Sunday, April 26, 2015

Doing your best may involve doing less?

I recently read the blog post linked below about education in Finland. It is a reflection from an American teacher who spent time in Finland's classrooms as part of a Fulbright research assignment. Much has been made about the education system in Finland since the country has ranked near the top of international benchmark tests on student achievement. It seems there are those who would have us believe schools in the U.S. are inferior to those in Finland or Singapore or other countries where test scores are higher than they are here in the States. However, I don't believe test scores provide enough information to compare the quality of schools to one another, and for the most part I believe comparisons like these are counter-productive.

11 Ways Finland's Education System Shows Us that "Less is More".

The overall theme of the Finland post was that the learning culture is not the pressure-cooker that it is here in the U.S. Here teachers are jumping through all sorts of hoops in the name of better learning. There is pressure from administrators, politicians, parents, the media, you name it. The perception is constantly reinforced in the media and public discourse that schools and teachers could and should do more. And no doubt there are some schools and teachers that need to do more. But shame, embarrassment, and high-pressure tactics are poor strategies to create positive change. A better solution is for all schools to strive to improve, regardless of how effective they are currently. We need educators with a growth mindset who are filled with purpose and working to improve opportunities for students.

But my concern remains that in the midst of the current pressure-cooker environment, many excellent teachers are losing their sense of meaning and purpose. They are burned-out, beaten-down, and generally feeling unappreciated. Teaching is stressful work even without the external pressures, so it is very important to keep some margin in your life. If you imagine the edge of your sanity, your breaking point, the place where your effectiveness is compromised, it is critical to keep a buffer from this max point. To try hard and give great effort is to be admired, but to be stressed-out and ridden with angst is limiting your effectiveness as an educator and as a person.

Here are a few ideas for keeping some margin in your life:
1. Exercise
2. Eat healthy
3. Get plenty of sleep
4. Make time to relax
5. Read
6. Write
7. Make something
8. Learn something new
9. Build a relationship
10. Laugh
11. Keep a journal
12. Pray

As we grow as leadership and mature in life, we should be able to take on greater challenges and have the positive coping skills to deal with increasing responsibilities. So while keeping some margin is important, so is growing. I am much more capable of managing multiple and more complex responsibilities now than I was a decade ago, for example.

All of this applies to our students as well. Many students lack the skills to handle the life circumstances they have created or that are thrust upon them. Perhaps this is worth discussion in classrooms. How do you make sure you are best version of you and not stressed to the max? Just like adults, students may want to point the finger elsewhere and blame others for their problems, and perhaps their problems are caused by others. But it's not productive to blame or expect someone else to change. If we want things to change, we have to start with ourselves.

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