If time is money, then how are you investing yours as a school leader?

Time is money.

Over my lifetime, I’ve heard that phrase countless times. As a teacher in the field of economics, I certainly tried to help student learners see the power of time in their investments and savings.

To oversimplify things, you can approach monetary saving and investing from one of two approaches. As you get your paycheck:

  1. you can instantly commit a certain dollar amount or percentage to savings and investments, before you ever spend a dime on any other living expenses; or
  2. you can spend, spend, spend and wait until the end of the month to see how much you have left over for savings and investments.

Which approach do you think actually ends up with more deposits in the bank?

So, if time is (like) money, then how are you investing your time as a school leader?

Do you earmark certain amounts or percentages of time to the big investments you want to make for the long-term development of your school? And do you instantly “pay your calendar” those savings and investments, so that you know time will be devoted to those all-too-important accounts?

Or do you spend your time on all of the things that happen to come your way, only to realize at the end of a week or month that you don’t have a lot (of time) left for the critical investments for the future of your school?

A Case Study of Time Investment: Me

For about five years, I’ve disciplined myself to create what I call a “scheduling paradigm.” It’s one way that I take my monthly time paycheck and make my saving-and-investment commitments first. In past years, I’ve written about this under titles such as “Big Rocks First.”

This year, much of my first semester at Mount Vernon was devoted to an advanced ethnography plan. (That needs to be an entire other set of leadership-practice posts!) Now that I’m shifting into another phase of my work, I used a number of insights from the observations and engagements first semester to build a prototype of my second semester scheduling paradigm.

As part of the prototype testing, I sent the following email to about ten colleagues for feedback:

Dear All:

I’d really appreciate some feedback, coaching and advice from you all. I hope it will take 10 minutes or less.

I’ve attached version one of my scheduling paradigm, and I would so appreciate your eye on it. It reflects some of what I learned S1, as well as what I anticipate in S2.

  • What regularly scheduled happenings in your division/department do you want/need me a part of?
  • If you were me, how would you spend your time – what would you focus on and prioritize?
  • What do you expect from me – from your CLIO – that I might not yet be delivering on? What do you want me to keep/continue doing?

Creating a paradigm like this is a relatively long-standing practice of mine. (You can read about it here, if you are interested.) By no means does this rigidly lock me into a predetermined schedule. Rather it helps me make sure that I intentionally create space for importance. The current schedule does not reflect the impromptu talks, the project work like ATLK12DC, MVIFI & fuse14, iDiploma, etc. that we know will be a part of S2.

Thank you! I want to ensure I am serving you and the school best!


Part of my decision to seek feedback was influenced by a recent leadership podcast from Andy Stanley (hat tip to Shelley Clifford). The November and December episodes focused on “The Art of Inviting Feedback,” and Stanley’s suggestion to ask, “If you were me, what would you do?” seemed a perfect combination with my developing habit of creating a scheduling paradigm.

Well, the feedback has been amazing. Seven of the ten colleagues have provided me with very specific information about what to continue, what to add or change, and what I might drop. Earlier this week, I met with two of my co-leaders who had also created similar scheduling paradigms for themselves, and we were able to trade notes and exchange ideas about what we saw and how our time investments might synergize and complement each other’s plans.

Now, it’s time to ship the idea – something akin to an MVP (minimum viable product) – and learn from the actual commitment to the time investments.

As a school and education leader that looks for wisdom in the practice of other school and education leaders – and leaders from multiple industries, sectors, and walks of life – I thought I would share my own practice here. If any of you find even a smidgen of wisdom in the idea, then I hope you’ll make it your own and make it better. I don’t much care for the verb we often use in educational leadership – “steal.” We often hear educators say, “Oh, I like that. May I steal that idea?” Well, I offer this one freely. And I hope you’ll let me know if you have a practice that works for you in terms of devoting intentional time to the investments that matter most in our schools.

As for me, I’ve learned that time can get away from us as school leaders. So, I set aside a portion of my time paycheck at the beginning to ensure that my long-term accounts are deposited with savings and investments first.

Big Rocks First!

I love the classic camp devotional (that’s where I saw it first, at least) involving someone trying to fill a glass jar with sand, small rocks, and big rocks.

During round #1, the person pours the sand in the jar. Then he tries to get the small rocks and big rocks to fit. They don’t fit!

During round #2, the person puts in the big rocks first, then the small rocks, then the sand. IT ALL FITS!

Here…watch for yourself…

For the last few years, I have committed to putting in the big rocks first…for my typical weekly schedule. As a principal, so many different tasks and needs arise. My day can get filled with sand, and the big rocks get crowded out. However, if I schedule in the big rocks, then the sand – which is still important stuff – can fill in around the big rocks. Here’s what my “glass jar” looks like…

Of course, life requires some flexibility and adaptability. But first loading the big rocks helps ensure that major tasks get tended to and accomplished!

What are the big rocks in your work? Are you scheduling guaranteed space for them?

Possibility from the Mother (Nature) of Invention – Schedules

DISCLAIMER: This post is merely a “thinking post.” I am NOT announcing a change to the daily schedule at the Westminster Junior High. [That ought to make a few people read on!]

God did not create the school schedule. Administrators did. So…nothing is carved in stone. – Unknown

During this second semester, we have had some significant schedule changes due to weather. In January we missed an entire week of school, and the Junior High has compensated for the lost instructional time by altering what is typically our exam week in the final days of May. Also, because of the severe winds and rains of April, we have had to cancel or delay school on a couple of days. Throughout these disruptions to the expected and well-planned moments of school, our Junior High teachers have demonstrated remarkable flexibility and adaptability. They have modeled those 21st C skills by adapting and readjusting to the necessary changes in schedule thrown at us by Mother Nature. [Thanks, Junior High!] Students and parents have shown great understanding and flexibility, too. [Thanks, students and parents!]

So, by my reckoning, we have altered at least 7-8 days of school. There has been no real wailing or gnashing of teeth. People have adjusted. Perhaps we have been so flexible because you just cannot mess with Mother Nature. Perhaps we realize that there are a number of ways to schedule school. Throughout a typical year, we do have special days for L.E.A.P. (Leadership Experience Advisement Program). So, people must value that various modes and methods of learning require schedules that fit the myriad models of instruction. When we can plan and anticipate in advance, we can also be flexible with our normal 55-minute-class based schedule.

Well, all of this has me thinking a lot. If we can demonstrate flexibility and adaptability during the forces of Mother Nature, and if we can demonstrate flexibility and adaptability during planned, expected schedule changes for different modes of learning…then couldn’t we run a week-long (or a two-week long) experiment with a different schedule in 2011-12? Just to learn by doing?

Why would I even propose such an idea? Our school recently rolled out a vision statement for learning in the 21st century at Westminster. In the vision, among other things, we call for more integrated studies and project-based learning. These modes require longer blocks of time for activity, exploration, experimentation, discovery, and authentic learning. So, couldn’t we experiment with a schedule not too terribly different with our current schedule? Couldn’t we run an experiment and see what we think about one period a week per course being longer in time and function? Wouldn’t we learn immeasurably from having to walk and work in such a schedule?

We’ve shown we can adapt and exercise flexibility. We have the skills. Imagine what we could learn by using those skills to explore a new setting. Anyone game? I have a file of about 50 different school schedules. Below is but one example as a possible week-long experiment. I think some interesting preparations and possible outcomes could be explored and discovered. What do you think?