A look back

It’s that time of the year again. A time to pause and look back. I have to say that this year has been a hectic one and a year jam packed right up till I finished at work on Friday. Heck the work is still spilling into holiday time. This post is about themes and lessons learnt, not achievements or failures.

Daily deliberate

A huge lesson this year was the value of volume through daily habits. Through podcasts, blog posts, books and then daily practice I learnt that writing, creating, making, learning, improving is a process of continued daily devotion through deliberate practice. I wrote a lot, in fact I filled four notebooks and have countless drafts and Trello boards of ideas but there was a lot of crap in there. There was also a lot of gold. Writing daily kept me coming back to ideas and often a different mode or headspace could take an idea in a different direction. I learnt from many inspiring people that the process of improvement lies not in a one off magical output but the repeating cycles of doing and reflecting. For those looking to develop their voice, I implore you to start. Write for 5 minutes every day in a notebook. Wake up, time yourself and get lost in the five minutes. Keep that practice up every day for a month and then come back to those ideas. You will be amazed with how much you can write and have to say. Once your habit is established, extend your time or if you want to deliberately improve, get someone to read them, either from your notebook or via a blog. Feedback is key to improvement.

The power of stories and narratives
Storytelling is how knowledge has been shared through generations and a great story compels us to listen with intent and interest. Unfortunately many presenters fail to see the narrative and bombard us with slide after slide of slotted together information, without a thread of narrative. I have spent time this year through speaking gigs, practice, sketch noting trying to develop my ability to tell a compelling story. The stories that need to be told are your stories and people need to hear them. I have had the pleasure of working with a few members of my PLN closely this year as they have developed their ability to tell stories and it has been amazing to watch. The world needs less quotes on a slide deck and more powerful stories shared.

Battle between distractions and flow

In this day and age, being a connected educator can be severely distracting. Notification upon notification just chips away at your ability to get anything done. The dopamine craving of a retweet or a thumbs up leads to a decreased ability to get into a state of flow (check out Cal Newport’s Deep work). It also leads to a battle to be in the moment and it is something I have wrestled with immensely. Living close to work doesn’t allow for a lot of debrief time and so I have worked to put the phone away until the kids are in bed…and you know what, the world hasn’t ended and people have sorted out their own shit or they wait till tomorrow. It is so easier to be in the moment when your phone is not within arms reach. I have also employed this strategy with regard to email. I don’t check email until about 10.30am. That first two and half hours is when I am at my sharpest and so I use it for uninterrupted work on projects. I wear noise cancelling headphones to let my team know I’m not to be disturbed and I listen a chill mix I made on Spotify. I thoroughly recommend people developing routines that allow them to get into flow.

Power of belief
I hit rough patches this year a few times and they largely revolved around the question of purpose. I spent time trying to uncover what my purpose was, where I was heading to next. In fact, I probably tried too hard to drive the conversation between myself and it led me to some really barren points during the year. Some great conversations with people I respect and plenty of thinking time while I work out in the morning helped me through there spots. What did I learn? You need to get lost in opportunity and the opportunity you have is the opportunity you need to use to create this. Instead of letting negative thinking or self doubt creep in, step out of your comfort zone (and own head) and walk on.

Incrementalism and persistence.
Incrementalism is an interesting concept and it was this great podcast my wife referred me to by the Freakonomics team (great podcast series) that led me to the concept. Throughout history, monumental shifts in human thinking were not the results of big bang overnight success but incremental steps. Often the initial steps are long forgotten but they were necessary for the change journey to begin. Stephen Dubner from Freakonomics sums it up best with this quote.

“It got me to thinking that incrementalism is to the moonshot, what maintenance is to innovation.”

In our schools, we have moon shots that we aspire to. Large scale reform and change is hard and slow but every day you can take steps towards this. Every step is a step and while it might sometimes be a step backward or a sidestep, it is action. Moving on this with the end in mind helps to keep the the moon shot alive. A key part to this is to share the journey. The best journeys are shared. You also need to stop and take stock. Persistence in the face of huge roadblocks can be daunting but the energy you receive when you stop and look back at how far you have come can provide wind in your sails and help you through rough patches.

What lessons have you learnt this year?  As always, comments welcomed!

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4 thoughts on “A look back

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  1. Steve, another insightful post and one I once again have taken lots from. The battle between distraction and flow is one I battle with constantly, and something I aim to work on in 2017. With the support and help of people within my PLN I have worked on building belief in areas of my teaching which will continue next year. Have a great Christmas and New Year break and look forward to catching up with you soon. Cam

    1. Thanks for commenting mate, I have really appreciated your poignant thoughtful reflections and insights this year. I look forward to reading more about your exciting new journey in 2017.

  2. I always love reading you posts Steve about productivity and reflection as they often inspire me to reflect and consider my own practices. I’ve had a big shift in work earlier in the year and am still in the process of thinking what worked and what needs refining… I can feel some writing coming on soon. 😀 Take time to enjoy the break and I look forward to reading more of your insights as we move into 2017.

    1. Thanks for commenting mate, always appreciated. Reflection is often a step we leave out or that gets buried underneath the to do list but boy does it help. I really look forward to reading your post. Your insights are always so poignant and weighted. Hope you are enjoying a great break mate! We need to catch up soon!

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