April 06, 2012

Creating Capacity?

I can multitask really well. The number of items on my “to do” list is usually quite high, and I love it that way. I thrive in demanding work environments that require a fast pace, and lots of action. That’s why I love production work; that’s why I love teaching school. Observant students sometimes ask me how I am able to juggle all of my responsibilities. I answer, “time management.” I have a robust work ethic to be sure. I also believe that there is a deeper and stronger source of my energy and enthusiasm for life at all levels.

I’ve seen the demonstration more than once. A glass container is set on a counter. First, it is filled with stones. The speaker asks if the container is full. Everyone nods. Then, the speaker fills the empty spaces left by the stones in the container with pebbles. Again, the question if the container is now full. Everyone nods again. Then the empty space in the container is filled with sand. Full? Nods. Then the speaker pours water into the container (now it really is full.) This demonstration has always stuck with me as an excellent example of one’s real capacity.

We are all containers just like the example. The question is how full are you? Are you simply full of stones and pebbles, or have you reached the sand yet. Can you even imagine the water? Of course we are all over scheduled and over whelmed by our lives. But does that mean we can’t handle just a little more? What if we practiced better time management? What if we began to say no to the things that really don’t matter, and freed up more time for the things that really do matter? What if we actually took time off?

One of the keys to my capacity as an individual is rest. One of my favorite lyrics from one of my favorite artists is,

My habit is to get in bed every night by 9:30. Impossible, I know. But getting regular sleep is a huge benefit to my ability to get things done. Exercise is important too. I am no fanatic, but I do exercise regularly and choose my meals carefully. No one can be effective if they are exhausted. Sometimes you just have to chillax.

Maybe I am unique. Clearly I am blessed with an innate enthusiasm for life, and teaching specifically, that I cannot take credit for because I cannot identify where it originates within me. What I can do is share what I have learned in the successful (and not so successful) areas of my life. That’s one reason I love teaching: sharing what I know works for me. So fill up your containers to the maximum capacity, then rest. Discharge the stone, pebbles, sand, and water as efficiently as you can, then repeat the process. Always enjoy the benefits of your efforts.

April 03, 2012

Defining Details?

Details matter. Greatness exists in the details. While it is important to keep the big picture in mind, and not get stuck in the minutia, getting the most important details right is worthy of the required investment of time and energy. Regardless of the realm, whether it is academics, sports, or the Arts, the difference is made by the way the student, athlete, and artist works out the finer issues of their endeavors; even the ones nobody else can see. The extra time spent in study and review, training and practice, reworking and editing defines the excellence of one’s efforts.

In academics, teachers guide their students through the learning process. An effective instructor provides a series of steps for their pupils to follow that allow them to address the most important finer details along the way, and not push them off to the end. The teacher needs to be well prepared for the facilitation of the lesson or project, having worked out as many different scenarios and potential problems as possible to help anticipate what the students will encounter at every step. Experience helps, but is not a requirement for successful instruction.

In athletics, coaches motivate their athletes as they prepare for competition. It is the job of the coach to understand and address the athlete’s needs in order to efficiently progress in their sport. Everything from nutrition to sleep patterns can positively or negatively effect performance, and it is up to the coach to make sure that the athlete is aware and focused on all significant areas at all times. Athletes who are best prepared both on and off the field have the best opportunity to be successful on the field of play. The details of training will give athletes the competitive edge.

In the Arts, students want freedom to express themselves on a variety of levels. That is a good thing. It is the duty of the art teacher to provide structure and process to that creativity. Of course there are always some students who establish their own process and need little guidance, but they are the exception. Most artists need constant feedback and direction as they apply their invention to paper, canvas, or computer screen. Pointing out specific areas for improvement, polish, and modification as well as knowing when to push, and when to pull, is part of the art of teaching Art class.

All teachers and coaches want their students to succeed. Teaching students to recognize that it is the details of what they do that make the difference is key. It is our job to not only raise awareness of the value of excellence when working through the details of their work, but also to show and guide our students through the process of addressing the finer details of what they do. We must teach them how to develop their critical eye and to make appropriate and meaningful changes that will improve their efforts and their results. Defining the details with students will equal success!

March 31, 2012

Think Time?

The issue came up recently in the teacher credential class that I teach concerning procrastination and the benefits of working under pressure. Sure, we all work harder when we know a deadline is approaching, and hard work produces better results. But the more we can do as teachers to eliminate procrastination both in our students and in ourselves the better and more effective educators we will become. Part of that is recognizing the importance and value of review and reflection as part of the creative academic process when we design our assignments, and building in “think time” for our students.

In production classes we use the pre-production, production, and post-production model. Students should schedule an equal amount of time for each of these three steps. The pre-production step includes brainstorming and writing, usually in small groups. The production step includes creating the actual project as designed during pre-production. The post-production step includes editing, refining, and polishing the final product. Most students hate the pre-production step, and want to jump right into production. This is like going on a car vacation without a map of how to arrive at your destination.  And too often post-production suffers from lack of remaining time.

This same model can easily be applied to any subject taught or project assigned in any class at any educational level. The three steps can be simplified into: planning, applying, and revising. The key to success is making sure that ample time is budgeted to each step in order to insure the deadline is met. Too often students have difficulty getting started. They have lots of good ideas, but trust few of their ideas to actually work. Once students set their project into motion a lack of disciplined time management leaves little time left over for the editing and polishing.

That is where procrastination hurts the most: not allowing enough time to work out the finer details. Once the production process is complete, students need to pause, relax, and reflect, before beginning the revising process. Just because the project is not in the forefront of the students’ thinking does not mean that their brains are not still working on it in the background. In fact, some of my best ideas on making improvements to a project have come up when I am not actively working on that project. It’s that think time that makes the difference to the end result.

But we eliminate any chance of taking advantage of think time if we have procrastinated so badly that the best we can do is simply finish with “something.” Sometimes that is necessary, but always it is unfortunate. Teachers need to structure their assignments and their classes so that students can take advantage of the benefits think time adds to their work. Strict and regular deadlines throughout the production process that build in think time are a great way to make sure students not only learn excellent time management, but also a process that encourages them to produce their very best.

March 27, 2012

Preventing Procrastination?

“I’ll do it later.”

But later comes too late, and the work never gets completed. Sound familiar? Not only do we teachers deal with students who procrastinate, but we also struggle with personal procrastination. It’s a problem in the classroom for all stakeholders. We teachers need to battle back the procrastination monster for our students and for ourselves. But how? It’s starts with our own personal work ethic that then affects our lesson planning, and the structure of the assignments we give our students. The more disciplined the teacher, the more disciplined the class, and the more successful the students.

Personal Procrastination

We all do it, but in different ways. I love to start out strong, and finish on time. It’s that pesky middle section that usually gets in my way. I’ll work to a point where I feel comfortable in taking a break. Breaks are good. They give us time to reflect and refocus our efforts. It’s the starting back up again that is challenging. I get easily distracted by entertainment (darn those fuming fowls); interrupted by personal engagements (somebody always needs me to do something immediately); and by life itself (we all need to sleep sometimes, don’t we?)

Professional Procrastination

I know I need to write lesson plans, but who has the time? We need to change that attitude about our planning. Of course we need to be flexible, but the better we plan out our daily classroom routine, the better the results that we will receive from our students. Kids know when a teacher has their act together, or not, and they take advantage of the weaknesses of their instructors. So over plan your day, your week, even your school year, and do so BEFORE you actually stand up in front of your pupils to teach them.

Pupil Procrastination

Most people will argue that they work best under pressure. As teachers, we need to keep the pressure on our students and hold them accountable moment by moment in the classroom. But how? Requiring students to produce quality work on a daily basis, perhaps even multiple times during each class period, is a great way to start. Creating assignments that do not allow for delayed response is a skill that we can all develop over time. Time management is a crucial (Common Core) skill that all students need to learn which we can easily facilitate through our lessons.

Procrastination Postponement

Building in “think time” to reflect and revise is very important. This is the area that most often gets eliminated as a deadline approaches. It is during this step that the finer details are polished and a good project becomes a great one. So making sure to schedule our time effectively while both preparing for class as well as preparing our assignments is crucial. Putting off putting things off is the key. My father called it “deferred gratification.” So “keep your eye on the prize,” and, “don’t put off for tomorrow what you can do today.” Later on.