We tend to think of proactivity as a good thing, but sometimes it's the reason we end up burnt out and harried. Sometimes, the wisest thing to do with a good idea is to let it remain just that. What we don't want is to be always acting but rarely thinking. Just like anything, our bias toward proactivity can result in a good thing becoming a bad thing.
I say this from experience. Below is a list of ideas I've had in my own school district, in no particular order, during the past year:
- Recognizing National Board Certification as the equivalent of a master's degree.
- Organizing an unofficial PLC of AP teachers to work on improving equitable access, increasing student performance sustainably, sharing best practices, and decreasing cannibalism. (That last one is where teachers compete for student registrations in their courses, thus “cannibalizing” other AP courses. The way to solve this is to increase equitable access and decrease student homework loads per course. And that, obviously, is easy to say but hard to do. Which is why a PLC would be so helpful.)
- Modifying my AP World History curriculum to match the College Board's new shift to AP World History: Modern.
- Mimicking the APWH: Modern curriculum's organization in our standard World History courses.
- Adjusting school and department policies to optimally cultivate the five key beliefs in all students.
- Creating a coherent and robust program for supporting new and early career teachers.
- Improving the coherence and effectiveness of our district-wide approach to professional development.
- Forming a voluntary book club for students to study and discuss the “relaxed superstar” model in Cal Newport's How to Be a High School Superstar.
- Piloting a team-based initiative to strengthen the 8-9 transition in our school district that can then be rolled out to all teachers in grades 8 and 9.
- Forming a “curriculum council” to assess the knowledge-richness of the district's K-12 curricula. (See Chapter 3 of These 6 Things for the strong rationale for such an effort.)
When I'm not thinking clearly, I handle all these items “proactively.” As research comes across my reading desk that might help in one of the projects above, it'll goad me into sending an email or making a plan or scheduling a meeting. If I'm washing dishes at night working an idea through in my head, I'll jot down any breakthroughs to act on in the morning.
But this proactive approach — the practice of acting whenever we have something that can move any of our ideas forward — has a dark side.
In no time, we end up bloating our schedules and shrinking our think time. Without knowing exactly how it happened, we find ourselves heavy on commitments and deadlines and meetings, and short on time to read, to ponder, to write. It's a ceaseless chasing, a striving after the wind. And it's completely invisible to us most of the time because we're so busy doing good things.
The better approach is to pick two things on the list that we'd like to work on next year and ignore the rest.* The only instance in which contributing to any of the rest makes sense is if a one-off opportunity comes from someone else (e.g., my curriculum office asks to sit down and discuss the case for knowledge-richness in PK-5 curricula). These kinds of things are easy ways to contribute to the success of others and to ideas that we think are important — without taking on the big expense of “leading the charge” on a dozen things.
Just something to think about, you go-getter you. 🙂
* I'm choosing the APWH: Modern transition — because I've got to do it in order to teach two of my classes next year — and the team-based initiative for improving the 8-9 transition — because I think it's the strongest lever to impacting the most possible kids, and it's right in my sandbox.