The Minimalist Educator Podcast

Epsiode 026: The Power of Choice in Educational Initiatives with Michelle Jasinska

March 05, 2024 Tammy Musiowsky-Borneman
The Minimalist Educator Podcast
Epsiode 026: The Power of Choice in Educational Initiatives with Michelle Jasinska
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Have you ever wondered how to effectively manage multiple responsibilities in a school setting without losing your sanity? Join us as we chat with Michelle Jocinska, a seasoned educator who wears many hats as an assistant principal, PYP coordinator, and teacher at a medium-sized international school in Japan. She generously shares her unique perspective on navigating the education landscape while donning multiple roles. From her approach to handling staff support to her transition from a teacher to an administrator, Michelle's insights are nothing short of educational gold!

As we talk about school initiatives and vision, you'll learn how to create a balance, ensuring progress isn't compromised. We delve deep into the Lippitt-Noster model for complex change, highlighting the importance of a clear vision and consensus for successful initiatives. You'll gain a newfound appreciation for the power of the 'opt-in' over 'opt-out' systems, realizing the profound impact of focusing on fewer, deeper goals.

But what about teacher burnout and disengagement? A pertinent issue that plagues our education system today. We explore this sensitive topic from a systems archetype perspective, underscoring the need for solutions that tackle the roots rather than merely pruning the leaves. An exciting proposition we discuss is the 'opt-in' system for initiatives, a potential game-changer in giving teachers the power to choose their level of participation. It's all about homing in on the institution's purpose and vision, and simplifying initiatives to reach meaningful and achievable goals. Do join us on this riveting journey where we dissect, discuss, and derive insights from the heart of education itself.

Michelle Jasinska is an Assistant Principal, PYP Coordinator, and teacher at a medium sized international school in Japan. She is effectively in charge of the Elementary School, have three jobs and have to be hyper organized amongst the chaos. 

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Speaker 1:

Welcome to the Minimalist Educator Podcast, a podcast about paring down to refocus on the purpose and priorities in our roles with co-hosts and co-authors of the Minimalist Teacher Book, Tammy Musiowsky-Borniman and Christine Arnold.

Speaker 2:

In today's episode, we talked to Michelle about how to handle split roles and supporting staff in their work. Her pared down pointer is to remember that less is more, especially when it comes to new initiatives. Michelle Jocinska is an assistant principal, pyp coordinator and teacher at a medium-sized international school in Japan. She's effectively in charge of the elementary school, has three jobs and has to be hypo-organized amongst the chaos.

Speaker 3:

Welcome to this week's episode of the Minimalist Educator Podcast. This week we have a very special guest, Michelle Jocinska, with us. Welcome, Michelle.

Speaker 4:

Hi, thank you for welcoming to your podcast.

Speaker 3:

It's awesome to have you with us because, I mean, the three of us met teaching in Singapore a few years ago and so the three of us, you know, have lived in many different places. You and I have that Canadian connection, but you also have that British Isles connection and you're now in Japan, which is where Christine used to teach. So there's all of these interesting common threads. And during that time you've also shifted roles too. So the three of us were actually teachers in the same school and now you're in an administrator role. So can you talk a little bit about your current role and then that shift that you made from teacher to admin?

Speaker 4:

Yeah, this is something I absolutely never wanted to do. I have to preface this. I always said I just never want to be in leadership. That just is not for me. But here I am and it seemed like throughout my life I've always been handed these kind of roles. It's always been oh Michelle, here's a group you can be the leader, or been put placed pretty intentionally with people, whether it's in school or in other places where I know I was meant to lead that group. So I think it just was a natural step. I'm currently in a school in Japan. I would say it's small to medium size. It's kind of a growing school. We have 400 students. I have 200 students under me, but I have also three roles at this school. So I went from a teacher to a class just responsible for a small area of the school to responsible for the curriculum coordination. So I'm a PYP coordinator as well as the assistant principal of the school and I also teach. So, as you can imagine, this is not a very minimalist job.

Speaker 4:

No this is a job that's anything but minimalist, because it just has so many facets to it and I have so many different ways to pull my time in every day and, as you know, as an educator no day is the same and it can be chaotic and even with one role, but with three roles, it seems like this chaos is extra.

Speaker 3:

Yeah, so then how do you actually how do you section up your week? Does it look like? I know, like you mentioned, no day is the same, but do you try to section out your week so that, like, do you teach it two days a week and then you have a day of coordinator time? Like how does that look for you then?

Speaker 4:

That's a really good question. So the way that this is structured is I have only the units of inquiry for my class, so I share the role with the principal and I've actually we've actually had to pull in someone else to teach the literacy. So principal teaches the math, someone else teaches literacy and I teach the unit of inquiry. So I have class every day, I have meeting times every day that I've pre-scheduled with every single team and I have. What I try to block out is admin time. However, I realized really quickly that blocking out admin time doesn't necessarily work, because there are things that happen throughout the day that you cannot plan for. So I just make sure that I have enough time to myself for one and I have enough time to actually function running the school. So it requires.

Speaker 4:

What it requires is looking ahead and thinking kind of in six-week chunks. So, looking six weeks ahead, going okay, what are all the priorities I have coming up? What's coming up in six weeks? Right, these are all my must-dos now. These are my not so urgent but will need to be done. So I use the decision-making matrix.

Speaker 4:

This has really helped because actually from that I often in my earlier days in my admin role, I would take everything on myself. I would just look six weeks ahead, but I would just do absolutely every single thing that I needed to do between that point and six weeks ahead. But where I have become a bit more minimalist in my approach to leadership is to actually delegate some of those tasks that actually don't necessarily need to be connected to my role. That can be delegated to appropriate people. And I think that this is actually a pitfall of many leaders is that they do delegate but they're actually putting a lot more pressure and a lot more stress, a lot more time on their staff that they don't necessarily have. So I'm also very mindful about who I give this, these not so time-sensitive but pretty urgent tasks to, but I need to make sure that it's in their capacity to do it.

Speaker 4:

And so do you do, giving them choice or it's usually connected to either their role, if they have a kind of a middle leadership role. So I often will do that with my subject area coordinators. So if it's something that's connected to a unit of inquiry, I might, I might give it to that subject area coordinator, or perhaps literacy, or perhaps math. That's my first point of call. So I have my kind of hierarchy. Who should it go to? The next is a choice. There is I, who would like to take this on, and we have really great staff and people do take it on, but I also have to be mindful of that it's not the same person taking it on each time.

Speaker 3:

I have a lot of thoughts and I'm like which direction do I want to go? You can go any direction. Yeah, I want to go back to you mentioned using the urgent, important matrix which comes from, like Steven Covey, and you see it in a bunch of places, right, and we've got an adaptation in our book. How often do you use that to reprioritize, because we know that there are certain times of the year that you know priorities change. So how often do you use that?

Speaker 4:

I think I should print it off and look at it every day, but I think because it's in my mind now, I use it every day. I use it absolutely every day because my important not urgent tasks I'm scheduling those. I'm putting reminders in my calendar. I'm snoozing emails when I know that they're not important right now and I will need to do them later, because if I just click on the email and go, I'll do that later, I will never remember.

Speaker 4:

When you have this many things going on, your mind can be like a sieve and everything can just drop right through. I schedule those. Anything that's urgent, important, obviously gets done right away, and that's usually with any student-centered issues, anything around health and safety, any crises really Not urgent, not important. I had a really good thing today and I thought what comes up that's not urgent and not important? I don't think there's many things at school that happen that aren't important because even if it's a small issue that a student has or maybe something that's bothering a teacher, that's still important because it's important to them. I honestly don't even think I look at quadrant 4 in my day-to-day life. Yes, exactly.

Speaker 2:

I've been using one of those. It's like a Chrome extension, it's similar, but it's like must do later, delegate, postpone. It's a similar one, but I have to say everything goes in the must do. It's really good. It's a real problem. I have.

Speaker 4:

It's really hard not to take all of that on. I love my school. It's an amazing school. We have amazing students, we have amazing teachers. But we have a syndrome that a lot of smaller schools have where we try to do it all In our roles. We try to do it all. We have so many different roles in one because that's just the way small schools tend to go. But I feel like my school is a very keen go-getter kind of school and we try to do it all as well. We have so many things happening at once. I think that can be very distracting. Because there's just so many things happening at once, it's hard to grab on to what's happening at each moment of time because everybody wants to do something. Everybody wants to have their initiative go ahead, everybody wants to have their voice. That's wonderful and we're celebrating that. However, it can be really complex and quite a lot on staff. A leadership approach to this is really making sure that the system itself is supporting an environment that's not stressful but it's not always easy.

Speaker 3:

Right? How do you try to mitigate some of that stress? Because it is fun. There's a lot of shiny objects in education, like, oh, this thing is fun, let's try this program or contest or whatever it is.

Speaker 2:

But how do you? Because different people have different thresholds of how much they can juggle at the same time. So, yeah, how do you do that, Michelle?

Speaker 4:

I don't think I do it very well yet. Actually, I think just being a voice of, not reason, but a voice of, is this too much? Are we giving everyone enough time to accomplish what they need to accomplish? Are we giving everyone enough time to wrap their heads around all of these new things that are happening? So, for instance, this year we have some strategic committees focusing on strategic areas of growth, and they're awesome. We have such wonderful engagement in those committees, but they're all wanting to do something really big and really wonderful for the school.

Speaker 4:

And so this is an instance of. Is it too much? Should we just focus on one strategic strategy that we want to grow our school in, or should we focus on maybe two, but not necessarily four at the same time? So, I think, just being really strategic in how many initiatives are happening at once, how deep can we go, rather than how many things can we do. But this is not a criticism at all, because we're actually doing some wonderful things. Sometimes I feel like could we be doing things a bit deeper first and then going to the next thing?

Speaker 3:

Yeah, I sometimes think and I think that's just common in schools, right, where you do want to do all the things, because you can imagine the learning, growth and the excitement in classrooms and I think that we don't give enough time to initiatives to actually see if they're doing what we need them to do, either right, so before the first initiative, or even the two together, have enough time for us to see the growth or not.

Speaker 3:

We're already shifting to the next thing. I remember we used to do this all the time in New York City. It was like every two years there was a new pilot, something happening. It was like technology or a new math thing or new ELA program or whatever, but you never had time to see, because it takes like three to five years to see actual progress and real growth, but two years you're just kind of getting settled into it and then you're like, well, that's gone, we tried that out, but it just keeps happening. Why don't we learn that we do need to spend a little bit more time and go deeper with one or two things rather than the five things, and sometimes I think that's like you mentioned should we focus on two strategic parts of the plan or goals and that's it. We don't need four, but we always want to do better in all the ways, so we make more goals. But again, how do you find the rate balance to do that Right?

Speaker 4:

I think what's really important and I'm looking at a different model this is the lipid-noster model for the complex change, and I shared this in the notes and this is something that really resonated with me. During the summer I went to the Principal's Training Center and this was a model that we unpacked and we thought about this, as in the workplace and, in this instance, in the educational workplace and for those, if you're not looking at the model right now, you need for success, you need vision, consensus, skills, incentives, resource and an action plan, and if you're missing one of those components, then you have some specific problem. So, for instance, if you're missing vision, then there's confusion. If you're missing consensus, there's sabotage, and I think those two are really important.

Speaker 4:

With any initiative that you are doing in a school or that you are approaching in a school is that you have vision and consensus, and I think if people are pulled every which way, it's hard to gain a consensus and it's part to share a very common vision or to develop a very common vision. So I think, to be successful, if you are choosing to do many, many things, that vision has to be very, very clear and very, very concise and very shared as well and I think to get by it's like full on buy in. That's so important because otherwise you will have confusion and you won't have the support of your whole team.

Speaker 3:

And Brené Brown always says clear is kind right. So we have here is kind, yeah, absolutely Clear in the vision, for sure.

Speaker 2:

It's just reminded me. I just finished reading the book Nudge. I don't know if you've seen that one, but they talk a lot about like opt in versus opt out systems and how actually if you start with like we're all doing this unless you want to opt out, has more uptake than if you say, hey, is anyone interested? Let me know if you're interested and opt in. Do you think that has any relevance in our context of schools?

Speaker 4:

Absolutely. I feel like in most of the schools I've been in, opt-in has never really been a problem, because maybe just because of the type of staff that we tend to get at different schools. But I think that's a very good model and I think I will. Actually I'm writing it down because I'm going to use that moving forward. I'm going to trial it out to see how that looks. I'll try it out with some initiative or something along the way. I don't have much else to say about it because I have not tried it.

Speaker 2:

No, it just really got me thinking of like is that possible in a school? I'm not. Yeah, I haven't seen it, and they weren't talking about our context in the book. Obviously they're talking about other things, but it just got me thinking about it.

Speaker 4:

We'll do part two after I've tried it out.

Speaker 2:

Let's all try it out and see what happens.

Speaker 3:

Yeah, absolutely yeah, because I do feel like I don't know if I've been in a school context where it's like are you opting in or out? You just kind of have to be on board.

Speaker 4:

Maybe that's the feeling of expectation.

Speaker 3:

Yeah, could be, but I guess it's just reframing the thinking around it. That's a good brain tickler.

Speaker 4:

Yeah, so I was thinking about this and teacher burnout and disengagement, and this is connected to just doing too many things. Recently, I went to a workshop about systems archetypes, and it was phenomenal and it was something I'd never approached before. But effectively, this systems archetype, you have a symptom, so a symptom is like an issue. So, let's say, staff burnout. Symptomatic solution is kind of that band-aid solution, that very surface level solution to the problem. So, for instance, let's say, staff barbecue. Oh, you're feeling burnt out. Here's a staff barbecue.

Speaker 4:

The side effect of that symptomatic solution is, I would say, staff are pretty much more even disengaged than before, resentful, perhaps they feel like they're not being listened to or heard, or their voices matter, and then you still have the symptom, you still have the problem, but you might even have more problems connected around that. But what the system calls for, though, is a fundamental solution. And what is that fundamental solution? Well, in this case, is it alleviating that burnout by putting less on the plate? Is it something deeper? Is there maybe a confusion about the vision? Is our class size is too big? Is behavior a problem? I don't know. There could be a number of problems that are leading to the staff burnout. So I think it's really important to have the fundamental understanding before you have the fundamental solution.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, and thinking about it thoroughly, rather than just reacting with. Let me bring you all a smack in the morning and that'll fix it.

Speaker 4:

Morning yoga yeah, you know it's tough to drink stuff. Barbecues are great, but it doesn't necessarily solve the fundamental or the symptom.

Speaker 3:

Yeah, right, exactly, it's a good feel good, maybe for some people temporarily, but right, it doesn't resolve any issue at all.

Speaker 4:

And to keep the minimalist hat on, the fundamental solution is usually taking. Is that taking something away Right? Is it minimizing something?

Speaker 3:

Yeah, because we know that one of my friends often mentions like teachers don't have plates, they have platters and there's just so many. It's like, right, it's a smorgasbord of like all the things, right. So it just is not. I just don't really remember. Well, I do remember a time when I had that shift in thinking like, ooh, I have a lot less on my plate now than I used to, and that was the move from New York City to Singapore, and I was like, ooh, this feels a lot better. But I didn't know, it was a thing I could feel. But then you know, when you shift places, like you're learning all the new things, you don't have to kind of extend yourself to committees yet or to leadership yet, because you're just getting to know the new environment. The longer you stay somewhere, that changes right. And you do get all of that stuff tacked back on and you're like, damn it, how can I?

Speaker 4:

retract, especially if you've been at a school for a while and you are the institutional knowledge, you become part of the institution and, whether you like it or not, that is coupled with more responsibility in one way or another.

Speaker 3:

Yeah yeah, that weighs a lot. Michelle, you have given us a lot to think about. I am going to check out more about the systems archetype, for sure, and we do have to have a part too, because we have to find out about your opt-in system, if that is something you're able to work into. But this is from Nudge Nudge.

Speaker 2:

yeah, it's two. Nudge is someone, taylor and something else. I'll put it in the show notes.

Speaker 3:

That's terrible.

Speaker 1:

I can never remember the letters of things.

Speaker 2:

but yeah, it's called Nudge yeah.

Speaker 4:

When we all try it, we'll see how it goes.

Speaker 3:

Yes, yes, and then we'll check back in, and at the end of a show we always ask our guest for a pair down pointer, so could you give us it could be something from our conversation, or just like something that you keep in mind as you work through your day.

Speaker 4:

Less is more. With any initiative in the classroom as leadership in any institution, I think you really have to connect with the purpose. What is your purpose for being there, what is your guiding statement, what is your vision and follow that, does it serve that? And just really analyze that before you carry on and I wrote one initiative at a time. That's never possible, I'm sure, but just minimizing those initiatives and going deeper, being clear, make it achievable and people will feel like they've accomplished something because they will have accomplished something.

Speaker 3:

Thank you so much for your wisdom today, Michelle. It's been great.

Speaker 1:

I'm on the show. Yeah, thank you so much for inviting me yeah.

Speaker 2:

And I think you know going back right to the beginning of the show you were talking about. You know these leadership positions have always been coming your way, and I can totally see why you've just got this calm, caring, thoughtful approach to everything you do, so I can absolutely see why that's happened to you. So thank you for joining us and sharing that with us today. Well, thank you so much. Today's episode was brought to you by Plan Z Professional Learning Services Forward-thinking educator support. Find out more at PlanZPLServicescom.

Speaker 1:

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 at Plan Z PLS on Twitter or Instagram. The music for the podcast has been written and performed by Gaia Moretti.

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Wisdom and Leadership in Education