What to Keep? What to Let Go of?

My New Year’s Resolution is to do simple, better.

It may sound odd, considering how much we have to do and how much we want to improve. And yet, this is the year that I commit to do less better. I want to do fewer things but at a higher quality.

This personal resolution comes from my reflection on a Harvard Business Review article I read over break, “The Disciplined Pursuit of Less.” In it, author Greg McKeown examines why many successful people and organizations don’t automatically become very successful. While his article is more detailed, one important explanation is due to something he calls “the clarity paradox,” which he sums up like this:

Phase 1: When we really have clarity of purpose, it leads to success.
Phase 2: When we have success, it leads to more options and opportunities.
Phase 3: When we have increased options and opportunities, it leads to diffused efforts. Phase 4: Diffused efforts undermine the very clarity that led to our success in the first place.

Curiously, and overstating the point in order to make it, McKewon argues success can be a catalyst for failure. As Bend-La Pine Schools Superintendent, I view my primary job is to provide clarity of purpose across our district.

For me, there is no better way to provide clarity than through stories. In all my interactions, I attempt to tell stories that help us recall our true purpose as educators. I believe it is an antidote to what author Jim Collins refers to as “the undisciplined pursuit of more.”

With that said, I would like to share one of my favorite stories about Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi. And as the story goes, Gandhi was getting on a train one day when one of his sandals slipped off and fell to the ground. The train was moving, and there was no time to go back. Without hesitation, Gandhi took off his second sandal and threw it toward the first. Asked by his colleague on the train why he did that, he said one sandal wouldn’t do him any good, but two would certainly help someone else.

People cherish the story as a marvelous example of a charitable act. And so it is. But more importantly, for me, as it relates to our efforts in the Bend-La Pine Schools, Ghandi performed a knowledgeable act.

As he tossed that second sandal, he showed wisdom about what to keep and what to let go of. Those are both central questions for educators as we work to ensure all of our students are not just test- ready, but future-ready.

We are choosing for today’s learners the sandals they need for tomorrow’s journey.

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