“Am I willing, at this time, to make the investment required to make a positive difference on this topic?”
Marshall Goldsmith introduced me to this gem of a question in his book Triggers. He abbreviates it as AIWATT—rhymes with say what—and uses it in his coaching of business executives to help them focus their attention on the areas in which they can have a positive impact.
We do this somewhat naturally in the classroom, right? Pick your battles, we say. We may overlook the gum-chewing student texting in the back row to avoid the disruption of our otherwise peaceful and focused classroom. We’ll also reschedule our test to accommodate the basketball team (and spirit busses) traveling to the state tournament on Friday, even finding a way to stream the game into the classroom since we know everyone who stayed behind will be constantly checking their phones anyway.
Making the conscious decision to consider AIWATT, though, provides us with a sense of control and the ability to make positive differences in our lives as well. Twice yesterday I realized the power of this simple reflection.
First, I decided to skip a meeting about a possible policy change at my school. Sometimes I have a hard time deciding whether I need to be present—not because I can make a difference, but because presence communicates interest/concern/involvement. As I approached the media center, notepad and coffee in hand at 7:55 yesterday morning, I saw a room full of my colleagues and an assistant principal standing in front, preparing to speak. I paused, asked myself the AIWATT question and realized that I did not have the energy or the desire to make a positive difference: I was only going for appearances; I could get the Cliff’s Notes from anyone else at that meeting; I had better uses for my time.
Sure enough, reports from the meeting detailed the unfulfilling data, repetitive complaints, and general uncertainty about going forward with this plan. It’s clear to me that I made the better choice to review my ACT strategy lesson and share ListenCurrent through email with other reading coaches—both of which made positive differences for students. It’s not often that we have the option to attend a meeting or not, but when we do, it’s definitely worth pausing to ask AIWATT.
Not only did the AIWATT question help me avoid an energy-depleting meeting, but it helped me find a positive at the end of the day. I used the question to guide my choice to send out an email, offering peer observations to teachers as they prepare their Professional Growth Plan self-evaluations. I’ve been doing the same for years (as a peer coach, this is part of my responsibility), but with little authentic buy-in—those that do seek an observation are just doing it to check the box on the eval. Rather than letting the frustration of past experiences prevent me from doing something I know is valuable, I decided I would try to make a positive difference and send the email.
One teacher responded that she would love an observation and feedback and wondered if I was available during 7th period. We had a brief conversation about her goals and the lesson during her planning period and then I went to observe her students as they began drafting their essays explaining how Ayn Rand and Franz Kafka convey their personal philosophies through the protagonists in their novels. Talk about energy-giving. Watching these students reminded me of the reasons we do what we do. They were completely engaged in the content, and their practices clearly showed mastery of the writing process. The teacher spent some time clarifying her expectations—third person, present tense, MLA citations—and the students knew how to do it and why they should. When she set them loose, they got right to work—turning to each other for genuine conversations about objectivism and existentialism, flipping to passages within books to back up their ideas, and turning back to their notes to scribble new ideas.
Not only did I get to invest my time in an experience that turned out very positively for me, I saw how AIWATT can work in the classroom. This teacher chose to turn the challenge of preparing students for the academic writing demands of the Florida Standards Assessment into something that will make a positive difference for her students, long beyond the test. Rather than just sticking with the standard test prep, she found an authentic way to integrate the skills these student need into a meaningful context. I’m glad my AIWATT moment delivered me to her classroom to see it in action.