The Level of our Systems

This post is part of a series on teaching in 2022:


“We do not rise to the level of our goals, we fall to the level of our systems.”

James Clear, Atomic Habits

We’re great at dreaming up goals, aren’t we? High achieving educators probably have too many goals in mind most of the time! We are coached to write goals – SMART goals even – by school and system leaders.

But what are the personal management systems we are using to make sure we reach those goals?

We know that to be an effective educator in 2022 we need to have a learning stance and make time to own our professional learning. And, we are also incredibly busy just doing the job of educating.

I know that I need some kind of personal system to make sure that I don’t forget to read professional literature, curate what I learn for others, share and make my learning visible, and collaborate with colleagues. My personal professional learning is the first thing that gets dropped in the busy environment of too many emails and understaffed schools.

James Clear’s work in his book Atomic Habits can guide us in becoming successful professional learners.

According to Clear, establishing good habits that lead to the outcomes we want, works best if we keep these four things in mind:

  • Make it obvious: Display your professional learning where you will see it. If you are reading a new book, put it on the table beside your favourite chair. Consider making your learning public or visible so others hold you accountable. Keeping it “in your face” increases the chances of successfully engaging in learning.
  • Make it attractive. Pair it with something you love. Have a cup of your favourite tea while learning. Go for a walk while listening to a new education podcast. Listen to music you love while reading.
  • Make it easy. Print the article you want to read and have it ready on a clipboard for when you have the time. “Like” educational posts on Twitter that you want to follow up on. Put your learning where you can access it simply when it’s time to engage.
  • Make it satisfying. Discuss your learning with colleagues. Use learning time to answer the big inquiry questions in your practice. Build a collaborative culture around what you are learning.

Most importantly, start small!

I saw this on social media yesterday, and it reminded me that if you are not currently reading every day, starting with a full hour is the wrong approach.

You can’t improve on a habit that does not exist. The first step to establishing a habit is to “show up”, and we are most successful at showing up if the habit starts small. James Clear suggests 2 minutes to start. Establish the habit of doing professional learning for two minutes each day, and then start increasing 1% per day until you are satisfied with your professional learning strategy.

What’s important, is building the system – the life system we will fall to. It’s creating the daily system of actions that will support us in our goal of continuously improving our professional practice.


Featured image by Alex Shu on Unsplash

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