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When I was hired fresh out of college in 1974, my assigned task was pretty simple. My job as a middle school mathematics teacher was to take math content and data and transfer it from my brain into the brains of my students. That objective has completely changed during the 40 years I have spent in the classroom. By the end of my career, students had several sources of content and data (iPads, educational apps, Khan Academy, etc.) that were superior to anything I could deliver standing in front of a black—or rather make that a whiteboard.

I learned a great deal from my students in my four decades as a middle school and high school teacher. Once I became aware of and started practicing the concepts of Top 20 Training, my classroom became a different place. A learning environment replaced a teaching environment. Tweet this

I had 17 years of formal education followed by several master classes. I do not recall even one reference during those courses to my thinking and its effect on my life and the lives of others.

My inside world determines my outside world.

I learned this concept at age 47. It would have been really nice to be aware of this idea a bit earlier.

Basically, my students tried to teach me this idea for 40 years in the classroom. I just wasn’t listening for the first 25.

It’s frighteningly simple: My brain works for me. I can control my own experience, not the outside conditions. I might not find the outside conditions in a school (missing homework, a jammed Xerox machine, angry parent emails) pleasing or delightful, but I can always, always choose my own thinking. In the Living Top 20 world, we refer to these negative conditions as Invitations: Those nasty little bumps in the road that encourage us to use our negative thinking. Just like that Invitation you got last summer to your cousin’s third wedding, you can R.S.V.P. “Yes, I’m coming” or “No thanks, I’ve got other plans.” Tweet this

Problems always seem to accompany my negativity. Here was the formula for many of my poor decisions as a teacher:

  1. I’m at school. I’m okay. I’m on my mission. I remember my purpose as a role model for guiding the growth of young people.
  2. The usual Invitations arrive. Unaware of the power and choice I have, I accept these Invitations and head into ineffective thinking.
  3. This sort of thinking produces ineffective actions that result in poor decisions. Poor decisions create or escalate problems for me and others.
  4. Clean-up time. I have to clean up the messes I made with my poor thinking and decision-making.

A perfect example of this formula was illustrated in my coaching career. My job was to use basketball to help guide the positive growth process of high school girls. Many times, I would forget that purpose when Invitations came my way during games.

20 years ago, I was coaching in a hotly-contested game and I lost focus on my purpose.

Angry at the officials, I requested a timeout. They approached me and asked if I would like a 60-second or a 30-second timeout. My response echoed throughout the packed gym: “I don’t know. I called the timeout for you two to get your act together. Why don’t you decide how long you need to do that?”

At the time, I was completely unaware that my thinking had become ineffective. The ensuing mess (technical foul, ejection from the game, a written censure from the state high school league) reminded me that I should have been more aware . . . and should have kept my mouth shut. Here’s a key concept I forgot that day: I signed up for this. It should’ve come as no surprise to me that there would be bad calls made by referees. It happened in every one of the 500 varsity games I coached.

Consider your daily life. Are you succumbing to Invitations that are actually part of your job description? If you’re a father or a mother, it shouldn’t surprise you when your teenaged daughter sends some Invitations your way. If you’re selling used cars, you should probably expect customers who ask a lot of questions about gas mileage. Firefighters shouldn’t be shocked when they’re called to fight fires. Receptionists should expect phone calls.

Next time an Invitation is sent your way—and it’s probably going to happen during the next few hours—try to pause and recognize it for what it is. You cannot act unless you are aware. Remember: You have no control whatsoever over conditions (the weather, the traffic, the behavior of a seventeen year-old boy). But you always have 100% complete power and choice to determine your inside world and experience.

Top 20 Training empowers students, parents, teachers, and coaches to develop their potential and make a positive difference in their lives and in the lives of others. Having worked with over 500,000 teachers and educational leaders nationwide, they have developed one-of-a-kind training seminars that are practical and immediately applicable. They also offer support materials (books, curricula, teacher’s manuals, and inservice kits) to help teachers effectively implement Top 20 content into their classrooms. Visit us at www.top20training.com or follow us on Twitter @top20training

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Simply pulling a strategy “off the shelf” or defaulting to the most recently read article or staff development session topic may not generate the results we seek.

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