Imporgent: Creating Urgency Around What is Important

How might we reframe our thinking around how we spend our time? This is a question that has haunted me for years. I am a person who likes to be involved in everything, and as a result, I own the 11th hour! In fact, I meant to post this blog yesterday as my team agreed we would blog by Wednesday but when I returned to the Ipad, my blog was gone! My son closed the application on the Ipad. I think, we need to reframe the way we approach our work and make the important work the urgent work. There have been a few key events in my life that have led to me to understanding and position, and so buckle in, if you’re also exploring these ideas.

First let me start with saying that I am in a very privileged circumstance this year, taking the year to develop an app that came to mind when falling in love with the problem of students learning foreign languages for years, yet not being able to use it authentically throughout the rest of the their lives.

That journey began back in 2012-13, when I felt stalled in my professional growth. Luckily, I had @gnichols as an Instructional Lead at Greenwood and we kept in contact after I left. He told me that he and @jmedved (with whom I played basketball on Tuesday evenings), were starting #Cohort21. That is when I first fell in love the problem and began to explore and fall deeper into better understanding how young people experience authentic learning and retaining a foreign language. It lead to becoming a Tech Integrator, Instructional Coach, PD planner and implementer, and Program Area Leader for English and Modern Language known as Communications at Lakefield College. It also led to becoming Google Educator 2, a podcast / Vlog guest, a Future of Education presenter with CISConnects, a Google Innovator and finally an entrepreneur. I joined Cohort21 because I was a fish out of water. I was a teacher in my 4th year with CISOntario and I was dependent on others for my professional learning. Season 1, changed that. The people around me, Garth and Justin, empowered me with the tools to lead from the middle and I was unleashed!

I was first introduced to the idea of Urgent vs. Important in 2015 through Dr. Greg Wells who was working with Lakefield College School in helping the community thrive and be well. The idea hit hard! He encouraged us to “Manage Your Priorities, Not Your Time. He explained that things like emails and meetings help us to feel as though we accomplishing something, but are we really? When we our thinking from time to priorities it helps to clarify what is important. At this point in my careers, I began to examine the systems that prevent us from doing the important work, and I fell in love with it. I read all about System Thinking and tried to revamp what systems I could as a Tech Integrator at the time. What systems get in the way of doing the work you want to be doing? If we can name it, we can start to tame it.

In 2019, I had the splendid opportunity to work with @ddevignes, @acaplan, Heather Clayton & Mary Gauthier from Greenwood. We worked to bring Instructional Coaching to CISOntario through the Curriculum Leaders network. At the conference in October, we wanted a coaching demonstration to help school leaders see the value. I offered to be coached, and was coached by Heather within the context of managing my time as they were conflicting with my priorities. She asked a question that I wasn’t at all ready for… she asked “What do you need to say yes to?” Seems simple but it turned me upside down in front of a huge crowd of CISOntario colleagues. We’re often asked, what do we need to refuse or say no to. This is a different way to look at it because when you find your “yes”, you find that which is important. You find clarity. You find motivation. You find passion. I am saying yes to running 10km races with my 11 year old son, I am saying yes to building new skills, I am saying yes to family polar bear dips after Thanksgiving. I am saying yes to important work in education with others, namely working with @gvogt on our UTIC Professional Learning experience. This year, I am saying yes to what’s important.



In our schools we play so many roles. We are coaches, club leaders, educators who lead from the middle, advisors, collaborative colleagues, and so many more that it’s easy to feel like a person in the middle of the square being pulled by four horses in different directions. This helps to highlight prioritizing. For such a finite thing, time sure feels fleeting. When I was at Lakefield College, I couldn’t manage all my commitments without my GCal and if I let it, it would manage me. After seeing the video One Googler’s Take on Managing Time I started to schedule my “Make Time”. Once we schedule it, we do it. Even when when we don’t want to. Seth Godin in his blog titled The Cure for Writer’s Block helps us to understand that “The best way to address this isn’t to wait to be perfect. Because if you wait, you’ll never get there. Simple. Direct. Doable. Start.

In 2018, I was invited to speak with the Google Innovator Academy in LA. @lmcbeth who facilitates much of the Innovator Workshops asked how I managed being a Head of House, Teacher, Entrepreneur, in addition to being a dad and partner. The answer was simple, make time. Make time for what you believe is important and schedule it in. Do the work, especially when you don’t want to. It’s in these moments that you’ll feel like you’re getting nowhere, but free yourself from that guilt, from that perfectionism that prevents us from taking those first few steps.  It’s about the journey, not the destination. Good ideas take time, good ideas evolve, good ideas require action. “We put a lot of pressure on the idea to be perfect because it distracts us from the reality that the hundred steps after the idea are going to make all the difference… The effort, the investment and the evolution made the difference” Seth Godin

My goals this year are varied. With the app, I will write grants as I chase funds to bootstrap the app. I will work with members of my network to build a Board of Directors who will help guide me in the early stages of the startup. But with this time, I also want to work with Future Design School in ways I couldn’t when I worked full-time. I will explore the role of consulting as schools and organizations explore learning in all forms and most importantly, I will to offer an otherwise impossible experience for my children and partner @echellew #Season 8. We have been given a gift, a gift of time. How we manage it, is up to us. Impurgent, Imporgent, no matter how we coin it, we need to redefine what is urgent, and how we will prioritize our time to do what is important. We seem to want to put this responsibility on our leaders, and it’s true, they are key stakeholders, but why wait? Why couldn’t we work within our spheres of influence and lead, by example, from the middle.

What do YOU need to say YES to?

2 Replies to “Imporgent: Creating Urgency Around What is Important”

  1. HI Derek,
    I so enjoyed reading your post. The question “What do you need to say yes to?” has really thrown me, in a good way.

    I feel that this pandemic has made me so much more protective of my time. I love my students and my school, but I had to start saying a lot of hard nos to things last year to protect my own mental health. 12 months later, I’m reflecting on how I can continue to protect my time ,and myself, without constantly saying No or being perceived as negative. There is so much space for yes, and I need to identify my yes-es and dive in.

    Thank you for sharing.

  2. I loved this question, “what do you need to say yes to?” Reading it was like a big wallop to my brain. I love this idea of looking for the yes in things as opposed to focusing on what I need to cut out and turn down. It focuses on the joy of engaging. It also might help me look more carefully at what I am saying yes to and if it aligns to what is important.
    Also, loved the photos- polar dips with family are a definite yes!

    Thanks for helping me rethink my no vs. yes.

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