Time to KonMari Your Professional Learning

The recent shift to online and virtual professional learning opportunities has presented a buffet of options for educators. Since the end of the school year last June I have consumed hundreds of hours of content, many of it free. This is tremendously exciting. As a teacher I am always looking to grow and learn new things. But when is too much….too much?

I recently hit my breaking point. Between the demands of teaching, the need to support my home life, and a renewed focus on my own well-being, I had to reconsider the amount of time I am chasing professional growth.

I don’t want to eliminate the need for professional learning for teachers. In fact I think it is the single most important thing that we as educators need to be doing. In a rapidly changing world with new technologies and information being thrown at us daily, there is tremendous value in being a lifelong learner.

What I have found is that the need to consume every new webinar, test every new technology, and hear from every new thought leader espousing breakthrough knowledge about our future world has its drawbacks. As educators, we guide our students to reach for transfer-level understanding. We design experiences that allow students to transition from surface, to deep, to transfer-level understanding. When we try to over-consume information we are not allowing ourselves to experience this same transition..

There are times when it is appropriate to go “all in” on a topic. For example, this summer in the wake of the George Floyd protests and the Black Lives Matter movement I realized I was vastly under-learned in topics around race, social justice, and white privilege. I did a deep dive of reading, listening to podcasts, and attending webinars. I listened, engaged, and reflected deeply about my own experiences and lack of knowledge. I came out on the other side with reliable resources and connections to go to in the future when I had a question that I needed an answer to.

As the year has gone on I have been trying to replicate that deep dive on every new idea that comes my way. The result has been not deep diving at all, but just skimming the surface. This doesn’t provide the attention my ideas deserve in order to be examined in a deeper way.

So what are my suggestions to address this? I have applied the principles of “KonMari” to my own professional learning. There are many ways that the KonMari approach has been applied, so I am using the general five steps outlined in this medium post. They have been slightly modified to fit my own use case.

  1. Discard by category first: Place all your professional learning resources into categories. Do this in order starting with the things that take up the most of your attention first and then going down the line. For me, it was in the following order: books, podcasts, research papers, webinars, social media.
  2. Break a category into subcategories as needed: For example, podcasts can be broken into categories like technology, leadership, education policy, social justice, or content-specific topics (for me that could be mathematics or project-based learning), etc…. Do the same for your books, research papers, or whatever else you listed in step 1.
  3. Only keep the things that spark joy: This is probably the most well-known part of the process. You can think of it as things that speak to your heart, gets you excited, moves you, etc… If it is a physical thing like a book you can physically hold it and ask yourself if it sparks joy. If it something digital like a podcast or a research paper I will look at its title or podcast page and ask myself if I get excited looking at it. I know it might feel weird to look at a little box on an iPhone screen and ask yourself if it sparks joy, but we’re trying to get you to make some changes here so be open to doing things that make you feel a little silly.
  4. After items have been discarded, thoroughly re-organize your “space”: Again a lot of these “spaces” are going to be digital, but they can still be organized. Make folders in your hard drive or google dive with your research papers that are clearly titled by topic. I started using a platform called Mindstone that allows you to organize pdfs and online articles into categories and tags for later reference. For podcasts, I have made playlists by category like “tech”, “leadership” etc… so I know where to find podcast on topics when I want to go to them. For webinars or online events, make some clear rules about how you will interact with them. For example, I said I will not attend online events that happen during my workday. Or give yourself specific categories of events that are you will attend so you are not trying to consume everything. If you want to learn about social justice. Commit to only attending events on that topic. When you are ready to move to a new topic, set a new limit on what you’ll attend.
  5. Do it all at one time: The Japanese term for this is “ikki ni” which means “in one go”. This is very important as you are trying to change an entire mindset. If you can do it all at once you will be well on your way to fundamentally changing the mindset that has been causing you all the “professional learning clutter” in your life.

I hope these tips are helpful. I am by no means an expert on this and still fall back into my old ways. I think the mantra of “progress not perfection” is good to apply here. We are professional educators so we value learning. But this can also get the best of us and lead to that “wide, but not deep” approach that we try to guide our students away from. By applying the KonMari approach to our professional learning I think we can engage more deeply with the growth we are trying to obtain. This will put us on the path to making the foundational changes in our professional lives that we are seeking.

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