How Do You Connect Big Rocks?

Stack of pebble stonesWhen Steven Covey used the analogy of putting big rocks in a bucket to emphasize the importance of aligning personal and professional priorities in life, he likely had no way of knowing that the term “big rocks” would become such a ubiquitous term in the field of organizational leadership in future years.  No doubt you have seen the illustration where a jar or bucket represents a finite amount of resource capacity and big rocks represent priority areas in work or life, while sand and gravel represent lesser or competing priorities.  The most common resource limitation is no doubt time, but the size of our bucket could just as easily represent limitations in money, people etc.  No person or organization enjoys unlimited resources and, metaphorically speaking, who among us hasn’t stared at what seemed like a big pile of rocks and a woefully small bucket?  The point of the illustration is that the big rocks will only fit in the bucket with the sand and gravel if they are put in first.  When one puts the small stuff in the bucket first, the big stuff doesn’t all fit.  One can find a myriad of videos and articles illustrating this principle by simply entering “big rocks” into any search engine.  You will find the big rocks illustration being applied to personal, spiritual and professional priorities in colleges of business, churches, and time management seminars throughout the world.  It’s a powerful, but very simple message about the importance of  “keeping the main thing the main thing.”

As we kick off the school year, I have no doubt that your school and district have identified your big rocks for the coming year.  Our four biggest priority areas this year at GPAEA are:

  1. Teacher Leadership Training (TLC)
  2. Implementation of the Iowa Core
  3. Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS, also known as RTI)
  4. Early Literacy Implementation (ELI)

These priority areas were developed in conjunction with the statewide AEA system and the Department of Education through Iowa’s Collaborating for Kids (C4K) consortium and are in direct response to two pieces of recent legislation, those being the teacher leadership and compensation law and the early literacy implementation law (279.68).  I’m guessing that virtually every local school district in Iowa is currently responding to very similar priorities.  Whether you are a current TLC district or seeking to become one in the next two years, building teacher leadership capacity is likely a priority in your district.  Similarly, no district is immune from the requirements associated with the early literacy implementation law, for which the Iowa Department of Education recently provided new guidance here.

The challenge of leadership is to make sure people can see the forest for the trees.  How do we maintain clarity around multiple priorities so that people feel focused and empowered and not overwhelmed?  The answer I believe is to connect the big rocks so that aren’t viewed in isolation.  I would argue that none of the four priorities above can be addressed independently of the others and that they actually represent parts of a whole.  To illustrate this I offer Iowa’s Collaborative Inquiry Questions: Collaborative Inquiry Questions 1

Collaborative Inquiry Questions 1These questions will be released with fuller protocols over the coming weeks, but I would suggest that using them as a guide for teacher leaders and PLC’s when leading work around the Iowa Core and MTSS will quickly unify work that may initially seem fragmented and complex.  The universal screener(s) and progress monitoring tools associated with ELI requirements are integrated into the collaborative question framework as well.  If you create a collaborative culture and follow the CIQ framework with early literacy as your initial context, you will be putting the right rocks in the bucket first.

Have a great and successful year!


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