The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

Elizabeth Holmes

Eight ways to simplicity – small steps towards clarity

Discover the transformative power of simplicity in education. Elizabeth Holmes explores practical steps to declutter and focus on fostering wellbeing and renewed purpose as an educator.

I remember sitting in a colleague’s office several years ago waiting for a meeting to start and watching while he painstakingly sorted paperclips by size as part of a grand tidy-up. It was nearing the end of the academic year and that was his way of bringing order to the relative chaos of a busy year.

Making a conscious effort to embrace simplicity in your daily school life can be transformative

As the end of a term comes into distant sight, about every teacher I know turns their mind to the clearing and decluttering that needs to be done before a new term can begin. This is particularly pressing at the end of the summer term – no one wants to launch into a new year bogged down by the detritus of the last – finding the time, energy, and motivation to do it can be a challenge.

Finding calm amidst the chaos

Yet creating simplicity and clarity in as deeply complex an environment as a school can be the gift of wellbeing, we all need to give ourselves. Controlling the elements of school life that we can control and coming to terms with that which we cannot control can work wonders for how we feel about our work and our lives.  

While the process of simplifying your experience of work will necessarily be unique to you, it can help to focus on the following eight ideas as food for thought.

1. Define your values in the classroom

What values do you live by in the classroom? These will undoubtedly incorporate your school’s values, but you may also have values of your own that you draw on when teaching. Remind yourself of them and why you hold them. Write them down in a prominent position that you can see throughout your school day. Keep it simple and apply them with clarity.

2. Notice the impact of your environment on your teaching

This may not apply to everyone, but for many, there is an immense clarity that comes from working in an uncluttered environment. An outer simplicity can help to bring lucidity and precision to your teaching if you benefit from tidiness and order. If you are a nomadic teacher without a base from which to work, your sensitivity to this may be heightened.

Being at the mercy of others’ workspaces can be a challenge! Noticing the impact this has on you and your work is a great step towards creating the environment you need. Let the clarity of calm prevail.

3. Clear your clutter

I do not know who needs to hear this, but start today, even if just for ten minutes. Never underestimate the accumulative effect of little and often! Clear a surface, sort a pile, and plan for grand sort out in your physical environment as well as on your laptop.

4. Simplify your day

There is a reason that many successful people significantly limit their wardrobes for work – it enables them to get on with their day without using up valuable headspace on inconsequential issues. This strategy won’t suit everyone, but if the whole 'what shall I wear' charade gets you down then consider developing a capsule work wardrobe to dispense with that stress. Are there other ways of simplifying your day?

5. Five minutes of silence

However, busy your day is, give yourself just five minutes of silence to gather your thoughts and focus your attention whenever you can. This can be an incredibly powerful way of dealing with, and letting go, of those annoyances that can occur and swallow valuable bandwidth as you go through the day. Deep breaths, keep it simple.

What lies at the beating heart of each lesson?

6. Boost your knowledge

There is no doubt that the more knowledge you have about the subjects you teach, the easier planning, preparation and actual teaching will be. As the theoretical physicist Richard Feynman said, 'The ultimate test of your knowledge is your capacity to convey it to another.'

Simplicity and clarity are key. Just as a cartoonist is the master of simplicity as they convey the complex in minimalist terms, so too is the teacher.

7. Trim tasks where possible

Take an honest look at the non-teaching tasks you do each day at school. Locate the fat that can be trimmed (there will always be some). If they cannot be cut, how can they be simplified? Can you delegate? Think about the tasks you must do before heading off to work and your journey to work. Can you change anything for the better? Delegate something? Simplify a process? Pass anything on?

8. Review content and identify the concepts and knowledge that you are teaching

What lies at the beating heart of each lesson? Can you reach that point in a simpler, more direct way that allows time for the application of the learning? Where are the points of intersection on the curriculum map for the subjects you teach?

What role can simplicity play here? Even if you are not able to introduce simplified processes right now, what would they look like in your specific context if you could? Is there one step you can take towards that?

Embracing simplicity

Simplicity really can be a silver bullet in our work in education establishments. It may not be exactly effortless, but it can contribute to how we feel about our work. 

While it is not exactly a new concept, ancient philosophies highly value the power of simplicity in our lives. Making a conscious effort to embrace simplicity in your daily school life can be transformative when we need to take care of our wellbeing.  

Mental Health and Wellbeing in Schools

Deepen the impact of your wellbeing provision at this year’s Mental Health and Wellbeing in Schools. Take away effective strategies from mental health experts and leading practitioners.

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