Challenge

A year ago today I started in a new role as principal of Bowen Island Community School.

Time flies!

“Time flies” has almost become cliché. I use the phrase too often and while it usually seems true, when I think of all of the things that have happened in the past year I realize that time only flies when the in between of important events and milestones are not considered.

And there is a lot of time in between.

When I considered taking on the role of principal I thought that one of my greatest challenges would be time management. As a teacher and vice-principal, the hours in between the bells are spent with students and many hours outside of that time are spent assessing and planning. After ten years, I felt confident in my ability to prioritize time to ensure students were learning what they needed for their stage in development.

I wondered how as a principal, not in any one classroom for the day, I would spend my time and worried if I would  be so busy staying (or getting) “caught up” with pressing tasks that I would not spend enough time on the important but not urgent things.

In Stephen R. Covey’s book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, he notes that effective people prioritize their time well. He notes four types or zones of tasks:

  1. urgent and important2016-01-04_1209
  2. not urgent and important
  3. urgent and not important
  4. not urgent and not important

It’s easy to stay out of zone 4. The other zones are the challenges. Effective people make time for Zone 2, that which is not urgent but important. As an educator and learner, I see Zone 2 as the area where the biggest gains are made in improving as a professional, my classroom, and my school.

Recently, West Vancouver Schools Superintendent Chris Kennedy challenged educators to participate in the one word challenge, to find one word that best defines their hopes and goals for the coming year.

My one word, as you may have guessed, is time.

Time is not a hope or a goal, but prioritizing time on things that matter, that which is important but not necessarily urgent, is one of the biggest and most important challenges in life. I shared this idea with our departing Grade 7s at their promotional assembly  last year and also in a blog post called, “The Challenge of Opportunity.” The post challenges students to make the most of their time in secondary school and beyond by ensuring they are thoughtful of how and where they spend their time and asking this question frequently: Why do you do what you do?

It is my goal and my challenge, in my work and personal life, to continually define what is important and prioritize my time accordingly. I owe that to my family, the students of my school, my colleagues, and myself.

I’ve been using this tool (Weekly Schedule – Simple), based on Covey’s work, to help prioritize time. Feel free to use and modify it.

Who’s Leading?

I enjoyed this video recently shared with me by my West Vancouver Schools colleague Tara Zielinski. In it, author, speaker and former submarine captain David Marquet makes a great case for distributed leadership and the power of not just shared decision making, but distributed decision making.

Schools are very different than submarines: teachers lead their classroom and make countless decisions without their principal being involved or even aware. But direction-setting initiatives and innovations can be less distributed and Marquet does a nice job of explaining why that is problematic.

“Leaders can take control and attract followers” or “give control and create leaders.” Marquet argues that the latter is far more difficult and far more effective.

People are not ropes and other thoughts on stress

Safe Working Load.  Breaking Strength.  Rope

The terms, or similar words, are used to describe ropes.  Ropes have clear limits: for safety, a rope’s capacity to do work and its maximum capacity where it is likely to break is something clearly stated by manufacturers.  Further, it is understood that a rope’s capacity is lessened over time, particularly when the rope has undergone stress.

We have a fixed mindset when it comes to ropes – they don’t get better, in fact, over time, they get worse.  Ropes have no capacity for improvement.  Oddly, the same thinking is often applied to a person’s ability to manage stress:  that people have a fixed capacity to deal with it which is eroded over time – “stress kills.”

Kelly McGonigal challenges such thinking.  In her article “How to Be Good at Stress,” and her TED Talk below, McGonigal notes that stress is only unhealthy in people who think it is unhealthy.  And for people with a growth mindset who view dealing with stress as a way to increase their capacity to handle it, stress increases their resilience and capacity to manage challenging situations.

So stress can be seen as an opportunity to become a more capable person.  But it is often hard to see the light in challenging situations.  In his book, A New Earth, Eckhart Tolle writes, “The ego loves to complain and feel resentful not only about other people but also about situations.  What you can do to a person you can do to a situation:  make it an enemy.  The implication Paul_Watson_Stressis always:  This should not be happening.”  He explains this line of reasoning allows us to feel superior to the situation and it can lead to feelings of resentment when problem solving.  But, as very nicely explained by Paul Watson, Executive Director of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society in his blog post on stress, “life comes with obstacles, challenges and problems. Problems should not be unexpected. They are inevitable. All problems can be dealt with by dealing with them, delegating someone else to deal with them, or ignoring them.”  It is helpful to be aware that another challenge or problem will present itself soon after any problem is solved; if not before…

To come back to the rope analogy, I take two insights away from these readings:

1.  Unlike a rope, people can increase their capacity and ability to manage stress.

2.  The function of a rope is to manage loads, to be put under stress.  Similarly, people will encounter obstacles and problems that must be dealt with one way or the other.  The function of a leader is to help solve problems.