leaders, long-term planning will now be even
more challenging. Accountability mandates and
funding are likely to change. Enrollment may fluctuate in unanticipated ways. School climate and
culture, especially in more diverse communities,
may require special attention to ensure that every
student is safe and supported.
We’ll need to focus our efforts on changes that
are likely to bring the most powerful results.
I would argue that educators focus too much
attention on best practices and not enough on best
conditions. Think of education as a greenhouse.
Too often, we walk among the rows of exotic
plants and tropical flowers, picking out the ones
we’d like to grow ourselves. Instead, we should be
taking notes on the greenhouse itself: its structure,
the temperature and humidity, the soil and fertilizer. If we get the greenhouse right, we may not
end up with the same plants others have grown,
but we’ll succeed in cultivating our own unique
and enduring collection.
Choosing “One Thing”
I’d argue that bandwidth and motivation are the
key concepts to keep in mind as we approach
changes in our schools. Most people are familiar
with the idea of bandwidth at this point. Just as
your home Wi-Fi service will slow down with
too many devices streaming too much content,
your teaching will suffer if your focus is exces-
sively fragmented. School leaders can set the tone
and provide the example, but it takes all of us to
prevent a scattered focus in ourselves, our peers,
and our schools.
In 2010, I wrote an article for Education Week
about the book 21st Century Skills: Learning for
Life in Our Times by Bernie Trilling and Charles
Fadel (Jossey-Bass, 2009).
1 My article was partly
a description of my own teaching, partly a book
review, and partly an account of a conversation
I had with Trilling. I had told Trilling about my
concern that goal setting and pedagogical change
could be overwhelming to teachers (since there is
never enough bandwidth). His advice was simple:
Choose one thing. In the years since then, I’m not
sure I’ve ever succeeded at choosing just one thing,
but I’ve tried to keep from choosing too many.
Keeping a narrow focus helps teachers stay
motivated. We know from the study of motivation
(see Daniel Pink’s book Drive: The Surprising
Truth About What Motivates Us [Riverhead Books,
2009]) that people are most motivated when
three conditions are met: autonomy, mastery, and
purpose. Teachers who want to avoid burnout
Teachers who want
to avoid burnout
need to make