The Gap

Over the past several years I have had the opportunity to attend a number of professional development sessions and learning opportunities within my district, state, and across the country. These sessions have focused on visible learning, growth mindset, instructional coaching, literacy, mathematics, technology integration, and the list goes on and on.  I love attending conferences and professional development sessions while learning from experts within the field and having the opportunity to connect with many members of my personal learning network (PLN).  I always leave these sessions inspired and armed with a number of ideas to bring back to my building and school district.
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The problem that I have following learning sessions is certainly not inspiration, motivation to be better, or innovative ideas to get me there.  There is a gap from what I want to do between what actually happens within my school or district.  I honestly do not think that I am alone in this struggle. Someone very wise once told me that if you don't implement some aspect of the new learning within forty-eight hours of the workshop or professional learning opportunity, it will never happen.  This certainly was the script for my first three years in a leadership position.  I would learn about amazing instructional strategies, become fired up about an idea to build culture within our school, or learn how to utilize a new technique to allow me to become more efficient.  When I would arrive back to school, it often became business as usual as I responded to emails, put out small fires from my absence, and went through the typical, busy routine of being an educator.

Within the last year, I have been able to flip the script described above by putting two key strategies into place that I have learned from Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage.  The Zorro Circle and The 20 Second Rule are not going to blow you away by any stretch of the imagination; however, when executed effectively can make all of the difference within implementation efforts.

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The Zorro Circle essentially allows us to channel our efforts on small, manageable goals, to gain the leverage to gradually conquer bigger and bigger ones.  When we begin a project or think about an idea, we often want to do too much too soon without thinking through the process, steps along the way, and key benchmarks to guide our work.  When Zorro was learning from Don Diego, he had to master what was in one circle in the sand before moving on to the next.  This forced him to focus on what was in front him while creating small wins before he became the famous sword master able to conquer many villains.

So what does this look like for you?  Imagine that you want to lose twenty pounds, as we approach a new year.  Rather than doing what most people do and focus on the end product, think about the small steps to put into place to incrementally move you toward this result. Think about the first week within your efforts; how often will you exercise, at what time of day, how will your food choices change?  Start small within this first week, this might include fifteen minutes of walking per day while cutting your calorie intake by 200.  Set a small, achievable goal within the first week and commit to it.  When the second week roles around, increase your efforts to twenty minutes of walking and so forth.  As you are successful with each step, add a little more each week to get closer to your end product or goal; this is the essence of the Zorro Circle.  Whether you are looking to shed a few pounds or thinking about how to implement the latest leadership strategy, I highly encourage you to break down the task into small steps that lead to quick wins.

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One of the hardest things for me to do when I am beginning something new is simply getting started. For example, I have put off writing this post for about a month because I just didn't have the energy to get it going; Shawn Achor refers to this as activation energy.  Think about something that you know you should do whether that is exercise, writing a thank you note to a loved one, or scrubbing your kitchen floor; the hardest part is getting started.  In The Happiness Advantage, Shawn discusses a strategy that he calls The 20 Second Rule to decrease the amount of activation energy required to get started on something new.  By putting small plans into place to reduce the activation energy to less than twenty seconds to begin the task, the likelihood of getting started dramatically increases.  He mentions his classic example of sleeping in his gym clothes and laying his tennis shoes next to his bed to reduce the activation energy required to workout the following morning.

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How does this idea apply to you as you are thinking about beginning something or implementing a new idea?  For me, when I think about blogging, I reduce my activation energy by listing a few of my key points that I want to convey in bullets which allows me to get going much faster.  I also clear a space within my house and attempt to blog at a similar time each month.  Once I get started, the process falls into place and I feel good about what I am able to accomplish.  When I think about professional learning opportunities that did not make their way to the implementation phase over the past several years, I think about the difference that Zorro Circles and The 20 Second Rule could have made.

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There is certainly not a shortage of ideas, but certainly a gap between ideas and action.  It does not have to be this way.  The next time you leave a professional learning session or spark a great idea from a conversation that you had with one of your colleagues, think about how Zorro Circles and The 20 Second Rule can inspire change and action within your setting.  These are simple strategies that can have a tremendous impact.  

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