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!