1. Teacher Life

Utilizing Our Individual and Organizational Capacity

Every Sunday, I try to get in a long run for the week.  Typically, this will be at least 15 kilometers, and it allows me to really clear my head and “recalibrate” for the week.  It is like a moving meditation, and even though the movement is rigorous, it is also weirdly relaxing.  I love to listen to playlists of some of my favorite artists and enjoy them on the run.  

As the run goes on, I get a little tired and more aware of the music that I listen to, so I usually decide to put on some pop music to give me energy for my final burst. It has been really annoying to do in the past, as I have to grab my phone and fiddle with it to find the right playlist or stop completely. Once I stop, especially later in the run, it becomes a lot harder to start.

This past weekend though, I thought, “I have an Apple Watch. Why don’t I use Siri to change the music?” I have no idea why it took me this long to think to use my watch that way (it feels like a really expensive step counter most days), but today was the day, and I felt like I had stumbled onto the secret to eternal youth or something with my internal reaction. Such a simple thing but made my run, and future runs, so much easier.

The thing is that I have had this watch for a long time, and I rarely use it anywhere near its capacity.  That’s common with a lot of technologies. Think of all the buttons and options on something like Microsoft Word or Excel, and think of how many of those buttons you actually press?  Those buttons are there for a reason, and there is probably something in different technologies that you use every day that you don’t use to even 50% of their capacity on any day.

Is the same true for our organizations? Our classrooms? Maybe even ourselves?

Think about this concept at the organizational level. 

I am not talking about working people to levels where they are perpetually exhausted. I am talking about tapping into the talents and gifts that our people bring to our spaces every day.  

I remember working as an assistant principal and seeing a teacher who taught half-time grade five and half-time physical education.  When he taught grade five, he was good but also a bit miserable. When he was in the physical education class, his passion was contagious.  It was extremely noticeable. Eventually, we moved him to full-time physical education, and he was beyond happy, and it was beyond effective.

Do you know how we found out he wanted to teach physical education full-time? 

We asked him.

In “The Innovator’s Mindset,” I wrote about the idea of helping people find their “dream job” in our schools and shared the following:

Sometimes, to find out what people’s strengths are, all you have to do is ask.

When I became a principal, I sent out an email each year as we began the staffing process. It read, “As we are currently undergoing staffing, we were wondering if you could describe your dream position next year, what would it be?”

Obviously, there was only so much we could do if you said you wanted to be an astronaut or a reality TV personality. But in the context of the school, we wondered what opportunities we could create.

The important thing about asking this question was, for starters, asking the question. We could not guarantee we could create the job that a teacher wanted. But unless we encouraged people to share what they dreamed of doing, how would we know? I remember one elementary school teacher responding that, although he loved working with grade five students, he would really like to work with kindergarten or grade one students. The crazy thing was we had a grade one teacher who wanted to work with our older students. A simple swap was made. Both teachers were amazing in their new classrooms and unbelievably grateful for the opportunity.

Another teacher shared that he loved teaching one particular subject and wasn’t too passionate about the one that he was asked to teach in the current school year. He loved working with students but knew he was more effective when he was passionate about the subjects he taught. With a couple of adjustments, he was placed in an area that he thought he would excel, and he was amazing.

I also remember a grade two teacher’s response that affirmed the need to ask about my staff’s desires. She wrote, “My dream job is teaching grade two, and I get to live it every single day. But I just want to tell you how much I appreciate you asking in the first place.”

The easiest way to tap into the capacity of the people you serve is by finding out their strengths and passions and move backward from there.

The same is true for students.

For the past few years, I have encouraged schools to start their year by asking their students the following questions.

No photo description available.

No photo description available.

This isn’t meant to be an “ice-breaker” activity to start the year off, but more of an opportunity to learn about your students, their passions, strengths and think about how you can utilize them in teaching and learning. For example, if you asked me these questions as a student, every answer would probably have to do with basketball. 


Teacher: “Hey George…What do you look for in a teacher?”  

Me: “Someone who likes basketball or at least understands how much I love basketball.”


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Okay Okay GIFs - Get the best GIF on GIPHY

Something like that.

I don’t remember reading the “Jordan Rules” in any English class in high school, but I guarantee I would have about ten times over, and I would have found out that I liked writing about fourteen years before I started to do it consistently.

Part of the job of an educator is to bring out in others what they might not be able to bring out in themselves.

This same sentiment could also be true for ourselves.

Look at those five questions above and think of how they could be modified for your own personal growth. For example, I know that I love telling stories, but I hate writing “academic” papers. So years ago, I started this blog, and it was titled “The Principal of Change; Stories of Learning and Leading,” and I have stuck to that format ever since. I don’t use a spoon to butter bread even though technically it could.  In the same way I look at the strength of any tool, I try to do the same for how I look at my growth and development.

It is much easier for others to see your strengths if you learn to bring them out in yourself. 

We should always look to see the possibilities in the tools that we use, but it will always be more important to bring out the best in others and ourselves.

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