What’s on your plate?
“Good morning class, please empty your backpacks and place last night’s homework on your desk. Our morning warm-up is on the board and we’ll begin today’s math lesson shortly.”
This was my customary greeting as my students entered the classroom each morning. My lesson plans were chock full of academic objectives and time was of the essence. While I secretly desired to teach “life lessons” for the entire day, the morning bell served as an eerie reminder that my plate was full and I simply couldn’t make room for one more thing. If you talk to teachers today, this notion of “one more thing” will almost certainly resonate. As districts continually strive to meet (and exceed) the Common Core standards, this proverbial plate is as full as it has ever been.
As I reflect today on what an ideal classroom should look like, I can’t help but think of the notion of the plate. What does it really mean when we say our plate is full? Do we ever stop to consider our students plates? How are some people able to manage a full plate more effectively than others?
After spending the last 5 years teaching leadership and emotional intelligence, I’ve come to the realization that our focus has always been on the “stuff” that is added to our plate, rather than the plate itself. Perhaps we could benefit from teaching both students and teachers about the importance of managing their plate, which in turn will influence the “stuff” that is on their plate. Let me explain.
Let’s imagine that Jason is a 7th grade student who is about to begin an AP History class. Needless to say, his increased workload will certainly add plenty to his plate. After the first day of class, Jason receives two brand new textbooks in addition to a test prep guide that will serve as an effective study tool for the AP History test. His first assignment is to read a chapter from his textbook and answer several comprehension questions. Feeling overwhelmed, Jason lugs the books home and sets out to complete his assignment. After four straight evenings of the same routine, Jason’s overwhelming feelings have now turned to anxiety. He has a few sleepless nights, filled with worry as to whether or not he can handle this class.
Let’s diagnose what has happened here. Jason’s plate was clearly full due to the fact that his workload had increased drastically. While it certainly speaks volumes about his academic abilities to be assigned to an AP class, the missing component is an effort to help Jason manage the plate itself (his thoughts and emotions). What will happen over time if Jason is left to simply rely on willpower to get him through the class, all the while repressing the emotions that are plaguing him? He may very well receive a passing grade in the class, but the emotional toll he will experience may have repercussions beyond the classroom.
Now imagine that Jason began each day armed with an awareness of his emotions and subsequent tools and strategies to manage them. While Jason’s plate may continue to accumulate more and more stuff, his emotional intelligence skills will allow him to manage the various thoughts and emotions that come with this.
I don’t think our plates will ever be empty, nor would we want them to be. I posed a question earlier that asked, “How are some people able to manage a full plate more effectively than others?” The answer is quite simple; they have learned to manage the plate itself.