By Erika Haskins
If there is one thing we know to be true, it is that poverty doesn’t take a day off. It never calls in sick, never sets a vacation responder, and never slips out early on a slow afternoon when no one is around. Poverty is unrelenting in advancing its agenda.
At BES, we are responsible for ensuring that demographics do not determine a child’s destiny and for executing on this mission with urgency. And urgency is like a parking meter, not a light switch. To keep it functioning, and to avoid negative consequences, one must continue to insert quarters into a parking meter. By this analogy, then, urgency describes an ethos built by the consistent and calculated use of time and resources. Building, increasing, and sustaining urgency demands unparalleled discipline from all of us in the work.
Educating students isn’t a walk in the park, or even a brisk evening power-walk. Our work is not a sprint or a relay. Our work is a marathon. To do this work successfully we must train for it, day in and day out.
Athletes who train for marathons are revered as mentally and physically strong. Medical experts and psychologists consistently attribute these achievements to self-discipline. Consider some of the components of their regimen:
- Grueling workouts scheduled early in the morning or after a long day of work (sometimes both); long distance runs scheduled despite extreme weather and injury
- Meal plans that dictate exact grams of protein, carbohydrate, and fat
- Sacrifice of personal and/or social time to ensure adequate amount of sleep
- Runs mapped precisely to incorporate uphill/downhill running at specific points in mileage or time to advance goals for strength and endurance
- Strong repertoire of mental exercises involving positive self-talk, imagery, and visualization.
Closely connected is the discipline required from a school leader:
1) Plan bold, clear, and measurable goals.
Process-oriented goals incorporate activities that focus on mastering tasks and increasing skill level. Outcome goals are measured in the final product. It is equally important for you as a leader to set, track, and attain both types of goals. Meticulous tracking builds strong habits and routines and maximizes impact for students. Once set, share your goals and benchmarks publicly to build a network of accountability. Share your goals with your team and display them publicly in the school building.
2) Create long term, weekly, and daily plans that prioritize high-leverage activities.
High-leverage activities are those most tightly aligned to achieving your goals and thus advancing your school’s mission. Identify the activities that will directly move the needle for your outcomes-based goals and plan them into your weekly calendar first. Be disciplined, strategic, and thoughtful when adjusting weekly plans to support multiple goals. Say “no” to activities that do not align with your process or outcome goals. Most importantly, never allow (and never create) excuses that pull you or your team away from the highest-leverage activities for student learning.
Taking a moment to gather the pulse of your surroundings is significant. Schedule pauses to re-evaluate the use of time and energy, to adjust, and to maximize impact for students in the minutes you have remaining each day. Reflection and mental organization lead to purposeful action, increased focus, and productivity.
3) Disassociate intentionally.
Practice remaining acutely aware of when, where, and how often to infuse each day with joy, inspiration, and reminders of your “why”. Utilize these windows of time consistently to deter unproductive psychological responses associated with physical fatigue.
Contrary to what we tell ourselves, we possess full agency over our time, resources, and mindset. When discipline wanes, urgency is stunted. Without urgency, the fate of our students’ futures falls into the hands of circumstance. And circumstance, on any given day, doesn’t care about student growth, rightful opportunity, or a more just society. But we do.
So set your alarm, lace up your sneakers, and stick to the plan.