Connections are at the heart of our lives, shaping us from the time we are born. Some connections are made for us – like our families and those with whom we work – unless we are doing the hiring! Other connections, such as friends, the person we decide to spend our lives with, we usually get to decide. Some of these connections are close and intimate. We share our deepest dreams and desires, fears, and trepidations. With others, we say hi, discuss the weekend, and may share some other information. In between are those who are close, we spend time with them but they usually are between those who are close and intimate and those who are acquaintances.
According to research by Granovetter (1973), these ties are grouped into two groups, “weak ties”, people who we know but are not part of our close circle of friends and family, the “close ties”.
Connections are our relationships with the people with whom we interact. Many of our connections are “weak ties”, people we may know through a friend or people who we have met by knowing someone else. However, it is these connections that often introduce us to new ideas and ways of doing things. It is the “weak ties” who usually bring ideas from one group of people to another because of their interactions with both groups.
These “connectors” have a stronger relationship with people in both groups, allowing for the ideas from each group to flow.
For people in education, the “close ties” consist of people with whom they work. However, it is when someone connects with someone or a group outside the school that often ideas begin to flow. Although this can be a good thing, bringing new ideas and different ways of addressing issues with students, it can also lead to the ‘bandwagon’ effect when there is someone who is connecting outside of the school group and bringing a constant flow of new ideas without taking time to work through the last new idea.
The Shift to Great “weak ties” Connections
Social media has opened up the possibilities for great “weak ties” connections. There is the ability to connect to a seemingly endless number of people through a myriad of different platforms. For many, this becomes overwhelming. It also introduces the issue of competing ideas which can lead to “Periphery Paralysis”, a term that author and speaker Todd Henry uses to describe what happens when we spend our time looking at what others are doing, comparing our work and being paralyzed by comparing what we have done to what others have done.
This happens more than we’d like to admit. For educators, the opportunities to share and connect have never been greater. It does, however, have a less than positive side. Sometimes we begin to compare what we are doing with what ‘others’ are doing when we check our social media.
It’s happened to me many times. Having access to an unlimited amount of information can be overwhelming.
Where do I start?
For me, I started to connect online and began seeing all sorts of amazing images and reading what others were doing that seemed to be way beyond where I was at the moment.
“There is no way I can do that! What do I do? Ugh!”
I don’t know about you but for me, it was constantly seeing what other educators were doing and comparing what I was doing. When I became an administrator, it was seeing what other administrators were doing and wondering how they were able to do that.
Did they have a clone?
What I didn’t realize at the time was they were in a different place with access to different resources and different supports. But I was comparing their middle, and sometimes end, to my beginning. I wasn’t there yet but I was self-judging based on what I was seeing. I become more concerned about comparing myself to what they were doing that I forgot about developing my own path.
And the number of different ideas! I was going from side to side to side to side, weaving all over the place as I saw what others were doing. I need to do that and that and that – how am I going to get this all done?
Anxiety. Stress. Anxiety. Stress.
I was working more and getting less done.
It wasn’t until I read the book Accidental Creative by Todd Henry that I realized I was not focusing on my own personal and professional development. I was centered on comparing what I was doing to what everyone else was doing. Not only that, but it was only to people who were ahead of me on the developmental path. I had no plan for my own growth and development. I read a lot. I was online a lot. I took part in conversations and was doing all sorts of “stuff” but I had no plan to develop my path.
Overcoming “Periphery Paralysis” as an Educator
As an educator there is so much happening right now. Schools are in flux with things seeming to change daily. Teachers aren’t sure if what they are doing today will need to be redone for tomorrow. Teachers are looking for support and help as they try to make things work for their students and families. It’s during these moments when teachers are overwhelmed with the constantly shifting landscape that they can also experience added stress as they see what other teachers are doing and feel ‘less-than’.
It’s easy to get caught up in comparing where we are to what we see others doing. Caught up in going from one side to the other but having no real plan for our own personal and professional growth.
For myself, I needed to focus on what were the crucial areas for my development. Sounds good. But what were they? They all seemed crucial. And many of them needed to be done yesterday or today so I could get to the next “thing”, whatever had caught my attention as I was scrolling around online.
Honestly, I was so stressed at the time. There were all kinds of information out there and I wanted it all!! I don’t know remember how I found Todd Henry’s book or the podcast by the same name but it really helped me to I realized I needed to come up with a plan.
So how does one begin to sift through all the information?
To help with this, here are 5 different areas to look at to help you move past Periphery Paralysis and begin to incorporate regular habits and routines that help you to focus on whole wellness – body, mind, spirit, connections
- Connections – it may seem like a counter-intuitive, but you need to limit the contacts you seek out for information, support, and ideas. Yes, having connections helps to introduce you to new ideas and resources but these same connections can also become a distraction as you try to move forward. In Twitter you can make lists of connections to limit what you see. If you aren’t sure how to make a list, this Twitter guide by my friend Dave Truss has all the information you need to help you with getting going using Twitter. On Facebook, you can follow particular pages that you find useful. Again, there are literally hundreds of pages so you have to be selective. Instagram, TikTok, and Pinterest are slightly different. My advice is to identify exactly what it is you are looking for before you begin to scroll through these platforms or ask for help otherwise there is a good chance that, like me, you’ll see something like “Oh that is so cool” and go down the rabbit hole. Or, you’ll ask for unit plan examples or year plan examples and get a whole variety. Instead of asking for the resource, ask if anyone would be willing to share with you and go through the process they use to create their own. This will help you to develop your own process which is important. Otherwise, you end up with the “What” but not the “Why or How” which is important, especially when you have to make changes on the fly. So when using these platforms for finding information and ideas, be specific and it’s always a good idea to set a timer to help you manage time.
- Resources – there are mountains of resources available. I have mountains of my own resources that I have curated from different places. The “Oh, that looks good, I’ll save it for later” has led to literally thousands of articles and ideas being saved. So when I began to try to get past just saving things because they were interesting or I might use them later when I was working on something, I decided I really needed to be selective and focus on what exactly I needed to make progress. This is where Trello has been so important. I use Trello to build boards where I save information. The key to staying focused is that I create a board for the specific topic I’m working on. I then create lists on the board that are even more specific. I save resources to the board and list only if they help me with what I am doing. I find this works really well for keeping things visually separate and being very specific about what I am doing. Now, you can set this same system up in any of the different clouds – Dropbox, Box, GoodgleDrive, Microsoft – using different tab systems if you prefer to keep things all in one place. I really like Trello because of the visual aspect as it lets me add an image to the link or resources so at a glance I can see things. Whatever format you use, the key is to be specific about the resources you save. There are so many out there. And they all look good. Other things to look for include: copyright – don’t use an image or source if it isn’t clear about the copyright. Many things from different sources are using copyright material without acknowledging the source or are not suppose to be used because of copyright. This is especially important if you decide to use Google Search. Many images are copyright images and are not to be used. Creative Commons images can be found in many places on the web. Canva.com – an image creation site – has many photos that are free for you to use with their platform. If you find something made by someone, ask if you can use it. And if you do use something, give the creator credit.
- Action – To make consistent progress with continuous growth, it is important to focus on your daily actions. Your actions are usually intimately linked to your routines and habits, so sometimes we don’t even think of what we are doing. But as we all know, to change one of these actions is no small matter. If it was easy, the entire self-help section of the library and book stores would probably be very small! I suggest you look at your actions in terms of macro and micro-actions. Macro-actions are made up of much smaller actions. So for instance, when you plan a lesson or unit, you do certain things during the process. These actions, after a while, become automatic. However, in order to keep growing, it’s important to take a close look at micro-actions in order to see if we are, in fact, continuing to be as productive and effective as we want to be. This goes for any routine or habit that we might have. Over time, our habits and routines might need to be adjusted as things change in our lives. Whether it’s due to a change in our living circumstances, a change in dynamics of our family or a sudden change, sometimes we need to evaluate our actions to see if, because of the change, continuing to use these actions is actually causing us frustrations that we don’t realize. This frustration is having a trickle-down effect on other areas of our lives. And, when it comes to making changes, it can be more helpful to make changes to smaller actions in order to make a change in a macro-action. So, if your goal is something like not bringing work home on the weekend, looking at the micro-actions during the week can help you to make a shift in your routines that help you achieve this goal. Without making changes in micro-actions through the week, making this macro-action change may become frustrating and we enter a cycle of feeling stressed and ultimately not achieving our goal. We often believe this is because of our lack of organization or will-power when it is more related to how our routines and habits aren’t currently set up to achieve this goal easily. I use a simple template for breaking down these macro/micro-actions that I would be happy to share with anyone if they contact me.
- Focus – How we use our time is so important. We know we can’t always be deeply focused and there is always something that is competing with what we decide to do. By deciding to do one thing, we are deciding not to do a number of other activities. It isn’t always easy to choose. There are different tools one can use to help with this. The one tool I’ve found useful is something called the Eisenhower Matrix named after the US President. Basically this is a square divided by two lines down the middle top-to-bottom and side-to-side. When using the matrix, you look at the different things which you need to focus on and decide which are the actions that are important for making the progress you want to make. This is a good article on how to use the Eisenhower Matrix. I used the premise of the matrix to develop a daily planning tool that I use each day to help me to focus throughout the day, especially when I have a number of different things going on. Research has shown that we don’t multi-task well at all. Now, as educators, must-tasking takes place just because of the nature of the classroom. This is one of the reasons that many teachers feel drained at the end of the day – besides the fact they haven’t eaten and have had to “hold it” for most of the day. This drain is especially felt after a holiday or break when teachers aren’t used to the constant shifts in tasks and decision-making. This can leave you feeling like you no energy left for other things. One cannot eliminate multi-tasking in the classroom but having clarity about the actions that are important and focusing on what is essential can help to reduce the drain of energy that happens throughout the day. In this way, you can begin to focus on specific actions that can daily support your personal and professional growth and development plus develop habits and routines which might help you have energy come the end of the day.
- Time – Ah, the underlying reason for many of our issues when it comes to feeling stress and anxiety. I mean, if time wasn’t an issue, much of stress and strain we feel each day would really not be there. But because we can’t create any more time or stop time or make it go backward, using the time we have each day is really important. That doesn’t mean one needs to schedule each moment because that can become stressful too. I suggest that using an organizational tool to focus on specific actions will help you to make progress in your personal and professional development. By including actions in each area of our lives – social, emotional, physical, spiritual, mental – we can focus our actions on those that help us to become better today than we were yesterday. Each day brings with it new demands and requires us to make decisions about what is ultimately going to need our attention. We need to be able to not only have routines and habits that help us use our time wisely but also we need to be able to recognize that changes need to be made because of something that has come up or something has changed. Whether it’s a temporary change like needing to go pick up someone at the airport early in the morning or something much more permanent like getting a pet, being able to make changes to our habits and routines needs to be something that can be accomplished so that we can continue to focus on being healthy as a whole individual – body, mind, spirit, connections.
To say we live in dynamic and unprecedented times is an understatement. The amount of change that each of us is having to deal with each day continues to increase. There is a greater need to focus on our wellbeing as never before. By examining the 5 areas mentioned above, I hope that as a teacher, you can begin to develop routines that help you to focus on yourself and what you need to do to move forward.
There is no magic solution. It takes effort to shift our gaze to focus on our own path of growth and development. We may need to see what others are doing, but to fully embrace our own journey, letting go of our “Periphery Paralysis” allows us to focus our actions on what we need in order to continue our growth and development.
It isn’t easy with information constantly coming at us and others continually showing us where they are. Sometimes it might look tempting – “I’ll just borrow this and this and maybe this” but without really developing our own unique voice and developing our gifts and talents, one continues to be tempted by the constant images in our periphery vision. Each of you has amazing gifts and talents but like in all things, your beginning is different than someone else’s middle and end. And, really, no two beginnings are the same. We each have a unique path.
You will be amazed by what you will do.
I’d love to get your comments and feedback about this. Drop me a comment or send me an email. Thanks for taking the time to be here.
Every day is a PD day!