Yesterday, I began a discussion with my kids in whole group, just a “hook” to grab their attention and begin the lesson. And then one kid asked me a question completely unrelated to anything I was trying to prompt. I know you feel me on this. So I told him we could talk about his question at recess. Distraction avoided. He was fine. I went on with the lesson.
I wish you were right here so I could find out what you already know about being proactive, and how much it keeps you balanced. But let’s start with the basics.
Steven Covey’s “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” taught me plenty, but one habit in particular is a real game-changer for me, in both my life and especially in my classroom. Being proactive will transform your life, too.
Diverting Random Question Boy is an example of being proactive—preventing a problem (in this case, distraction away from the topic I was steering them toward) instead of reacting to a problem after it arises. When teachers settle for being reactive, they give away their energy, brain power, patience, and their most valuable resource, their time.
You are a ship in a classroom-shaped storm. But proactive teachers are anchored to the ocean floor. Waves rise and fall, storms come and go–you’re focused on your goal, not on the distractions.
You want that anchor, trust me. So here are 4 easy steps—and a cheatsheet—to help you install the habit of being proactive.
Step 1. Stay true to your rules and procedures. You’re a teacher. You will always have some part of your day that’s basically putting out fires. But our rules, procedures, planning, and organizational systems enable us to stay proactive, preventing chaos. As long as we’re staying true to our procedures (from turning-in work to sharpening pencils) and our rules, we’re being proactive.
But when we’re not consistent with those same rules and procedures, we become merely reactive to problematic situations, from a student disruption when we’re working with small group, to a random question during whole group. Remember, being reactive depletes our brain power, energy, patience, and time—burnout city.
Step 2. Establish your priorities. Every morning, I create a to do list. Then, I prioritize my to do list. Then I make sure I have my objective ready for each lesson. Everything I spend my energy on must stay focused on those to-do list priorities for my students and my classroom.
If something pops up that’s not on my to-do list—and if it’s important for the students or the school—it can go on my list for the day. If not, it’s not a priority.
Step 3. Stay true to your priorities. All that stuff that doesn’t make the to-do list, which is most of what we see in any given day, is urgent but not important. Think random parent emails, a little-too-messy classroom, or a draining or negative conversation with a colleague. These things can wait.
When you are planning your day, it’s great to put some time aside for answering parent emails, and to have students straighten the classroom at the end of a day as a classroom job. But the key is not giving in to urgent requests simply because they are urgent. The student can wait to have a question answered, or a colleague can wait until the end of the day to get the list of students going on next month’s field trip.
Step 4. Create the habit. If you find yourself not following through with your own rules and procedures, you haven’t firmly established the habit yet. If you don’t have consistency, your students can’t have the habit either.
Continually throughout the day, you’ll find yourself distracted or derailed by requests, questions, or emergencies. Can you discern what’s important what to complete right now? When you have a student ask about a permission slip they urgently need while you’re taking attendance, can you reply in your calm and patient voice, “Remind me at dismissal”?
You can cultivate the habit of being proactive—like any habit—over time. If you do, I promise you, you’ll find yourself a more balanced and centered teacher and human being.
If you want to dig deeper into proactivity, I highly recommend Steven Covey’s book, “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.” You’ll learn so much for yourself and your students. There’s even a version for kids!
What ship are you going to be every day? One that moves every which way the wind blows? Or will you be firmly anchored in your proactivity?