Covey’s Habit 3: Put First Things First

It is not about working on the right thing.

It is about working on something.

The first thing is the first step, deciding to act, setting a trajectory.

It is not going to be perfect but the first step does also not decide the total end product.

As a math teacher facilitating seniors’ work in Bridge Math during their last year of high school, the path that brought them here has been full of unrewarded attempts and perceived failures.

During their math career, 11 years in the making, they have been taught that there is only one right way, one right answer, written in pen and impossible to change. Their first mark has to be the right mark toward crafting the exact right response.

Because of missed classes, missing concepts or past failures at a particular subject, they question each step they take before they take it.

Early on, i teach them to give up the pen in lieu of a dry erase marker (easy to modify), read the problem out loud, write down anything they think is important, and start work. I ask them to use what they know to start work toward an answer they can check and see if it solves the problem.

When I get them to do that; even if it is not the most efficient route to a solution, I let them continue until they arrive at a solution they can report out and check.

In my work as a TNCore Coach, I put educators in the same position using “real world context problems”, I answer questions about the context (not the answer), encourage them to work toward a solution in which they are confident and report out using permanent marker (making a record of their work). Then and only then, can they compare their answer against their peers.

I have heard more than one teacher say, “Now I know how a student feels.”

Covey says,

Habit 3 is the physical creation. This habit is where Habits 1 and 2 come together. It happens day in and day out, moment-by-moment. It deals with many of the questions addressed in the field of time management. But that’s not all it’s about. Habit 3 is about life management as well–your purpose, values, roles, and priorities. What are first things?” First things are those things you, personally, find of most worth. Covey Habit 3

To find worth in something you have to offer something, have it accepted at face value, and compare it with other peer’s offerings.

A person has to be comfortable to step out, take risk, check reaction in a safe environment and use feedback to hone their vision and craft their next step. (trajectory)

This process nurtures confidence.

So often a person’s offering are rejected as wrong. Small wrongs build to a break in confidence and a generate a willingness to accept failure.

A person who has their “first things” supported, have the confidence to share their experience, get feedback from their peers and continue to pursue the priorities they recognize as their “first things”. The alternative is a group who have no “first things”, no visible trajectory to follow.

Industries can help in this process by offering a variety of trajectories that match student interests and making present and future trajectories visible.

Craft guilds, then trade unions provided visible evidence of trajectories. Paths to realizing productive lives. Coopers. Chandlers and Taylors, family names associated with trades are long lasting evidence of these trajectories. Families become aligned with public service: politics, law enforcement, fire fighting, education, all have clearly outlined and supported trajectories. The Mannings: Archie, Peyton and Eli provide another visible trajectory.

Clear, intentional, and supported efforts at making trajectories visible is a role that industries can play in education.

Industry initiatives could sustain students’ choices toward ownership of a trajectory that makes education one of their “first things”.


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