What's old is new again

Author Stephen King wrote, “Sooner or later, everything old is new again.” And while King might have stated this in regard to writing his books that keep many of us awake at night, for educators lying awake at night wondering how to keep moving learning and leading forward, the quote also applies. In addition, for those educators new to the profession or new to a role, who are kept awake worried not about sewer-dwelling clowns or continuing on a path of growth, but rather about starting anew, the good news is that what has worked in the past, may be just as valuable now.

With that in mind, and as the summer comes to a close for some, I share three quotes and ideas that have stood the test of educational time. While these quotes may be relatively new, they speak to ideas that have helped educators grow for centuries. Whether new, old or somewhere in-between in our careers, there is much we can take from these nuggets of good advice.

“There is a difference between listening and waiting for your turn to speak.” Simon Sinek is well known for his work prompting us to always go back to the “why” of the work we do, and his book, Leaders Eat Last is an incredibly worthy read. A valuable quote by Sinek speaks to the importance of all of us becoming more effective listeners and to shifting our listening habits from listening to speak again to listening to better understand. When we understand others and see things from their perspective, our decision-making becomes all the richer. How do we shift our focus from listening to respond to listening to reflect? One way is to force ourselves to speak less. During the next meeting you play a role in, count the number of times you speak in relation to others. At the end of the meeting, map out who holds the conch the most. What can you learn from this about your own ratio of speaking to listening? Another method? Try a “3 to 1” question to answer structure. Force yourself to ask three questions for every answer you provide in a conversation. Simply by nature, questions push us to be better listeners by leading a conversation down a path that someone other than us controls.

“Taking time to do something slower than you normally would is a privilege that should never be ignored.” When was the last time you led your schedule, rather than let your schedule lead you? A struggle for me is often how to give myself the time I need to think deeply about my work; I imagine this is much the same for you, as you struggle to determine whether you have the time to read this blog or simply move on to something else. Harper Reed, while not an educator by trade, stated this quote as if he knew the difficulty of juggling the millions of opportunities educators work through on a given day. And on some level he does. An entrepreneur who worked in retail, served as one of PayPal’s leaders and was deeply involved in Barack Obama’s 2012 presidential campaign, Reed realized that our desire to check a box will always win over our need to take our time. Whether we are new to education, new to a role or new to this way of thinking, developing a “work slow” mantra has the potential to benefit our ability to dive deeper into what makes us who we are. Welcoming that privilege of working slow can start from each of us allowing ourselves an opportunity to set aside “me time”. This time, which should be untouchable, including by ourselves, doesn’t have to be lengthy, but it does have to be long enough to allow us the time to ask the question, “What should I do now?” If we have the time to ask that, then we have the time to reflect on something of interest to us. And if we take the time to reflect, chances are, we’ll do something better than we would have otherwise.

“You can do anything, but not everything.” David Allen, author of several books focused on improving productivity, is 100% correct. We can do anything we put our minds to, but simply by nature of the fact that there is always a finite amount of time in which to accomplish our work and live our lives, we can never do everything. Whether starting a new job or continuing to grow in a current one, we should never be afraid to ask for help or be too proud to delegate. The fact is, education is a social profession. And that means that we need others to help us be as successful as we can be. I would go so far as to say that in our profession, success is rarely measured by what one person can do; rather, it is measured more often on how schools, districts, and communities grow. Of course, becoming comfortable asking for help or delegating can only happen when we practice. So set a goal for yourself. Over the course of a week, how many people can you offer to help? How many times can you reach out to someone for assistance? What elements of your work can be better addressed by someone else? When the week is over, take a look back at your numbers associated with each question. What can you focus on to become a better assistance giver and seeker?

Much in education is cyclical. New ideas, resources and tools may come and go. Some will invariably stay. But through it all, it is only the timeless lessons that can become foundational to the ways in which we lead and learn. What lessons stand the test of time for you?

Fred Ende (@fredende) is the assistant director of Curriculum and Instructional Services for Putnam/Northern Westchester BOCES in Yorktown Heights, N.Y. Fred blogs at www.fredende.blogspot.com, Edutopia, ASCD EDge and SmartBrief Education. His book, Professional Development That Sticks is available from ASCD. Visit his website:www.fredende.com.

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