Resource Overload: Too Much of a Good Thing
Blogs, publications, and webinars, oh my! They are all crucial components of professional growth, but it's impossible to engage with every quality resource. How do you navigate through all that's available with out feeling the guilt of missing out.
As a former teacher, leader, and current lifelong learner, I am consistently looking to tap into new research, analysis from the experts, and anything inspirational to my practice. It keeps me current, energized, and informed when communicating with my colleagues in the field. However, I have spiraled down many rabbit holes as of late, and I am starting to wonder if there is TOO MUCH information out there.
After much thought, I can’t officially answer that question relative to the number of educators accessing this information. But I can confidently say that it is too much for one person. If you feel the weight of the blog recommendations, the webinar invites, and the barrage of emails with the subject line “A Great Resource!”, please know you are not alone.
I would be remiss if I didn’t advocate for high-caliber research, evidence of effectiveness, and the promotion of best practices. I believe that professionals should engage with high-quality resources, which is crucial to move education forward for our students. However, it is not productive to feel guilty or overwhelmed for not being able to engage with every resource pushed your way. Nor is it practical to attempt to view it all without connecting your learning to your growth path or needs.
What does it look like?
In the era of the internet, we are blessed with all of the information we could need right at our fingertips, but consider this philosophical thought: If an article is read by a teacher but does not change practice with students, does it make an impact? Let’s explore some common examples of resource overload and suggestions to avoid feeling the professional guilt of “missing an opportunity to grow.”
The Serial Forwarder
There is one in every organization. Any webinar, article, or PD that comes their way comes your way. The minute they see an enticing subject line or graphic in the body of the email, they assume it must be good and want all of their contacts to get the message. While this may be a lateral colleague, it is often one who holds rank within your district, and there is a level of implication that if you don’t engage with these resources, you are not working up to your total capacity. I will tell you from experience that this just isn’t so, and more often than not, the sender did not even explore this resource themselves.
A Hub of Resources
I have seen many schools and districts create a system of organizing all of the great resources that will change your professional life! This may be on a shared document or a staff website. Perhaps many are first listed for you by trusted coaches or specialists, and then you are encouraged to share the resources you consistently utilize to plan, learn, or create for your students. In theory, this is intended to have all the best resources available in one place for all staff access, but in practice, it often falls flat. Many staff are overwhelmed by the options, and this causes them to subconsciously refrain from using the list.
The Rabbit Hole
Imagine this scenario; you are planning a professional learning session on best practices in fluency instruction. You type the phrase “read aloud” into the search bar to get more concrete data to include in your presentation. You click on a promising article, and you begin to read. And great news! The article has several embedded links to bring you more information about this topic. You click on one but don’t want to forget about the other links. You return to the original article and click on all the links that caught your attention, promptly opening four additional tabs. You report back to the first “new tab” and read. And sure enough, this too is embedded with multiple knowledge gems grappling for your attention. Two hours, seventeen tabs, and a webinar later, you are exploring best practices in math instruction in Finland and haven’t planned anything for your professional learning session. Perhaps you haven’t taken this hyperbolic journey, but I can imagine you have engaged in resource hunting to some extent that has taken you away from the task at hand and the one that will best serve your students or teachers.
So what, now what?
Resource overload comes in many shapes and sizes, so you may have your own examples to navigate. But if you have read this far, you connect with the burden and are not alone. Consider the following suggestions to focus the resource funnel and maximize learning with the wealth of available information.
“Starve your distractions, feed your focus.”
Minimize the burden by identifying your professional needs. Make a list of your own areas for growth and pick one or two to focus on. This exercise will help you qualify all resources as either connected to your current growth goals or not. When you know what you are looking for, you will be better able to maneuver through the deluge. Additionally, pick a few trusted researchers or sources as your “go-to” places for your inquiries.
Set time limits.
When searching for resources or information to meet a learning or planning goal, give yourself a finite amount of time. Before opening that next tab, be sure your allotted time is enough to move forward. These boundaries will help you focus on the answers you seek and avoid the “rabbit hole.”
Give yourself permission to shelf the text, delete the email, or put the article in the “circular file.”
If it doesn’t “feed your focus,” it’s not worth your attention in the present moment. It may be something you refer back to when you are ready to learn a new strategy or content, but until then, unapologetically put it aside. When people share resources, it’s to inspire, not stress. Consider communicating to the sender that this resource does not fit your needs, but if they are to come across a resource related to your needs, please share. You may find they, too, are suffering from undiagnosed experiences with “resource overload” and will appreciate you naming this for them.
Be the solution, not the problem.
Think before your share. If you feel overwhelmed, be mindful of how you distribute your inspiration. Talk with your colleagues before you share a resource to ensure it is connected to their learning focus.
I am sure you recognize the irony that I am blogging about too much information while adding another needle to the haystack. But it is not the wealth of resources that is the problem; it’s the implications and expectations that we must be abreast of it all, all at once. Teachers and leaders are overloaded and overwhelmed now more than ever. This piece intends to inspire focus, shift mindsets around the value of these resources relative to your focus, and empower educators to confidently keep their focus despite all of the distractions.