Our jobs as educators can get overwhelming at times. Of course if you have been in education for more than 15 minutes, this isn’t a revelation. Do we actually stop and think about our attempt to manage and incorporate the constant inflow of new initiatives, policies, technology, training, and websites all offering positive ways to impact education? We are inundated from every angle with NEW, BETTER, and MORE. The problem is that there really are some great programs, initiatives, pedagogical shifts, and technological resources out there—like the Common Core State Standards—that we want to incorporate in order to do all we can to serve our students. However, I am going to be the devil’s advocate or the voice of reason, whichever you prefer, and tell you to DRAW THE LINE. Cut back on the dozen things you are doing well, and do a few things exceptionally well.

I tell my teachers at Copper Basin High School there is a big difference between working hard and working effectively. Sometimes our attempt to incorporate too many new and better ideas keeps us preoccupied to the point we really are working hard, but we are ineffective because we are not focused on doing fewer things really well. Jason Bell, a great principal and friend of mine, was commenting on all the new and important initiatives we are asking teachers to focus on, especially this past year with a new evaluation model and the Common Core State Standards. “Teachers are so overwhelmed that anything we say these days is like white noise in the background,” he said. “They just kind of look at us like a deer in the headlights.”

I rarely miss an opportunity to throw out an analogy, so here is one for our inundated professional lives:

Two small boys were sent by their mother to gather flowers from a wild flower patch. They both carried vases of equal size as they ventured into the field. The youngest son gathered only a dozen flowers and stuck them carefully in his vase so that each one could be seen and appreciated. The older son gathered handful after handful of flowers and stuffed them into his vase until he had a mass of stems and petals that reached to the top. His reasoning being that all the flowers were so beautiful that the more he had the better. On the way home, they passed a stream. The younger son then went to the edge of the stream and dipped several handfuls of water into his vase for the dozen flowers to soak up in the days to come. The older son was only able to sprinkle a few drops onto his wad of flowers. When the boys returned triumphantly to their home and presented their mother with the two vases, she applauded their hard work, but only one vase made it to the kitchen table.

Moral of the story: Both sons really cared. Both sons worked hard. But only one vase of flowers was effective as something to be enjoyed for the uniqueness and vitality of the individual components nurtured within. DRAW THE LINE! Don’t try to incorporate too many initiatives, and ask yourself the three most important guiding questions for educators in any position–from an entry level teacher to a commissioner of education:

1.  Is this program going to directly impact students?

2.  Is this the best use of my time to impact students?

3.  If I could only pick three ways to impact students, would this be one of the ways?