Fifteen minutes

What kind of difference can fifteen minutes make?

Yesterday, I was delighted to chat via Skype with David Jakes, Patrick Higgins, John Maklary, Robin Ellis, and Joel Adkins during a workshop for Teacher/Leaders in our district.  The theme of our workshop was connections and how teacher leaders in a school help begin epidemics, springing off the idea of connectors, mavens, and salesmen in Malcolm Gladwell’s book The Tipping Point.   

During the conversation, we talked about the benefits of connecting with other educators, but also some of the obstacles.  David Jakes’ comment particularly resonated with me.   He commented that he refused to accept the statement that there isn’t enough time.   He asked if we couldn’t make 15 minutes in our day for learning for ourselves.

I’ve been thinking about that whole issue of time for teachers.  Educators are very accustomed to taking care of others, and sometimes we forget to put the oxygen masks on ourselves first, as the cliche goes.  

And while I know that our time is finite, hearing David’s challenge caused me to ponder what it would be like for each educator to carve out that fifteen minutes, to sit with a cup of coffee and just learn something–to create that “space” for ourselves, instead of dashing about declaring we don’t have enough time to learn or add one new thing. 

It strikes me that by making that time in our day, setting some boundaries for it, and making it a routine, we could each build a practice that was rewarding both in terms of learning, but also in terms of supporting ourselves.  

This time of year, it’s sometimes hard to get going in the mornings.  Many mornings I think of the scene in  All That Jazz, when Roy Scheider prepares for work the same way each morning, and at the end of his somewhat bleary-eyed routine, stands in front of his mirror and says, “It’s showtime, folks.”  

But I’ve found a way to motivate myself by listening to podcasts on the way to work.  My commute isn’t very long–in fact, it’s just 15 minutes.  But in that fifteen minutes, I learn from some of the best educators in the world, some of the best writers for the New York Times, and I always walk away with an idea to try, or a new way to think of things, and then I can’t wait to get into the library.  So I know the difference that fifteen minutes can make.

Carrying that idea further, what if we provided personal “learning time” the same  way we utilize “uninterrupted sustained silent reading”  time in classrooms?   We could call it “uninterrupted sustained silent learning.”     What would it be like to hand that time to students and to teachers in a school as a principal, and say, this is your fifteen minutes?  This is YOUR time to learn what YOU need to learn.  

So….what would you do with your fifteen minutes?

Thanks again to David, Joel, Patrick, Robin and John for joining us yesterday–as always the conversation has deepened my own thinking. 

(Postscript:  And in some random coincidence, when I was linking to David’s blog to add to this post, I discovered he had written a post about the Tipping Point–I hadn’t even realized that when I invited him to participate in our workshop!)

23 thoughts on “Fifteen minutes

  1. Carolyn: I think that you have captured the 15 minute idea perfectly, and I like the way you have conceptualized it as “uninterrupted sustained silent learning.” We do need, as Will Richardson says, to be selfish, and spend time learning for ourselves.

    Thanks for having me, and keep me posted on how this idea evolves for you.


  2. Carolyn,

    My workday routine begins when I get up at 6:00, put on the coffee, then head downstairs to check my email, Twitter and Google Reader for about 30 minutes.

    Each day I find some link or posting from a virtual colleague that adds to my knowledge or sends me off to explore further. I “star” or email myself items that need further consideration – at school, if it’s one of my lighter days, or later in the day, at home.

    My early morning overview is always rewarding, and a great way to start the day!


  3. I love the idea of USSL – uninterrupted sustained silent learning. This is something I need to incorporate into my day. I try to get those “15 minutes” everyday, but they are not usually USSL time. How much more could I learn if they were?

  4. Fran,

    Thanks for coining the acronym for me 🙂 USSL…

    I’m wondering if we should design signs to hang on our doors that say:

    “Learning–Back in Fifteen Minutes”!

  5. Great post Carolyn I think your suggestion of uninterrupted sustained learning time is something everyone should think of doing in their day at some point, whether in your classroom or another time during the day.
    Thank you for your insight!

  6. I tend to use my “coffee time” in front of the PC, keeping up to date on the edub-blogging “round” and looking at sites.

    The difficult bit is probably accepting that 15 minutes is *enough*, instead of looking at it as cumulative. 15 minutes a day is over an hour a week etc etc…

  7. Carolyn:
    It reminds my of my Stephen Covey training from years ago (7 Habits of Highly Effective People) and his son’s book (7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens. He suggests that it is important to “Sharpen the Saw”. This could be personal learning. If you don’t sharpen the saw, you are not keeping the person whole.

  8. Carolyn,

    This is my MAIN problem and I am so glad you wrote about it and people have commented on it. I am listening to podcasts in the car (I have a 30 minute commute, so there is more than 15 minutes a day) but other than that time seems to FLY BY. I have to leave home at 6:45 to be here on time and I refuse to get up before 5:45 or to not eat breakfast, so I usually rush out the door grabbing my lunch of left overs on the way.

    Well this is turning into a blog posting itself, so I guess I will go and reference your blog and put some of this there too. Thanks for the thoughts. I am going to allow myself blog reading time!


  9. I’m not sure how I existed before podcasts. I thought I was being extravagent in buying an iPod; however, now it is a vital part of my daily existence. It’s like going to a virtual bookstore and choosing what you want and I can listen to it anytime, especially when all the kids and dogs are in bed.

  10. My commute to my school is only 5 minutes. But then again 5 minutes on the way back. I need to just find another 5 throughout the day and I’ll be set. I just got on Google Reader, but have to set up Twitter.

  11. A valuable reminder to those of us who have been ‘down the digital/e-learning rabbit hole’ for quite some time now. That 15-min can easily shift to the other end of the spectrum: a constantly ‘on’, 24/7, distraction, too…so ‘managing’ one’s digital radar so that it expands our thinking/network + keeping us within a realistic clock so that we don’t ignore what is equally important in our own lives (at home, at work, wherever) is where we walk a ‘healthy’ path. Thanks for your post and inspiration!

  12. I love the idea of students being given the time to learn on their own….isn’t that our goal? To develop lifelong learners, letting them practice and build their stamina to really choose something to learn about on their own, what a great idea!

  13. What a great idea. I love the acronym of USSL. Teaching is a hard profession because we really have no downtime because we are “onstage” at all time. I feel like I don’t have the 15 minutes in my day, but I really do if I managed my time and used it wiser. Thanks for making me think!

  14. I think as educators we are so used to giving and designing for others that we forget about ourselves. We need to allow ourselves time to learn just as we do our students. I think I will edit my daily lesson plan format to include a block for me. Just as I model reading for pleasure with my students, so should I model learning for pleasure!

  15. I love this idea not only for my students but for my own children as well. I’ve followed a group called “Flylady” ( for years that focuses on home organization and they live by the “You can do anything for 15 minutes” motto. The concept has worked well for some of my students that have trouble focusing, but I think this will also work well for those that get too involved in activities at school.

  16. I love the idea of listening to podcasts and staying connected on the way to and from work. I think I might try this as it is time I do not currently use for more than an occassional phone call and scanning the radio.

    I do not want to be too connected and sometimes I feel like I am always “online.” One way I have combatted this is to not get a data plan with my phone since this would be a horrible addiction for me and I need some disconnect from being “wired” all the time.

    I will try this podcasting though and see where it takes me!

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