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Take the Next Right Action

“Just tell me what to do.”

I recently received a mediocre product review of one of my lesson plans that I have available for sale. In fact, it’s my top-selling lesson plan. The only other review on this particular lesson plan was a 5-star rating, the highest possible. This most recent review was a 3-star rating.

The teacher who left the review said the activities were good, but she wished there was more of a script. For the partner/group activity she wanted to know if she should ask the questions individually first or to the whole group. As with everything, there is probably some amount of truth in her review. I thanked her for her feedback and told her I would take her suggestions into consideration.

Maybe I should provide more of a script with the lesson plan to tell teachers exactly what to say and when.

Or perhaps this is just another example of how we often want to shirk the responsibilities of leadership and rely simply on management. I’ve been there. When there is a new system or concept I’m trying to implement, I sometimes have the same thought. “Just tell me what to do.”

Avoiding Responsibility

For teachers, the mentality of “Just tell me what to do” allows us to pass the buck on to our administrators when things don’t go as planned.

For students, “Just tell me what to do” creates a built-in excuse to blame teachers or others when they don’t get the results they want.

One of the situations where this mentality can be harmful is in the popular habit of goal-setting. We often cave to outside pressure and set the goals we think everyone wants us to achieve. Again, when we default to “Just tell me what to do” we set up the opportunity to avoid responsibility.

Inappropriately set goals can do more harm than good.

We often use goals as a crutch to make us feel good whether or not we are actually putting our best effort into attaining them. Writing some goal on paper is not more valuable than actually doing the work. When it comes down to it, we often use goals to help tell our external story. We have goals so we can make it appear to others like we are really doing something worthwhile.

Internal Goals

In reality, the only long-term goals we should set are internal goals.

My goal is to be more patient when my children don’t do what they are supposed to do.

My goal is to show more adaptability when my boss critiques me.

My goal is to search for ways to be compassionate when I encounter someone who sees the world differently than me.

Internal goals are ones that center on WHO we are as a person. And there’s no reason to tell them to anyone. We are the only ones who can hold ourselves accountable.


Really what we should be doing with our long-term goals is what Andy Stanley calls visioneering. The process of visioneering is about engineering a vision of what we would like our life to look like in the future. And it shouldn’t be about what kind of house we live in or car we drive. It should be about the kind of person we would like to be. It’s about strengthening our character skills so we can live to our potential no matter what circumstances or challenges we encounter.

In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey said everything we create or produce is actually created twice. It is first created in our minds. We envision it happening. Then, we create it in the physical world by the actions we take. This is why our 12 Fundamentals of Impact are paired together with an inside (mindset) fundamental and an outside (action) fundamental.

Does visioneering mean we can do anything we set our minds to? No, I don’t believe that. I believe many things are possible but it doesn’t necessarily mean they WILL happen.

Can I envision myself as President of the United States and that means it will happen? No. There are things outside of my control which play a factor.

Can I envision myself running a sub-four-minute mile and that means it will happen? Not necessarily. It is possible, but it’s not guaranteed.

One Day at a Time

So what is the purpose of envisioning our life if it is not guaranteed to happen? Actually, when we focus on internal goals we can guarantee it to happen because we are totally in charge of both the process and the results. And when we envision the end result, then we can figure out what the next right action is to take.

But we must overcome the vision-action paradox. The vision should propel us to take directed action…but it still must be the next right action. We must still live by our principles and not trade our integrity for some external destination we have envisioned in our minds.

Our short-term goals should only be created and executed in 24-hour increments. Anything beyond that has a diminishing chance of being executed. If we look too far ahead we are likely to stumble. We need to focus on taking the next right action toward our vision one day at a time.

Eliminating Obstacles

Often, the obstacles preventing us from creating our vision are imagined limits we have concocted in our own minds. For example, the following thought crossed my mind after receiving the mediocre review: “Maybe I should just stop making these lesson plans because I’m obviously not very good at it.” In reality, my overall rating based on the total reviews of my lesson plans is 4.7. Not perfect…but not too bad either.

If we have created our obstacles in our minds, that means we have the power to eliminate them as well. With visioneering, we can eliminate the limits we created in our minds. However, we must take the next right action in order to overcome the obstacles keeping us from becoming the person we were created to be.

Leadership > Management

Good managers do things right, but good leaders do the right thing. There is a time and a place for each. Managing is often following the script and executing protocols properly. However, leadership is necessary for what the military calls a VUCA environment. VUCA stands for volatility…uncertainty…complexity…and ambiguity. And it requires leadership instead of management.

Most of us have experienced this. We have a vision for how the school year is going to go in our classroom. We can manage fine as long as we can follow the script and things go as planned. But then VUCA happens and the script doesn’t have the answer we need.

This is where we need leadership as teachers. Leadership requires the ability to survey and gauge a situation and take the next right action, which may be different every day and in every situation in our classrooms. We need to navigate through adversity or an unpleasant situation and still reach the vision we first created in our mind…the vision of WHO we would like to be.

Inside-Out Process

Do you have an obstacle standing in the way of reaching the vision you have engineered for your life?

Classroom management is about creating systems and protocols and following scripts. There is a place for that, but it is not what is going to make a difference in the lives of our students. Leadership and taking the next right action are what will increase our impact.

The answers to our leadership questions are already inside us and improving our self-awareness through reflection and journaling can help us find those answers. It’s the inside-out process of discovering and knowing ourselves on the inside so we can reach the vision of the person we want to be…a person who makes a difference in the lives of others.

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Jon Barth

Jon Barth

Teacher - Coach - Mentor

I love to share stories, tools, and resources to help students become leaders who make a difference in the world by giving away their gifts and abilities.

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