Essentialism in Teaching

by | Apr 30, 2019

Essentialism is a popular term relating to personal and professional productivity. It is the “it” word when it comes to finding the calm in this overwhelming, overstimulating, overworked life.
Essentialism refers to the pursuit of less. It is a focus (when possible) to control our time and energy. It is about taking ownership of our life and of how we choose to contribute.
This, of course, is not the same as “Educational Essentialism” which is a philosophical advocacy for the teaching of traditional skills. This Essentialism that we are focusing on is what is all the buzz and from the hot new book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown

But, the big question is, is Essentialism possible in Education?

Education and Essentialism

There is no doubt that school days are fast-paced. We have written many articles about how to navigate the multi-tasking hurried-ness of a teacher’s day.

Essentialism isn’t about slowing down, it’s about LESS. It’s about choosing what is the most important (“essential”) and focusing on that – just that. And, it’s about quieting the outside noise and distractions.

But, can we really practice this within the world of education?
The truth is simple, no. 

At least not always. And, not proficiently.

There are many pieces of essentialism that we can introduce into our teaching day that CAN and WILL benefit our students and ourselves. Click To Tweet

Selectivity & Intention

Those of us in education know that a lot of our day is not at our disposal. If we could pick and choose what we do, there would be no hallway or lunch supervision. Amiright?

The truth of the matter is that Essentialism, as McKeown purposes it in his book, isn’t quite possible in teaching. But, a lot of what he says makes sense and can be applied – after a bit of a teacher-tweak.


Teachers have a tendency to take on the weight of the world. After all, every option we have to support our school benefit the greater good and every opportunity to help our students makes a difference. It’s hard to say “No”. Some teachers don’t… but should.

Teachers' Blindspot

 Saying “No”

Being selective about what you choose to spend your discretionary time and energy on takes some reflection.

Once you know what is most important it’s time to say “no” to all the other tasks vying for your time. To those committees, events, and activities that will distract you from being present and focused on what matters most.

It takes practice, it gets easier, and its a key factor in practicing Essentialism in teaching.


When every day follows the same routine we can begin to just go through the motions (I know I have been guilty of this in the past). And, when the days speed up and the teacher-decisionmaking turns on rapid-fire, we can lose track of the “why” that fuels us.

How to be a change maker when its not rewarded

Saying “Yes”

Saying “Yes” is just as important as saying “No”. It’s all about committing with intention because you believe that the task at hand is the essential thing you should be doing.

It’s being present, mindful, and thoughtful with your decisions and just like with saying “No” it takes reflection and practice.

But, the feeling you get in knowing that what you are exactly where need to be, doing exactly what you need to be doing is at the very heart of what essentialism is and its potential within teaching.

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