White Space: Time Well Spent

This post comes as a bit of reflection to the preparation and completion for Edcamp Lehigh Valley.  The “unconference model” design that Edcamps employ is something that in some cases, can be lacking in the development of students, teachers, and administrators alike.   In this post, I reflect on the value of creating time for white space.

Mark Johnson, in an article for Harvard Business Review, wrote that white space is “at one ubiquitous and frustratingly ambiguous.¹”   Though used in a variety of ways in the business world, the term more often than not stands for opportunity.  Johnson’s view of whitespace in this particular article identifies white space, not as an external desirable, but rather an internal signpost designed to allow people within a company the opportunity to explore, think, and reflect.  It is this definition of white space that made an appearance in my reflections of Edcamp Lehigh Valley.

At the core of the Edcamp movement sits the idea of whitespace.  Prior to Edcamps springing up across the country, there were few opportunities for educators across a region to connect, let alone have deep conversations about the topics that interest them.  Throughout the day of the event and even beyond,  I heard repeatedly the excitement that this whitespace to have deep conversations generated.  The day to day grind that teaching can sometimes bring does not afford educators much time to explore, discuss, and reflect.  Whitespace is critical to the process of creatively and collaboratively problem solving, one of the tenants of innovative organizations (Leadership Geared for Innovation), and as such needs to be something that schools consider creating time for.

So how do we create whitespace that allows for educators to take the time to have discussions, reflect, and explore without pressures and influences of the current situation?

  1. Social Media- I am absolutely fascinated by the potential of social media to create whitespace for educators.  Twitter has become one of my favorite development tools and is essentially PD on demand.  The ability to connect and have conversations with some of the leading minds in the field of education both locally and beyond has been far more powerful than any class I have ever taken.  Twitter chats and searches have afforded me the expand my thinking and connect with new people, in a way that would not have been possible before.
  2. Depth over Breadth-  So much to do and not enough time!  This is the reality that many educators are dealing with.  If we are able to afford educators the whitespace needed to explore and reflect, then we must focus on depth vs. breadth.  Overloading plates with things to do does not necessarily move the needle faster, and in fact, can have the opposite effect.  Critical to the growth of any organization is the ability to explore and reflect on work being done to push the envelope.  By focusing on fewer areas, it creates more time to engage in the depth of the work you are choosing to  focus on.
  3. Summer, summer, summer time- the summer time is a perfect opportunity to take time to reflect on the past year.  Each year I have found that the summer is a great opportunity to look back on the past year and the work that I have done.  The summer is personally my favorite whitespace for a couple reasons.  First, I can block some time to reflect on the challenges that I have encountered over the past year, and more importantly think about possible solutions.  Second, I find that this time keeps me sharp during the “down time” during the summer.  Like our students, I personally, feel like I lose a step or two if I am not spending some time reflecting, troubleshooting, and reworking.

Creating whitespace can be a challenge with so much to do during the school year, but to troubleshoot some the challenges we face, whitespace is time well spent.


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