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Casting Votes (14/365)

Two weeks, “a writer”. Three months, “a writer”.


These are two personal milestones I’ve hit in the last 24 hours.


Today marks the latest stop on the road to progress, with habits I’m building. But I’m not stopping, I’m merely pausing...to admire the view.


And I’m committing to today. Day one/one day, a writer.


This week I’ve reflected and am writing about Dabbawalas. Learning about them several years ago has me wondering, what’s reignited these thoughts?


Summer’s a time for simplicity. With less “noise” and fewer distractions comes more frequent opportunities for clear thinking. Clear thinking connects with writing (and visa versa).




I’m noticing an emerging theme, a pattern in my thoughts. It began with reading Atomic Habits by James Clear at the right time (three times, actually). In the pandemic shutdown, I’d revisited the classic, Focus, by Mike Schmoker. And then, there’s the Dabbwalas, who I’d originally read about in When by Daniel Pink. (Visit the links at the end of this post to learn more about the Dabbawalas, an amazing living example of how simplicity delivers success.)


Today, my aim is to put a bow on what I’ve learned about Dabbawalas and how their work connects with our mission as educators.



What actions can leaders take in support of growing confidence towards collective efficacy?


Schmoker outlines four focus areas: environment, curriculum, instruction, and authentic literacy. In the setting where I lead, fostering meaningful middle school experiences for all adolescents is often achieved through, as Schmoker says, simplicity, clarity, and priority.


How can we focus on simplicity, clarity, and priority in every day school life?



1. Audit your day and your week.

The first step for anyone committing to do this is to write it all down. This way, you can have experience an objective reflection and conversation with colleagues.


How do you spend your time? What do you identify as needing to do more or less of? What needs to be eliminated completely?


2. Look for patterns.

The second step is to look for patterns in behavior.


How do you use each of your nine 41 minutes? What are the typical “teacher (or principal) moves”? When you compare your list with those of one or several colleagues, what do you notice? Which of these “moves” are connected to a previous “move”? (See, James Clear’s habit Stacking”.)


3. Sit with one, then another, then another colleague.

The third step requires some courage and an open mind. Start with one work friend or colleague and gradually build from there. These will become your accountability partners.


Compare your audits and discuss the patterns you notice. Ask them to share theirs. Notice what they’ve included and excluded. Ask what they’ve eliminated or need to eliminate.



4. Offer feedback to one another.


The fourth step requires a mindset of inquiry. Share what you notice. Ask questions in the spirit of "wondering".


Think about what you know about other colleagues’ patterns and workflow. Who is facing a similar challenge? Who has overcome a challenge and can explain how they did it? And who is thriving in an area in which your partner may help.


5. Generate a list.


The fifth step is where you make some personal-professional commitments to yourself.


Write down, in the simplest of terms, a one word or one sentence description of each step you take over the course of a 41-minute period of teaching and learning. Ask yourself, “Am I making the most of my time with kids?” Does this maximize my purpose for each lesson? Are the students able to anticipate my “teacher moves” in a way that removes learning obstacles for them?


6. Repeat.


Now, the hard part. This is the daily commitment you're making to improvement and personal excellence.


Keep the list. Share the list. Reflect on the list. Revise the list. Use it as a checklist. Incorporate it into a calendar. Minimize the friction on being able to access, view, and update the list. Keep it in one or more highly visible places. Use the words on this list in a way that you may passively (when you’re not in the classroom) think about. Some of our best ideas come about in some of the least likely places, and usually, not in the place where we engage in the activity. Walks, bike rides, runs, or swims are some of the best places to passively reflect, I’ve found.


Focus on continual improvement.


Not yearly, quarterly, or every five weeks. Not weekly, not daily even. Period by period, moment by moment improvement. Doing this will increase your attention to noticing not only your personal tendencies, but also what happens before those happen. Confiding in several different colleagues will aid in refining your workflow. And, it will remind each of us that we are each navigating our paths towards improvement.


A principal willing to do this will have teachers who do this. Teachers who do this will have students who do this.


When principals, teachers, and students commit to a cycle of iteration, reflection, sharing, and revising, it’s an investment in school culture. Individual efficacy connects with a commitment towards collecting efficacy.


Defining what’s most important each day is casting votes for the classrooms, schools, and learning organizations we’re striving to become.


To paraphrase the words of James Clear, what action will you take today to cast a vote for the person, the educator, the teacher, the school leader you're becoming?




Learn more about Dabbawalas’ Culture of Excellence and Simplicity:

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