Big Rocks

by Jean Tower


Today is the first day of school for students here in my school district. For the past couple of weeks the schools have been hectic with educators returning to plan, prepare, meet, and collaborate to envision and organize an outstanding school year for those same students who will be arriving today.


The sun rising on my first-day-with-students commute!

Throughout the summer and especially over the last two weeks, I have been populating my calendar with many meetings and events – department meetings, district leadership meetings, mentor consultations, and meetings by level by discipline by school and with individuals. These are all necessary and valuable commitments and I look forward to them, and I have been watching my calendar fill up as I contemplate the big goals, the big picture.

My experience confirms that if you don’t plan for the big goals and put them into your calendar, they will not happen. I remember attending a time management workshop many years ago and the presenter demonstrated this concept with a tall, cylindrical glass container. He put lots of big rocks into the jar so rocks were up to the top. He asked if he could fit more in and the participants said (confidently) “no” – and he proceeded to pour in pebbles that filled in around the rocks (aha!). He asked again if he could fit more in, so now we were hesitant –“no?” was the shaky response. And he poured in sand, which settled easily around the rocks and pebbles. The jar was really full now, so when he asked again whether more could fit in, the crowd was a little more confident again and responded with a clear no. And he proceeded to pick up a pitcher of water and pour that into the jar and it filled in nicely.

The lesson:

Get the big rocks in first!!


This lesson has stuck with me over the years and I try to incorporate it into my work life. The easiest and most practical way to do this is to manage your calendar well from the outset. Get your big rocks into the calendar before it is completely filled with sand. Think about your big goals for the year and make sure they are reflected in your calendar. Make sure some calendar commitments are rooted in long-term, important strategies and goals.

If you set the agenda for some of the meetings you attend, keep a reminder on your agenda template with the big goals at the top of the form. That will help you steer existing meeting structures toward achieving big district and departmental goals and will serve to keep these topics on the table. For meetings you attend in which others set the agenda, when they ask for contributions to agenda items, review your goals list and match your suggested topics to furthering these goals.

I am new to my district and am still working on goal setting for the year so I am learning to cope with a little bit of limbo. The approach I am taking is to have shorter term goals for these first few months, goals that are focused on team-building, data collection, learning about the past and the present, and staying alert to opportunities.

Early in August Hank Thiele wrote a blog post, Getting Your Dreams on the Calendar. It is a nice companion piece to the thoughts I have shared here and as you read our posts I hope you are inspired to work your dreams, goals, and wishes into your calendar.

I wish you all a great school year!




Strategic or tactical?





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