I recently finished Greg McKeown's Essentialism, a book I had bought two years ago when a few friends and I were on a panel at NCTE together. We had all agreed to buy this book to direct our presentation, but I never had--scratch that--madethe time to read it. I can begin this blog post about taking ownership by actually taking ownership. Not reading that was on me. I didn't make enough tough choices in order to make time to read it.
So, Essentialism. In a nut shell, it "is not about how to get more things done; it's about how to get the right things done" (5). Essentialists rank; they discern. They take the time to question and think about opportunities that are presented to them, and they think through the trade-off that will occur if they do one particular thing instead of waiting for another or just saying no altogether.
This is tough work for teachers, in particular.
Many of us are go-to people. We want to "do what's right for kids" all the time, and we never really question if what we do or have signed up for really has an impact. I don't think I'm alone here when I think to a Friday just a few weeks ago where I attended a staff-staff dodgeball game, a varsity basketball game, and chaperoned a dance, all in one night.
I, for one, need to be okay with saying no. And when we do, McKeown argues, people will respect us more. We might be ranked lower in popularity, but we will become respected. Our time will be seen as more valuable, and people will start to question whether or not the thing they are approaching us about is really worth our time.
And if we don't decide on the choices we make, we will have forfeited control and allowed others to prioritize for us: "When we forget our ability to choose, we learn to be helpless. Drip by drip we allow our power to be taken away until we end up becoming a function of other people's choices--or even a function of our own past choices" (39).
So starting today, I'm beginning to practice a little "deliberate subtraction" (157). I'm going to work to gracefully say no more often, and really remind myself that "everyone is selling something" (138). I'm going to borrow a lot from '"No" Repertoire,' and I might offer a no+but, ask what I should deprioritize, or even recommend someone else that might be willing to take on a task.
Put simply, I think this is a book that every educator should read. When we think about our commitments and how we spend our energy in our classrooms, we should really focus on what's essential for the most important work. We should ask ourselves: Is this the right work, at the right time, for the right reasons?