Keep Your Focus

Every year education gets more complex. There is more to do, more to worry about, and more to understand. In a profession that is often overwhelming, it is extremely important to maintain your focus.

The aging pitching ace, Kevin Costner (Billy Chapel), finds himself in New York one last time facing the Yankees. As Chapel gets ready to face the first batter, he scans the stadium focusing on the insults being hurled his way from the home fans.

In order to hone in at the job at hand we hear Chapel say, “Clear the mechanism.” After that, the surrounding noise is drowned out by Chapel’s primary focus, the opposing batter.

Spoiler alert: Chapel goes on to pitch a perfect game. He is only able to accomplish the rare task because he can separate the distractions from the job.

It’s that simple. Teachers need only to say, “Clear the mechanism” as they walk into class every student will follow directions, participate, support each other, and master the content. Okay, maybe it is not quite that easy.

The best way for educators to maintain the proper focus is by asking themselves one question, “Is this what is best for my students?”

Two of the most common examples of distractions that can detract from doing what is best for students are time wasting and emotional energy drains.

Time Wasting

The tasks of an educator are many and the school day is only so long. Teachers and principals should prioritize their daily schedule based on what will yield the largest benefits to students.

It may be helpful to track your activities, outside of direct instruction, for a week and then reflect on the impact each activity has on student learning.

Example (One Day)

7:30 to 8:00 – Making Copies – Low Impact on Student Learning

11:30 to 11:50 – Eating Lunch – Low Impact on Student Learning

11:50 to 12:10 – Comparing Common Assessment Data with PLT – High Impact on Student Learning

12:10 to 12:30 – Revising Future Lesson Plans Based on Data Review – High Impact on Student Learning

12:30 to 1:00 – Searching the Internet for Project Ideas – Medium Impact on Student Learning

3:30 to 4:30 – Providing Meaningful Feedback on Student Assignment – High Impact on Student Learning

This a very simplified outline of a teacher’s use of time before school, during planning, and after school. I recognize that there are certain tasks that have to be done, even though they have a low impact on student learning. But, these tasks should be minimized, or an alternative or more efficient means to accomplish the activities should be considered.

If you find that you are spending an exorbitant amount of time making copies, have you considered the use of technology in your classroom? Could students use notebooks instead of receiving a copy of everything? Can you get by with only a classroom set?

Ask a colleague whom you consider to be a master teacher to log their time as well. After a week compare the data. It may be surprising to see how they prioritize their time.

When you are cognizant of your time and what you spend it on, you will inevitably become more efficient.

Emotional Energy Drains

Teaching is emotionally draining. If you want to hang out with an educator on the weekend, make it a Saturday, because most teachers are sleeping by 8 o’clock on Friday night.

Passion, enthusiasm, and energy are essential elements to strong teaching. To keep those at peak levels, we must avoid emotional drains.

Examples of Energy Drains

  • Complaining Colleagues – Conversations with co-workers around all the problems in education
  • Negative Student Talk – Discussing and hearing about all the “problem” students you and others have to deal with it
  • Emotionally Charged Emails – Reading and responding to negative emails from parents
  • Power Struggles with Students – Constantly seeking the upper-hand when working with challenging students.
  • Failed Lesson Obsessing – Wallowing in the aftermath of a failed activity

It is difficult to go through a school day and not encounter one, if not more, of these energy suckers. The key is to quickly recognize it for what it is, and move on to a high student impact activities.

When you spend too much time in an energy drain your ability to maintain the positive energy, enthusiasm, and passion in the classroom will become almost impossible.

While it may not be as simple as “Clearing the mechanism,” focusing your time and energy on doing what’s best for students will ultimately lead to greater job satisfaction and better student results.

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