Student Achievement Opinion

Teachers: 10 Steps to Open Up Space in Your Office

By Jill Berkowicz & Ann Myers — November 20, 2016 3 min read
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Joint writing isn’t always easy, especially when co-authors have very different styles. We have worked hard to figure this out. One of us is highly organized and completes tasks way ahead of schedule. The other one more random and spontaneous. She carries deadlines in her mind as a guidelines. One of us writes simply by sitting down and doing it; the other one carries a thought around and writes in her head until it erupts on paper. Needless to say there is a push and pull quite often. Because we are educators, we stay current, learn from others and pay attention to the data.

Word is that titles with numbers in them are “click-bait”. To get attention give readers a number of steps....5 steps to happiness, 4 best ways to engage students, 3 leadership musts, 2 steps to effective PD, the best design for exciting faculty meetings. These are helpful, certainly. But, it has become increasingly clear to us that it is the steps and how they are done that matter. Who we are, how we perform our jobs, and how we treat each other is central to success regardless of the number of steps.

It is crystal clear that schools and classrooms must be bastions of ethical and moral behavior. We write often about that. There is definitely an advantage to being able to pick up tips for student engagement, leadership, professional development, exciting faculty meetings, and so on. But doing so without attending the harder job of operating in the nexus between ethical behavior and the demanding tasks educators must accomplish is a mistake. So, ironically, here we offer a 10 step way to help organize the endless paperwork that comes into your office.

Becoming Organized
Without noticing it, the clutter of the piles can be a constant reminder of the mountains of work waiting for your attention. Clear counters and desks can be a calming alternative to the clutter of reminders of work yet to be done. It only involves one drawer of 43 hanging folders and the commitment to touch each paper, each piece of mail, as few times as possible.

You may be one of those talented folks who know exactly in which pile a particular paper or file sits, whether it is on your desk, shelf, or table in your office. Even if that is so, clutter always reminds us of work undone and may contribute to a sense of disorder. Consider this:

  1. Commit a drawer in your office for hanging folders
  2. Place 43 hanging folders in the drawer
  3. Label one group of folders 1-31
  4. Label another group of folders September-August
  5. Place the numbered folders in the front of the drawer and the months in the back.
  6. Order the month folders with the current month first.
  7. Any paper that comes your way gets placed either in the month folder in which you will attend to it, or if it is the current month, in the day (the numbered folder) that you will attend to it.
  8. At the beginning of each month, take the month folder out and place the papers in the day folder that you will address it.
  9. Each day begins by taking out the day folder. Those are the papers you planned for attention on that day.
  10. Repeat steps 7-9.

Becoming Present
The ability to be fully present without distraction is a vital capacity for today’s leaders. No curriculum, no teaching method, no meeting can be truly effective long term without a leader who can be present. And being present requires controlling distractions. In her Forbes.com article on being present, business owner Kristi Hedges writes:

Just about every self-help movement from spirituality to leadership to parenting extols the virtue of being more present. We’re told to cultivate being introspective, still, and to pay attention to what we’re doing at the time we’re doing it. If we focus on the person or task in front of us, we give them, and ourselves, a gift. I wholeheartedly believe this is a good and positive thing.

In the End
It is student achievement that requires the most attention. We all know for certain that even with that as a north star, the social/emotional health of the environment still is fundamental. The frenzy of the adults in the system to get things done is not only distracting, it prevents the goal being attained. Before being able to be present ridding our lives of the papers and piles seems a simple solution. So yes, we are suggesting 10 steps to clear the way for your work environment. It isn’t about image, it is about opening up space for your mind and for your human interactions.

Ann Myers and Jill Berkowicz are the authors of The STEM Shift (2015, Corwin) a book about leading the shift into 21st century schools. Connect with Ann and Jill on Twitter or Email.

Photo by thodonal courtesy of 123rf

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