Leadership as Decluttering

I’m reading a book called the life-changing magic of tidying up: the Japanese art of decluttering and organizing. Everything about this book is adorable including the tiny size of the book itself, the soothing Japanese brush art on the cover design, and the lack of capital letters in the title. The author, marie kondo (also without capital letters), sets forth a number of simple but profound principles to help the reader “put your space in order in a way that will change your life forever.” I’m struck by parallels between these principles and the work of teacher leadership for the purpose of improving student achievement. Here are some are few ideas:

Decluttering Principle: Effective tidying involves only two essential actions: discarding and deciding where to store things. Of the two, discarding must come first.

School improvement can feel like the tangled mess of power cords I found underneath my desk. It’s difficult to see what goes with what, which cords are critical to my improvement efforts and which are extraneous and therefore distracting. Time is limited, and when our attention is scattered by too many issues and options we accomplish little. The first step in teacher leadership is to prioritize and then focus on those priorities. What is your number one priority? Will you work on improving the effectiveness of your PLC this year? Or is your big goal to launch and sustain a vertical team to strength your school-wide reading program? Decide on your first priority so that you can truly and deeply commit to accomplishing it. Then consciously and assertively decide which interesting but less important challenges you will put aside. Commit to all of this in writing and display your commitments in a visible location.

Decluttering Principle: Once you choose your belongings properly you will be left only with the amount that fits perfectly in the space you currently own.

Once you have decided on and committed to your leadership priority, designing your action plan will be straightforward. Much like organizing a collection of books after weeding out unneeded titles, your decluttered priorities will naturally lead you into plan your monthly, weekly, and daily activities. Your new focus will allow you to clearly see your progress towards the school improvement goal you’ve identified. Be sure to collect this formative data. Add it to the display of your goals as a way of maintaining focus on your priorities.

Decluttering Principle: One of the magical effects of tidying is confidence in your decision-making capacity.

Imagine opening the closet of your teacher leadership work and seeing in a single glance your vision of success and the compartments representing your steps towards realizing this vision. Decluttering and organizing your school improvement efforts and monitoring the impact of your newly focused efforts will most certainly build your self-efficacy. It can also decrease stress and bring you joy, feelings that can impact your school’s culture as a whole. Kondo says “A dramatic reorganization of the home causes correspondingly dramatic changes in lifestyle and perspective. It is life transforming.” The end goal of school reform efforts is always to improve student learning but also to build capacity within the system for continued improvement. Spending time decluttering and organizing your leadership priorities and efforts is a smart investment in your own leadership capacity.

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