Can I Do Fewer Things Better? Following the Advice of Angela Watson

Another summer has almost come to a conclusion, and what do I have to show for my time to unwind and relax? Well…not so much in the ‘Unwind and relaxing’ department. Perhaps much of this can be attributed to the fact that I am a mom to two girls under the age of six, but if I am really being honest, it is because I have spent the majority of my summer immersed in educational research. I didn’t mean to do it this year, really!

A little over a year ago, I stumbled upon Jo Boaler and my teaching world opened up. As I have stated before, her book and course synthesized so many different ideas I had uncovered in my search for those truly great lessons. I felt transformed, so when she offered a second course this summer, naturally, I was obligated to sign up for it. In an intense four-week period, I completed the course.

Lucy Math

 

After volunteering on a committee at school this past year to “Re-imagine the Middle school,” an opportunity to become certified in Empowering the Mind over the summer was presented to me; so clearly, I had to pursue that as well. The seminar was amazing, but I still had questions and oh my goodness, there was a book to go with it! Naturally, I had to purchase the book and read it immediately in order to solidify my learning.

While in the middle of the book, a website discovered by my amazing colleague was offering free math professional development, but only for a few days. Normally, this resource charges $39.95 a month, so obviously, I had to immerse myself in more Math PD immediately, even if it was geared towards elementary math. The progression of math skills is something I am really trying to become an expert on, so although the timing wasn’t perfect, I had to jump on the opportunity.

I gained at least one golden nugget from each hour session, and that is always worth something. I have been watching the seminars in a haphazard order, and yesterday, I watched the very first one offered by an educator named Angela Watson. Her keynote speech was about giving yourself permission to do fewer things better. In her speech, she discussed something called the Minimum Viable Product.  She explained that we as teachers often spend countless hours creating the perfect lesson, deliver the lesson, and then realize it is not perfect by any means. Then, we are faced with a choice, we can go back and tweak the lesson, or completely trash it. She stated it much more eloquently than I just did, but the point is the same. Ms. Watson challenged us to involve the students in lesson design and start with something minimally ready. The lesson may not be perfect, but few lessons ever are in their first iteration. She proposes it is better to start with something unrefined and invite the students to transform it into what they need rather than teachers spin their wheels in the creation phase when the ending result is the same.

Mind blown…

I frequently spend a ridiculous amount of hours creating a 45 minute lesson. Like most teachers involved in lesson design, even “stolen with permission lesson design,” the lesson never stays true to its original design because students always guide improvement. Ms. Watson emphasizes a need for teachers to set a timer in lesson creation, use it, invite the students to tweak it, and repeat.  She refers to this scenario as a win-win.

Although Ms. Watson absolutely has an incredible point, can I really allow myself to do this? Can I give myself permission to take an idea and just use it in (for me what would be) raw form?

I am that teacher is who is often the first one in the building and the last one out of the building. I am not saying this as a point of pride; it is a professional (and personal) weakness. In speaking with my assistant principal I shared with her that a goal of mine this year was to stop doing that. She suggested I make it my S.L.O. (Perhaps only teachers will understand that joke).

Ok, so here we are, I have a few weeks left of my summer vacation. I have yet to spend much time “vacationing” from school. The question remaining is…am I the type of person who can do fewer things better?

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5 thoughts on “Can I Do Fewer Things Better? Following the Advice of Angela Watson

  1. This post resonated with me as someone who (a) takes on more than they can comfortably manage (I tweeted this morning that I was making a huge mockery of the ‘Just say NO!’ sticky note above my desk) and (b) over-prepares for most situations.

    I’ve thought a reasonable amount about both of those things in relation to myself. For (b), I know that some of my time is not productive, but much of it is. There are several adages that spring to mind: 5Ps ‘Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance’, ‘He who fails to plan, plans to fail’ and ‘Plans are worthless, but planning is everything’. I know that none of my lesson plans are perfect and that they’ll evolve in the moment, but I often have to do that level of prior preparation to be prepared for that to happen in a way that is going to be productive — both in the moment, and later on. (That’s another sentence full of ‘P’ words!) I guess my challenge is to know when I’m just tinkering rather than planning for success.

    I’m not sure if this makes sense or is even relevant to you :). I guess I’m indicating that you’ve caused me to reflect some more on this, so thanks for the post!

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    1. I absolutely understand your comment. You are speaking my language! It has been only two days since my post and I have only focused on math pedagogy more, not less. My question was genuine and at this moment, I am not sure I can give myself permission to do fewer things better. However, I do plan to try the timer trick to see if I can! Good luck to your efforts at “doing fewer things better” as well.

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  2. This idea terrifies me as well. It is an uncomfortable feeling to walk into a lesson that is not fully planned, and let the students guide it to where it needs to go. I think the fear for me comes in the form of getting a “pop observation” that day and the lesson being a flop. We need to allow ourselves permission to try new things without being afraid of the repercussions.

    By the way, I am with you! All summer I’ve been immersed in grad school coursework surrounding math instruction, so it hasn’t been much of a vacation for me either! Oh, and I miss you! 🙂

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    1. The dread of the pop observation! I think that is a huge factor, and perhaps it shouldn’t be, but until the culture changes completely, I don’t know if it will ever NOT be a factor. You know me, I am an overplanner, so not sure I can really change that. How about we both try the timer trick and take it from there? Even small changes can be significant. I would guess that most teachers are not truly vacationing this summer, don’t you think?

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