The Minimalist Educator Podcast

Episode 011 - The Value of Systems with Allison Rodman

October 31, 2023 Tammy Musiowsky-Borneman Season 1 Episode 11
The Minimalist Educator Podcast
Episode 011 - The Value of Systems with Allison Rodman
Show Notes Transcript

In this episode, Allison Rodman shares her wisdom about effective systems and the traps we can fall into when we have ineffective systems. Her pare down pointer is a good reminder about scheduling in time for yourself.

Allison Rodman is the Founder and Chief Learning Officer of The Learning Loop, an education consulting organization that provides professional learning design, facilitation, and leadership coaching services to districts, schools, nonprofit organizations, and businesses internationally.Allison is an ASCD faculty member and author of Still Learning: Strengthening Professional and Organizational Capacity (2023) and Personalized Professional Learning: A Job-Embedded Pathway for Elevating Teacher Voice (2019). Her work focuses on adult learners, and she has written for Educational Leadership on professional learning, effective teams, and educator wellness, as well as Education Week’s Classroom Q&A and Edutopia.Allison brings experience as a teacher, instructional coach, school leader, director of teaching and learning, director of professional learning, and board member.

Resources Allison mentions:

Virtual Course:
Michael Hyatt

Find Allison's ASCD book, Personalized Professional Learning here.

This episode is sponsored by Plan Z Professional Learning Services. Forward-thinking educator support. Contact us @PlanZPLS on Twitter or Instagram.

Buy The Minimalist Teacher book on Amazon.
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The Minimalist Educator Podcast is a Plan Z Professional Learning Services adventure.

In this episode, Alison Rodman shares her wisdom about effective systems and the traps we can fall into when we have ineffective systems in schools. Her pare down pointer is a good reminder about scheduling in time for yourself. Allison Rodman is the Founder and Chief Learning Officer of The Learning Loop, an education consulting organization that provides professional learning design, facilitation and leadership coaching services to districts, schools, nonprofit, organizations and businesses internationally. Allison is an ASE faculty member and author of Still Learning Strengthening Professional and Organizational Capacity Coming Out in 2023 and Personalized Professional Learning A Job Embedded Pathway for Elevating teacher Voice Helpless 2019 her work focuses on adult learners, and she has written for Educational Leadership on 

Professional Learning, Effective Teams and Educator Wellness, as well as Education Week's, Classroom Q and A and Edutopia. Allison brings experience as a teacher, instructional coach, school leader, Director of Teaching and Learning, Director of Professional Learning, and Board member. 

Welcome to today's episode. We're really excited to have Ali Rodman with us today. Welcome to the show, Allie.

Thank you so much for the invitations. Tammy and Christine, I'm so excited to be here with both of you. Awesome. So we're going to get into some particulars around the work that you do because you do a lot of work in your bio. We talked about the books you've written. Course you have. Coming, a course you have. And you do a lot of things in the education space, but we're going to focus on some pieces that you focus on in particular around a course that you have, but also just the pieces that play a big part of what we do every day. And that's a look at some of the systems that sometimes we have in place to help us out to be more productive. And I know that's a strength and a passion of yours. So can you talk a little bit about where that comes from and how you knew that was going to be a path that you might work on? So even as a kid, I was always very organized, right? I would have things in different piles and had my calendar and my planner. So I think some of those skills just developed naturally, right? In school, I was always the one to kind of color code things and make the study sheets and things like that. And over time, as my responsibilities continued to grow as an educator, first as a teacher and then as a school leader and now as a consultant and school board member, those systems became so much more important, even more important than they were as a student. And when I worked with adults across a variety of spaces, not just in education, I began to see what a struggle that was for some individuals, particularly as I looked at adult learning. That lack of organization or that lack of systems often held people back from continuing to grow and continuing to develop because they simply didn't have the time for it. 

 I began to see a big part of my work in the adult and the professional learning space as helping individuals not only grow on the content and concept side, but also on the skill side with some of those organizational components. It's interesting you say that, Allie, because I was listening to this book yesterday, and The author was talking about when we do have breakdowns and things, sometimes we point to the people, but it's usually the system that isn't effective. And so is that something that you because you've been a teacher as well as Admin, so did you see that kind of breakdown happen a lot, in particular with one of your roles? Absolutely. So what often happens is we have goals, right? We have passions, we have things that we're aiming toward, and many times we'll even outline what some of those steps are to get to those goals or to reach those particular benchmarks. But if we don't have clear processes and routines to back those up, things that kind of reduce the friction day to day, when things get hard, that's when we kind of fall off the rails, right? The days when the task list pi and we know this is the priority and this is the goal, but it becomes difficult to choose when there's so much friction in the system. 

Do you find that's, like, the most common obstacle that people struggle with that one? Or are there other common ones that come up in school environments as well? 

I think that is certainly the first one. Christine is not having some of those clear rituals in place right, that say, okay, when I start the day, this is what it's going to look like. When I get to work, here are the things that are going to kind of drive my processes. And then when I shut down the day, this is what it's going to look like. So I think that's the first thing. And the second is that we don't always recognize the importance of partnership in some of our goal set in our organizational routines, right. The fact that much like, we might have an accountability partner who makes sure that we get on that vacation or we reach that goal weight that we've set for ourselves, it's important to have accountability partners with some of our other personal and professional goals as well. Yeah, absolutely. For sure. 

Would you mind sharing some of the systems that you find really effectively, whether it's in your personal work or whether in your professional work, what really works for you, what's effective? Yeah. 

 I have very clear morning launch shutdown and evening rituals, particular practices that I've sort of outlined for myself, and I continue to revise and refine over time so that I know each morning before I start my workday, here are the things that I want to accomplish. And generally, here's the order that they're going to happen in, so that when I wake up, I don't have to think, wait, what comes next and what needs to be done today? And where am I going? And then, similarly, when I start my workday, there's a very clear set of routines and procedures that I go through so that then I'm able to kind of put some of those things aside, like email right. Or some of the social media notifications, and really get into my focused work. 

The first thing for me is really having those clear rituals in place. The second is establishing some very firm time blocks in my calendar to recognize for myself what times of day are peak performance times for me to do focus work versus times when I might not have as much energy and that's better allocated for some administrative tasks. I also tend to be aware of what times are more social for me right. When I have sort of the capacity to be able to meet with a partner or connect with another school leader or collaborate with a colleague. And by establishing those time blocks at the times of peak performance for myself and my own Chronotype, I'm able to not only have a system that it's clear and that's focused, but that also maximizes sort of my brain power at that given time of day. 

Can you give us a little bit of a hint, I guess, for how you determine your rituals? Because I think that sometimes setting up your morning routine can be challenging, right. Because there's a lot of things going on. So how do you determine what you should keep as a ritual? Or is it a distraction or it so? I think it's a two part process, Tammy. One is just almost keeping a log of the things that you find yourself doing. Right. So do you make coffee in the morning? Do you take regular vitamins or supplements? Do you lay out your workout clothes at night before you go to bed? Or is that something that you pull out in the morning?

 I think the first thing is just being more mindful of those things that are more routinized or regular for you, and in that deciding which ones are serving your goals and serving your purpose well and which ones might be a distraction that you should sort of let go. And if you forget about them, it's kind of okay. Right. And then the second component of that is getting very focused on what your goals are, particularly for each quarter, and thinking about, okay, which of these routines are going to accelerate my progress towards those goals, and which ones might I need to adjust or add to or shift in order to perhaps get me a little bit closer? Right. So, for example, for myself, I frequently will get on the peloton with a friend of mine in the morning, and I'm not great at waking up, even though I have some really strong brain power in the morning, once I do get up and going, I am a habitual snoozer. Right. It's definitely not a strength of mine. So I knew that it was going to have to be a part of my evening routine after I brush my teeth to kind of lay out my workout clothes for the next day and then have that accountability partner in the morning to say, no, it's not just you getting out of bed. You're getting out of bed to to meet someone else. So I think it's that dual process of being mindful and kind of adding and stripping away, but then also intentionally shifting to make sure that the ritual components you do have are very goal focused. 

 I've got a bit of a question here personally, but I think it affects more teachers than just myself. 1s What recommendations do you have when you hit your one planning block for the day or for the few days and you suddenly go, there is too much on my to do list, I'm exhausted, I don't even know where to start. And you kind of stand there paralyzed for a few minutes and wasting that pressure planning block that you have. What are some tips that everyone can use in that moment? 

Yeah, great question, Christine. And this one actually just came up in a session I did that included some teachers. So I'm so glad that you asked. So first you need to know when are your peak times of the day? Right? Because I think there's a different level of brain power that's required to write really strong instructional plans and to give effective student feedback. Then there might be to return a parent phone call or submit some paperwork or do some filing and photocopying or uploads to Google Classroom or whatever learning management system you might use. Right. Those are two very different cognitive buckets when you think about the load that they require. So if your planning block happens to fall during sort of that high power time where you're really focused, then I would say make a plan, know exactly what you are going to accomplish on the instructional planning and the student feedback side and maximize that. I know that a lot of teachers tend to have more intentionality and more focus at the beginning of the week. So if you can really making that Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday time for that type of work. Or if your planning block happens to kind of fall during that trough where you know your energy level is low, it might be better to kick as many of those administrative tasks out as possible and instead reserve another. Portion of the day where you know you're just going to be a little bit more efficient and effective rather than kind of spinning your wheels during that planning time and not getting as much done as you would have hoped. 

Awesome. That's something to think about. Thank you. 

Think that just thinking about that whole process of. 1.6s How do you spend your planning or your prep time is one that is overlooked all the time, right. So you're in the moment and you feel really rushed and you're like, okay, my list is super long and I have 45 minutes, but I need to go to the bathroom, get some water. So I think kind of compartmentalizing some of those tasks might be easier. Right? So I like how you mentioned Ali, kind of knowing your chronotype or knowing when you're most productive or when you have the greatest brain power and then segmenting out those tasks. Because if you do need to plan pull those, it's almost like making to do lists within to do lists, which I think has to be a thing. You can't really just make a list and expect that you're just going to work through it in order or not be overwhelmed by it. So I think recognizing that self awareness piece as an educator or an administrator is super important because sometimes we just don't get that time to think about that thinking process that we need to work within. And I think that sometimes is a huge stumbling block. Right. And it makes us feel ineffective. So what do you suggest or recommend  a starting point for people? I don't even know if it's a starting point or something people can do to just help them. Makes better use of their time. 

Ironically, something I used to do as a teacher years ago, before I even had done so much research into goal setting and time management, was just organically. I started tagging my to do list with during my prep or after school or in a meeting. Right. Like just kind of those three categories. And I think that idea that you referenced, Tammy, of sort of segmenting the task list in a way and that only helps it feel more manageable, but also helps you avoid the multitasking trap that I think sometimes we fall in. Right. I used to be this self proclaimed amazing multitasker, and then I was like, no, wait. Multitasking is just really inefficient single tasking because you're moving from one sort of Brainstream to another. So being able to kind of look at that list and say, okay, these are all admin tasks and I'm going to do those after school because I know that I'm going to be interrupted 100 times when students come in for support, but they're quick tasks. So if I get interrupted a bunch of times, that's okay, and I can still be present for my students, versus perhaps focused tasks like some of your planning or feedback on constructive responses that we know just takes more. Concentration that you might want to do during an instructional or during a planning block or before school or kind of later, after students have pretty much gone home for the day. But that intentionality, I think, of bucketing tasks so that it doesn't just look like this overwhelming list of hundreds of items, but instead feels manageable and focused is a great starting point. Yeah. 

And just thinking about productivity and making the best use of our time. You have a course on productivity. Can you tell us a little bit about that? 

Certainly. So the course is titled Imperfectly Productive. It's an organizational blueprint to structure your chaos and reclaim your joy. And it walks professionals step by step first through the goal setting process. Because I think sometimes as educators, we forget that we're allowed to set goals for ourselves too. Right. We show up for the students. If you ask any educator, why do you do what you do? It's because the students, I wake up every day for them. And while that certainly at a very passion driven level drives what we do, if we're going to avoid burnout and be sustainably focused in this work, it requires that we set really clear personal and professional goals. So the course begins with helping participants make a bucket list and think about what do smarter goals look like? Not just long term, but for this year and this quarter. And then from there we walk through how to break them down using disciplined action and structured time and a cadence of accountability so that not only are you accomplishing tasks, but you're feeling this sense of rest and recovery along the way. As so it doesn't feel frantic, but instead joyful and enjoyable. 

When you're talking about goal setting for adults, I'm just wondering what your take on the tradition of creating smart goals is. I know there's been some talk about it doesn't necessarily tap into that intrinsic motivation. So do you use smart goals or do you have a different format that you use when you're doing goal setting? 

 I tend to draw on Michael Hyatt's work so he has kind of reframed it not just as a smart goal, but a smarter goal. And one of the things that I appreciate about that is he adds kind of a riskiness component at the end. Right. And as someone who's always trying to think about being innovative or pushing the boundaries just a little bit more to see what's possible, that's particularly appealing to me, and I think it brings a bit more excitement to the goal setting process, but to sort of address the component about intrinsic motivation. Christine, one of the things that Michael Hyatt also talks about is setting goals within different circles. Right. So you have kind of a circle of being, a circle of relating, and a circle of doing. And what I often find when I coach educators, whether they're teachers or leaders or board members, is that if they're feeling burnt out and exhausted, typically when we get to the root of it, we find that a lot of their work is centered in one of those circles rather than across those circles, and they're not tending in a more attentive way. I don't even want to say balanced because I think it's sort of unrealistic of us to say that all of those components in our lives are always going to be balanced. They're not. You're going to give more to one side on Tuesday and more to another on Wednesday, and who knows where things are going to shake out at the end of the week. But I think from a goal setting standpoint, if we can tend to each of those components right. The being one of who are we and where do we want to aspire to be the relating one of relationships in our lives, whether that be with friends or partner or our children, and then also the doing components, some of those vocational and professional and learning components. I find that the smarter goal process does become more intrinsically driven because there is that sense of not just continuity, but fulfillment across an individual's, personal and professional spaces. That sounds like it makes a lot of sense. 

You had mentioned Michael Hyatt. So we'll make sure that the reference to him is in the show notes for People, because he's got a lot of interesting books around focus. But you also have a recently published second book with ASCD called Still Learning Strengthening Professional and Organizational. Some just know in case people people haven't read it yet or don't know about it yet. Is there a little bit of this in that book as well, since we're talking about organizational capacity? 

Yes. So a lot of what we're discussing today really relates to this discipline of alignment. Right. So to what degree are you establishing your purpose as a personal and a professional, but then ensuring that the day to day actions, those practices that you take, are in alignment? Because sometimes we can establish really great goals, but then end up doing completely different things throughout the course of our day when we go back and look at that to do list. But the second chapter or the second discipline that I really dig into in the book looks at this principle of alignment and the degree to which that purpose and practice follow that line and help us to feel not just fulfilled, but that we're actually accomplishing the right things. 

Yeah, that sounds very in tune or aligned with what Christine and I talk about when we're talking about finding purpose in what we do and making sure that our priorities always align with our purpose. Because it is so true, right. You just get caught up in your day and then all of a sudden you're like, what happened to the week? It's Friday and I didn't focus on this, and now I have to push it forward. But when we keep realigning to what the purpose is, then we can stay on track and we don't get lost in all of that stuff. And so I think that kind of brings us to a good point for our pare down pointer, which is really thinking about how can we pare things down to really stay focused on our priorities? So in your work with schools and educators, you present at a lot of conferences and you work with a lot of people. What are some of those things that you  can help people realign to or do you have a point to for? Like, here's a thing to think about that's going to help you stay aligned to what your purpose is? 

I think as a culture, we tend to have this obsession with busyness, right? If I'm constantly checking things off and adding things to the list, I'm feeling this sense of accomplishment. And I think sort of that pare down point for me is one, to let go of that, to recognize that there is something to be said for rest and recovery and recentering. And that is very much a thing that you should feel absolutely comfortable adding to your task list. Right. It's okay to put meditation on your task list. As a matter of fact, it absolutely should be there. So I think for educators particularly, the big takeaway here is to not feel this sense of guilt. If one of your big three goals for the day is something in that circle of relating or that circle of being that is for yourself or is for the relationships that you truly value, we don't have to keep adding to the list to feel a sense of accomplishment. In some ways, the accomplishment might actually be in pulling away and giving ourselves permission to take credit for the quiet moments as much as we do the busy ones. Yeah. 

That's awesome. You've given us so many amazing tips today, Ali. Thank you so much for all of your advice. I can't wait to put some of them into practice. 

Thank you so much for the invitation. It's been great chatting with both of you. 

Thanks, Allie.

Today's episode was brought to you by Plan Z Professional Learning Services - forward thinking educator support. Find out 

Be sure to join Tammy and Christine and guests for more episodes of the Minimalist Educator podcast. They would love to hear about your journey with Minimalism. Connect with them @planzpls on Twitter or Instagram. The music for the podcast has been written and performed by Gaia Moretti.