A few lessons from Kindergarten

A couple of weeks ago I listened to an awesome episode of one of my favorite podcasts, the Ezra Klein Show. The guest of honor was Cal Newport and the topic of focus was Deep Work: what does it mean to do deep work, how is the dominant hive-mind style work place inhibiting our ability to do it, and what can we do to change our habits. I highly recommend you take a listen on i-tunes or wherever you get your podcasts.

When I started to think about how these lessons fit into my life and how I could summarize them I was reminded of Kindergarten. I was specifically reminded of the modern Kindergarten classroom.

Here are 3 of my take-aways with examples from the 5-year-olds’ workplace:

  1. Full potential is only realized when you challenge yourself
  2. We need breaks: our minds and our bodies
  3. Technology enhances our life but shouldn’t rule it

  1. Potential:

Today’s Kindergarten is not the same as it was even 10 years ago. I remember learning to read, playing a basic game on the computer, and lots of coloring! During my time with my Mom’s kindergarten class I’ve watched Kinders perform short plays during reader’s theater, create and present research to other students, and use technology with ease.

Students have always had this potential. It is unlocked when we stop letting preconceived notions of ability guide our practice. It is unlocked when we are put into communities where we are supported and challenged. It is unlocked when we put effort forward to rise to the presented challenges.

Educators work with these students to push them to achieve their full potential. The same way a trainer works with an athlete to help them reach the next level. In the workplace we don’t always have someone constantly challenging us. We have to challenge ourselves in order to reach our full potential. We have to allow ourselves time to work through problems even if a quick google search or message to a colleague would provide an answer. Working through a challenge may take more time upfront but it trains our brains to think critically and explore more processes.

  1. Breaks:

The Kindergarteners don’t accomplish all of these amazing things without taking breaks! Their days include free play and recess which us adults less likely to experience during the work day. They also take brain and body breaks which are way more likely to fit into a 9-5 day. If you’ve never witnessed a group of students dancing to the Sid shuffle you’re missing out on some extreme cuteness! This is one of my favorite Kindergarten breaks; check it out below if you feel so obliged:

While I don’t suggest breaking out a brain and body break at work, especially if you’re new to the office, I do suggest taking time to stretch your legs and your mind.

This does not mean surfing social media while taking a stroll across the office. If you want your breaks to be beneficial you need to actually let your brain take a rest from “work”. Take a stroll outside and focus on the world around you rather than the project call you just had. Find a quiet space and do a quick meditation.

  1. Technology:

I presume that I have the same love/hate relationship with technology as many people. We are constantly told that it makes us more efficient, paper kills trees, and we’re missing out if we’re not a part of the every social media platform.

In the rush to keep up with advancing technologies many of us have thrown caution to the wind in both our personal lives and at work. We accept email as an inevitable time-suck and storm social media hoping with one tweet or post we can advance our work.

The education technology industry continues to grow. Students are rapidly exposed to new technologies and educators are challenged with the task of integrating the technology into their classrooms. I have watched my mom, a kindergarten teacher, enhance her lessons and her performance as an educator with amazing technology tools from blog sites designed for young learners to post to her newest tool that can video-record the teacher and students as they move throughout the classroom over the course of a lesson. The blog site doesn’t replace writers workshop and the video recording tool doesn’t replace in class observations from peers but instead provides new ways of learning and improved efficiency.

Tech tools at the workplace do not have to replace the act of drawing out a plan on a large whiteboard or using colored stickers to engage a room of colleagues in a decision. Email can help us organize our communication, send information rapidly, and collaborate but it can also distract us from our deep work and cause us to feel obligated to work on the weekends and from our phones. There has to be a balance.

I’ve always been skeptical of tech tools and I hold tight to my paper planner but also have a habit of checking my work email on my phone and gliding through the day without challenging myself to think deeper. I am working on my own systems to increase my productivity at work. I am taking more intentional breaks, challenging myself to go beyond the surface of a task, and re-working my email work flow. For me, this is as much about navigating my way through the modern workplace as it is finding what type of workplace I will be most successful in. I’ve got a lot to learn!


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