“What is my job on the planet?” is one question we might do well to ask ourselves over and over again. Otherwise, we may wind up doing somebody else’s job and not even know it.” –Jon Kabat-Zinn, Wherever You Go, There You Are, pg. 206
In a previous post, I posed the question: “If you knew that your last day at your school was tomorrow, how would you decide to spend your time?” I offered my own response (spending time in classrooms, ignoring email, etc.). Yet I didn’t address a possible follow up question, one that couches us in our daily realities: How do I find the time to spend with students and teachers in classrooms?
This is a reasonable concern. The emails in our inbox don’t magically disappear. Requisitions need to be approved and evaluations have to be completed. What helped me prioritize my limited time in school is to ask myself a follow-up question (adapted from a chapter title in Kabat-Zinn’s book): What is my job with a capital J?
To find out, I created a T-chart. Next, I looked back on my calendar and started listing all of the tasks I had completed in the past along with what I remembered doing but didn’t schedule. On the left side, I wrote down all of the tasks that should belong to me as a school principal and instructional leader. On the right side, I listed tasks that were my responsibility as a principal but didn’t necessarily need to be completed by me.
Here’s the list. It’s evolving. For example, I still do some data entry for discipline. I also tend to take care of a few purchase orders because I get uptight about our school budget. But overall, this process was both freeing and empowering. Freeing because I could give myself permission to not feel like I needed to be everywhere at once. Instead I’ve learned to trust staff to be responsive to students’ needs. Empowering because I am finding that staff members who I have asked to take on certain responsibilities are doing as good if not a better job than I would. For example, some of our most popular professional learning experiences have been facilitating by our teachers. I had as much to learn as anyone.
To be clear, I don’t value my tasks over what others might accomplish with me. Everything is important. What I know is that principals cannot do it all. So we have to be selective about how we choose to prioritize our time every day. If our expertise and efforts are best served as instructional leaders, then we have to find ways to delegate some of the non-instructional tasks to other staff members in order to be most effective.
What tasks have you found to be essential or nonessential to your role as a school principal and instructional leader? How did you re-organize responsibilities? Please share in the comments.
A product called Spire came across one of my social media feeds today. This wearable technology attaches to your clothing and monitors your breathing patterns. If you are stressed, Spire will know and send you a notification on your smartphone with a reminder to take a moment to breathe deeply. The concept seems similar to a Fitbit.
To answer the question, “Can mobile technology help us be more mindful?”, I think it helps to have a basic understanding of mindfulness.
Jon Kabat-Zinn, in his book Wherever You Go, There You Are, defines mindfulness as “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally” (4).
Ellen Langer, in her book Mindfulness, describes the benefits of this concept, such as “greater control, richer options, and transcend limits” (4) in our thinking and our lives, versus the negative effects of mindlessness which include poor decision making and being more susceptible to our biases.
So will wearable technology like Spire help someone with stress (see: everyone) improve their attention span, be more present in the moment, and have greater control in his or her intentions? I think this will largely depend on how a person uses their smartphone and related mobile technology, and have very little to do with Spire itself. If a person is stressed by outside factors at work, such as employee relations, then I could see some benefits. However, if a person’s stressors are a result of their connections, then Spire probably would be a waste of money (and at $149, that is considerable).
I consider my own mobile tech use. I regularly check email, read social media feeds, and receive reminders via text and notifications. After engaging in all of these connections, I’m pretty sure my breathing rate is going to escalate, at least if it is largely related to my work as a school principal. Because Spire utilizes the same features that technology providers also use to keep me engaged in their products, I would predict that the effectiveness of it would be marginal at best. Rather, I would need to heavily reduce all of my connections on my smartphone to become more mindful. But then why would I need this product?
While Spire is a unique idea, I believe its effectiveness is correlated with how well we currently manage our connections. The context determines the outcome. Somewhat related, I think this product is another step toward technology not only becoming essential to our everyday lives, but actually becoming a part of us. There is certainly a paradox here. As I revealed about myself, often the stressors in our lives are the technology we use, such as that ever-growing email inbox. With Spire, are we reducing our stress, or just feeding the monster? That largely depends on our current habits.