Less Things, More Focus

Guest blog by Julie McKintosh, Assistant Principal at Keene Elementary from Keene ISD.

The Scene

One early August day, I was enjoying coffee with teacher friends as we clung to our last days of lazy mornings. Seemingly a universal truth about teachers, we were talking about school. I excitedly exclaimed, “I think I might choose The Wizard of Oz as my classroom theme this year!” This is where my friends should have slowly lowered their lattes and encircled me with an intervention. 

They did not. 

They did not because pinning “How to Build a Tin Man Costume Out of Duct Tape” and “Turn Your Classroom Library Into the Emerald City” on Pinterest are perfectly reasonable pins in this Instagram world. As we continued to talk through my theme, we debated the logistics of taping down yellow squares to build the yellow brick road that would obviously need to be embedded in the room. We discussed border choices to align with the vision. We wrestled over best placement of the Emerald City reading station while determining how to align the ruby slippers with a TEK. I crescendoed with a last big idea to have my family dress up as the characters of the movie to welcome my students on Meet the Teacher Night. 

Cue the intervention. 

My amazing teacher tribe did not balk at taping down yellow rectangle after rectangle to build a brick road to each of my instructional stations. They did not fight me on lighting choices for the Emerald City corner. They dutifully started unpacking TEKS in order to ensure that we could tie an instructional purpose to each bulletin board. Only when my dog was going to make a showing as Toto did we reach a level of unreasonable. 

Herein lies the problem.

If I had moved forward with my ill-fated Wizard of Oz theme, my days would have been consumed with endless searches, link-diving, pinning, and the inevitable “add to cart” that always follows because who has time to submit a purchase order when ruby slippers can ship same day? 

Less things, more focus. 

The Standard

Teaching in this new world of consumption is setting a standard for teachers that is becoming increasingly hard to attain and to sustain. It is driving longer hours at work and endless internet searches on the weekend. There are so many places to LOOK. So many shiny new objects. How do we deny our students our instructional best when it might just be found at the end of another Google search or another paid program? 

Do not misconstrue my message. Technology is powerful. I am grateful to educate and administrate in a connected and collaborative world. We can now sit at the feet of experts, increase our content knowledge, and hone our craft with feet firmly planted on the ottoman. Yet, distraction is at an all time high.  

Less things, more focus. 

The Simplicity

As the internet “store” continues to build additional floors and expand aisles filled with glistening new products, we must simplify in order to focus on student learning. But how?


  • Choose nutrition when planning your instructional meal. 


My Wizard of Oz-themed room would have been a great sugary snack, but not nutritionally dense for student learning. Again, I love a good theme. I developed one every year to increase student engagement, but it is merely the appetizer. It gets kids excited for the meal. Don’t skip the entree. Well designed lessons that increase student learning are the meat and potatoes of teaching. There is an abundance of instructional junk food on the internet. Feed kids well.

  1. Make a shopping list.

Surfing the internet without an instructional list rooted in the student standard is dangerous. Compare it to “browsing” Target. Before you know it, you walk out with salmon fillets, six dog toys, a coffee maker, three magazines, and a cauliflower crust pizza that you will ceremoniously toss after the first bite because, well, cauliflower crust. Knowing what you are shopping for instructionally will give you the ability to select only the resources that align with your state standard. 


  • Apply the dietary lens of high leverage/low prep while you shop. 


Every diet has a lens. If you are eating keto, you check labels for carbs. If you are eating low fat, you skip the bacon. If calories are a problem, you are checking for sugar content. Apply the dietary lens of high leverage/low prep when you “read the labels” on instructional activities. One of the best sites I know for this dietary lens is Lead4Ward. Find their instructional playlist and stay there. 


  • Use the express checkout.


If your instructional shopping cart does not qualify for the express lane, put something back.  Park your cart and look for empty instructional calories. Empty calories will always leave your students wanting more. True satiation comes from engagement of the mind. Return the Skittles. 

Less things, more focus.

The Sacrifice

I still mourn my ruby slippers. Yet, what do we sacrifice when we don’t apply simplicity? Time. Time is the great sacrifice of a shopping cart filled with instructional clearance items and an overused search bar. I won’t regret playing a board game with my family instead of hanging lights in my Emerald City. I won’t regret seeing a movie with a friend instead of seeking reasonable solutions to prevent scuff marks on my yellow brick road. I won’t regret walking my dogs instead of filling my Amazon cart. I will regret not seeing the look on my husband’s face when I handed him the Tin Man costume. 


2 thoughts on “Less Things, More Focus

  1. Richard Stephens says:

    Amazing take on how to teach kids. We are so blessed to have Mrs. McKintosh on our staff. This is the brilliance you get on a daily basis from her. Thank you for cutting through the fluff and giving us the meat.


  2. T clark says:

    Spot on! Time is a luxury to educators. Spend it wisely! Thank you Julie McKintosh for always knowing what to say and how to say it!


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