The cost of human experience

Is attention.

We can make time, buy time, and find time. But not attention.

That’s because attention is the currency of human experience. Our lives are a series of experiences – and for each experience we have to pay attention. Once spent, we cannot get any more.

And just like money, the way we spend our attention determines the value we receive from it. When we divide it, we dilute it. When we focus it, we magnify its impact signficantly.

Some research has found that productivity can be enhanced by up to 500% in times of peak attentional focus, or flow. And other studies have shown that the simple presence of a moble phone on a desk– even when it’s turned off – siphons away a small amount of attention; significantly reducing cogntive performance.

When we refect on our day or year or life, we are doing nothing more than looking back on what we paid attention to. Attention is a finite, non-renewable resource. It is the most valuable resource we will ever possess. That’s why so many companies and people want it. And that’s why we must not waste it.

Obligation or opportunity

Is a one-hour commute to work an obligation or an opportunity? What about coaching a school sport team? What about supervising students in the playground? What about a visit to the dentist? What about writing student reports or marking papers? What about parent meetings or annual performance reviews? Obligation or opportunity?

There are some people who are brilliant at acknowledging an obligation and immediately seeing the latent opportunities. ‘A one-hour commute is a great chance to listen to my favourite podcasts or to call a friend.’ ‘Supervising students in the playground gives me a chance to develop my relationships with them in a situation where they are more open and relaxed.’

And there are others who practise seeing only the obligation.

Every obligation has opportunity hidden inside. Sometimes we need to go looking a little harder to find it. But when we do, the opportunity starts to make the obligation feel less obligatory.

Don’t be a donkey

One of dilemmas faced by dynamic professionals is where to focus and prioritise their energy. This is often the case in early and mid-stage educators. And it is certainly the case for outstanding educators who tend to be pretty good at, and passionate about most areas of education. There is an increasing smorgasbord of options available for growth,  professional development, specialisation, and post-graduate study.

But there’s a danger here…

There’s an old fable about a donkey who is both very hungry and very thirsty. He is standing halfway between a stack of hay and a bucket of water. He keeps looking to the left at the hay and then to the right at the water. He is equally attracted to the hay and the water but is unable to decide on an option. Eventually he falls down and dies of both hunger and thirst.

There are many exciting, emerging opportunities and platforms for education practitioners to make an impact both in their classrooms and beyond. But real impact requires expertise. And expertise requires a choice and a commitment. And this, in turn, requires courage and a long-term perspective.

Otherwise, the three alternatives for enterprising and progressive educators are:

  1. Deciding to remain more of a highly-skilled ‘generalist’ rather than an ‘expert’ – which is perfectly fine.
  2. Deciding to try to become expert at many things and burning out in the process – which isn’t fine.
  3. Not deciding at all. (But that didn’t work out well for the donkey.)

Noise-cancelling schoolphones

If you haven’t tried active, noise-cancelling headphones before, you’re missing out on quite an amazing experience. These headphones have the ability to create a peaceful quiet – even amidst the din of a bustling city, a busy office, or an aeroplane cabin. Consequently, they eradicate much of the distracting environmental stimuli that steals the currency of our consciousness – our attention. And when used effectively, these headphones can facilitate a much deeper, more focused, and more sustained attention.

If only there was a version of this technology that could assist with cancelling some of the noise of schools. It’s not just the sound they would need to subdue, but also the plethora of other distractions that make schools feel always-busy, sometimes-chaotic, and rarely peaceful.

When you ask educators, anywhere in the world, what they most want for their students, you get the same answers: wellbeing, happiness, meaningful engagement with life and learning. But it’s so easy to lose focus on these absolute foundational elements when surrounded by cacophony of distractions that are ever-present in schools.

All of the genuinely world-class educators that we see around the world, share a number of similar skills; one of which, is the ability to cut through the noise – to constantly focus their energy on what really matters.

Put those headphones on.