I’ve been pouring over our early posts on learning and leadership (stage 1 of the Ed 2 Save framework) in search of some inspiration, and came across this post that spoke to me with an almost eerie relevance today. It was originally published here in March of last year. The essential question of that post was:

Are you thriving or just surviving?

One look at my desk and you’ll know which one applies to me:

photo (1) copy

Assuming that I’m not the only one with a cluttered office, never-ending to-do list, and feeling that I’m too busy to do my best work, I’m reposting (with a few minor edits) that post today, along with a printable resource that I plan to tape to the wall near my desk…as soon as I clean it, of course!

Here’s to a fresh start and choosing to thrive, not just survive!

In their book Generative Leadership; Shaping New Futures for Today’s Schools, Klimek, Ritzenhein, & Sullivan assert that in order for there to be real change in schools, we must:

  • Challenge the commonsense assumptions
  • Raise fundamental questions
  • Foster reconsideration of that which is taken for granted
  • Think creatively outside the supposed limits of a problem to identify new alternatives for action and new prospects for the future.

The challenge for many of us, though, is that each of these actions requires ample mental and physical space for reflection, thought, and risk-taking. Too often we are mentally shackled to the habits of our past because we lack the time to stop, slow down, and re-evaluate our ideas and actions. We’re stuck in an endless loop of “surviving” our jobs, rather than “thriving” in them.

Consider the spectrum below, and ask yourself where you fall. In what ways are you a “survivalist” and in what ways are you a “thrivalist”?


To be clear, all of us probably live somewhere in the middle moving back and forth between the different extremes. We may be thrivalists when it comes to planning for the future — we block of time to be creative and envision our goals every so often — while we barely survive daily tasks and routines of our work.

Take a look at the descriptions below and think about what parts of your week you were a survivalist (out there in the wild just trying to live one more day) and what parts of your week you were a thrivalist.

ImageEducation Survivalist

  • Your week is dictated by a never-ending checklist of things you have to get done (e.g. gather firewood, build a shelter, or in the case of the educator, grade papers, enter grades, submit lesson plans, etc).
  • High stress pushes you towards comfortable and known methods dictated by unexamined assumptions.
  • At the end of the day all you want to do is watch Real  Housewives and not think about the world.


Education Thirvalist

  • You make space and time to focus on creativity and collaboration; this space and time leads you think about new possibilities.
  • Risk-taking and new learning happen throughout the week; you take time to examine your thinking, uncover assumptions, and challenge them when they are limiting.
  • At the end of the day you feel energized and want to go dinner with friends, take a Zumba class, and read about new innovations in education.


So here’s the question – how do we help one another, help education overall move away from spending much of our time and energy running around looking for firewood and start making space for creativity and collaboration (and even a little zumba)?

It starts, we think, by recognizing which mode we are operating in. With greater self-awareness, we can push ourselves to build the habits that will help us thrive.

Here’s what I plan to do to stop surviving and thrive:

To start each day: I usually arrive at school about an hour before classes begin after a 45-minute commute. Currently, I run around like a crazy person trying to get things set up for the day or respond to as many emails as possible during that first hour. I’m going to repurpose that time, though, to help me thrive:

  • 7:00 – 7:30 – Drink my coffee, open up my notebook, take out a pen, and think for 30 uninterrupted minutes. My head is often swirling with ideas sparked by listening to the news on my way to school. I’m planning to do 30 minutes of thinking, journaling, and reflecting — NOT accomplishing any tasks — first thing in the morning.
  • 7:30 – 8:00 – Look over my schedule for the day, set mini-goals (every student will smile in B period, or, I will say hello to everyone in my department before the end of the day)

To end each day: I often leave the office in a hurry, either because I’ve lost track of time and need to get home or because I am mentally too exhausted (or possibly too hungry) to continue working and need to escape – fast! I leave stressed and worried about a list of to do items that I need to accomplish when I get home. Instead, I could:

  • Spend 10 minutes at the end of each day cleaning up and organizing — the environment in which we work has a great deal of influence on our level of stress and efficiency. For me, this means compiling all the sticky notes and scraps of paper and typing them into my google “tasks” list, scheduling upcoming tasks on my electronic calendar, and putting student work and other papers into folders.
  • Spend 10 minutes thinking and journaling before I leave. Forgive myself for mistakes and for not getting enough done. Write down things I will do differently tomorrow. Write down ways I am a better educator than when I started.

What will you do?

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