Teaching, learning, and...leading? Teaching and learning often are spoken about together, but adding leading into the mix might, at fist glance, create an odd trio. However, there is a common challenge that all three share. As a matter of fact, it often is THE challenge that, if not carefully addressed, will determine your level of success.
Recently, a teacher in the division I serve said to me, "I don't know how you do your job." This was an opening with the teacher that I was happy to take advantage of since I am trying to help all the teachers in the division discover their own leadership potential. My response was, "In almost every situation, the challenge is NOT in knowing what to do. The challenge, and what often determines how successful I am, is correctly prioritizing what to do." I continued by saying, "That is how I came up with the maxim I speak of in our division meetings - when in doubt serve the needs of the student in front of you."*
After that conversation, I started thinking more about what I said. Initially, I was speaking about the challenge of prioritizing and how it applies to leadership and teaching, but quickly remembered how important it is in learning. Students are busier than we give them credit for and even when we do recognize the nature of their busy lives, we often minimize their condition by measuring it against "adult" lives instead of being more empathetic.
So, how can we help students prioritize their learning? What can we offer to students to help them make wise choices when they are conflicted by seemingly equal priorities?
First, as the adults in their lives, parents and teachers need to continually nurture their own relationships as partners in supporting student learning. This is not to say parents and teachers will always be on the same page. There will be times when they are not. However, having clear and respectful boundaries and roles will help eliminate any gaps in the support system a student needs to succeed.
Second, students need to learn from their life experiences to refine what a true conflict is and is not. In other words, students need to refine the "when in doubt" part. For example, when I coached baseball, one of the things I stressed the most to the team was their priorities list - which I gave them if they had any doubt. It was:
1. God/faith/religion (whatever that was for their family)
Now, when they had a conflict and were struggling to know what to do, I asked them to apply the priority list.
Third, students often do not have a priority problem as much as a time management problem. Items that seem like roadblocks are often matters resulting from poor planning (or no planning). For example, not having your homework because you had a soccer match last night is poor planning. You know in advance about the soccer match, so planning is possible. In these situations, I coach students to replace "but" with "and/therefore." So, in the example given, the student goes through an exercise in which they change the statement, "I have homework, but I have a soccer match." to "I have homework AND a soccer match. Therefore, I need to..." By using this method of thinking, students gain independence ad ownership of their learning while avoiding a common student priority challenge.
Prioritizing what to do is a challenge all of us face. Teachers, administrators, parents, and students need to make decisions each day that help us accomplish our personal, family, and organizational goals. The challenge of prioritizing actions is often the deciding factor in success for all of us. As we have a common challenge, maybe we are more capable than we would like to think of working together to support our common goals.
* The student in front of you should be translated literally (an actual student is standing in front of you) and figuratively (i.e. you need to finish grading papers and you need to respond to emails - grade the papers, they represent the student).