A school without limits

Screen Shot 2015-11-15 at 10.33.10 pmAlmost everyone starts kindergarten full of curiosity, enthusiasm and big opinions about things. And very few graduate that way.

Why is that?

Modern schools make pragmatists of all of us.

As an educator, I consider my primary responsibilities to be building students’ enthusiasm for learning and building their ability to learn on their own. I don’t like thinking that schools themselves are somehow acting against their own aims.

So what would a school look like that was designed by students and run by students? Honestly, I fear it would end up looking a lot like the schools we have already. Because we all, so easily get so used to the way things are already. It becomes hard to imagine successful alternatives. We need not only fresh eyes, but also the insights of geniuses.

The tide is turning though. Ken Robinson’s Ted Talk about school’s killing creativity is the most popular Ted Talk ever. He’s bold, admonishing and hard to disagree with.

Those of us who really believe in the potential of education to empower people need to do as much as we can to make schools places much more about freedom, confidence-building and fun. And perhaps less about pragmatism and assessment.

I’d like my own sons to graduate even more curious, more enthusiastic, more confident and more opinionated than they were going in. And hilarious –I’d like school to make my boys as funny as possible.

Photo credit: Sam Sherratt

Tim WoodsA school without limits

Positive and Negative Motivation


Motivated people find a way. They don’t need everything to be perfect before they can work. They just do it. They push through with what’s available.

Motivated people can handle discomfort for the moment, because they know that what’s coming is worth it.

Is there a way to become motivated if you aren’t motivated already? Yes.

Here’s how.

If you’d like to do this, we’re going to go positive and then go negative. We’re going to heighten your positive and negative emotions around one of your goals. 

I want to warn you that this exercise can be quite powerful. It takes about 10 minutes and it will definitely increase your motivation. Maybe dramatically.

Here we go.

Write down the answers to these questions or say the answers out loud to really lock in the experience. It’s not enough to simply read the questions. The power comes from you really thinking through your answers in a personal way. Take at least a full minute for each question.

Positive Questions

  1. What is a very specific goal you care about achieving?
  2. What will it mean to you to achieve your goal?
  3. What else will be great about achieving your target?
  4. How will that make you feel?
  5. What will other people think about you when you achieve your goal?
  6. What else will be possible for you and for the people you care about when you reach your target?

Negative Questions

  1. In what ways would your life be worse if you didn’t achieve your goal?
  2. What is the worst thing that could happen if you didn’t reach your target?
  3. How would that make you feel?
  4. What else could go wrong if you didn’t achieve your goal?
  5. How would that affect you and the people around you?
Tim WoodsPositive and Negative Motivation

Time to be creative

Screen Shot 2015-11-13 at 3.32.34 pmEveryone knows that creativity is important. Parents know the value of play for their kids and our most innovative companies know it too.

If it works for our children and for the most-skilled among us, what’s stopping the rest of us?

In a massive IBM survey, 1,500 CEO’s from 60 countries chose creativity as the #1 skill required by leaders. Personally, I was surprised that the managers didn’t choose something like intelligence or the ability to communicate. (The managers I know often talk about feeling pressured to focus on achieving very-specific, narrowly-defined targets.) But they chose creativity.

Creativity, like memory, is a muscle. It won’t grow stronger if we don’t really use it. But as we spend more time with it, it can allow us to smash-through problems our earlier less-creative selves never could have.

It can seem hard to justify taking time-out to journal, to doodle or to go for a walk and ask ourselves some really unusual What-If questions, because we’re busier than ever. And we’re trying to be responsible. But building the habit of exploring all the possibilities in a situation, letting the subconscious mind weigh-in, can help us find the breakthroughs we need.

Life is ambiguous; there are many right answers — all depending on what you are looking for. But if you think there’s only one right answer, then you’ll stop looking as soon as you find one.Roger Von Oech

Success is more a function of the quality of the decisions we make, rather than the resources we have available. It’s not what we have, but what we do with what we have. And it’s hard to find the best answers if we don’t take time to ask the questions.

Tim WoodsTime to be creative

4 Questions Leaders Ask


Dr Martin Luther King Jr

I’m sure you’ve done the exercise before where you look around the room, in search of everything that’s red. You haven’t noticed, but there are lots of red things around you right now. You don’t notice until you look.

When we get clear on what we’re looking for we find it easily.

Leaders change the world around them by focusing on 4 things, over and over again:

  1. They clarify a positive idea about the future.
  2. They decide exactly how we can get there.
  3. They personally commit to building up the habits and skills required to make that future a reality.
  4. And they take immediate, massive action to move forward.

They do this over and over again until they achieve their vision.

So ask yourself:

  1. What do I want?
  2. What is the best path to get there?
  3. What needs to be true about me, if I am going to make this vision a reality?
  4. What can I do right now, to move toward my vision?

If you aren’t looking for the answers to those questions you won’t find them. But if you look you’ll see the answers are all around you and inside of you just waiting for you to notice.

The world is full of distractions and people trying to direct our attention toward things we don’t care about. Television. Advertisements. Fashion. Sports. People trying to stress us out about things that aren’t important. Leaders is about pushing back, making time for your own priorities.

Tim Woods4 Questions Leaders Ask

The best time to work is the worst

headphoneslibraryA while ago I wrote an article called The Straight A Students Time Management Secret. The answer seemed simple: get your work done during your school day.

High achievers do report having this habit. When they’re working, they just work. They don’t spend much time inefficiently –half-doing work and half-socialising at the same time.

The benefits are pretty obvious. More completely-free time in the evenings, they can get more sleep and they can socialise guilt-free and stress-free.

But, actually implementing this advice can seem hard. At work/school, all of our friends are there. It’s distracting. And then suddenly the entire day has passed and we’ve made no progress.

Here are a few techniques that work:

  1. Block out some set-times every week just for working by yourself. Maybe Thursdays at lunch you go to your secret, private spot in the library and work on Math questions. Stick to your own schedule.
  2. Get massive headphones and wear them when you’re working. Obviously, you don’t even need to have music playing. I sometimes listen to waves
  3. Put your phone on silent and shut Facebook, etc. Social media isn’t your friend right now.
  4. Write down three tasks at the beginning of every day that you want to get done that day and don’t leave school/work until they’re done.

Please do me a favour and share this post on Facebook or Twitter!

But then get back to work. :)

Tim WoodsThe best time to work is the worst

The Roots of Procrastination


We all procrastinate for our own reasons.

Often we don’t think about where it’s coming from. We think of it as “laziness” and leave it at that. But ending procrastination requires we honestly face the reason (or the emotion) behind it. Once we know what’s really going on behind the scenes, we can get over it and get on with our work.

The main causes of procrastination:

  • Inability says “I don’t actually know how to do this.”
  • Fear says “I can’t do this.” or “It won’t be good enough.”
  • Perfectionism says “I can’t make any mistakes with this.”
  • Confusion says “I don’t know where to start.”
  • Disagreement with the task says “This doesn’t matter. It’s not going to help me.”
  • Overwhelm says “I can’t even focus. I’ve got so much going on right now.”

Assignments can push us out of our comfort zone. They reveal our weaknesses and stir up emotions like insecurity or doubt. But if we need to get our work done, we have to face the underlying problem.

Life is about progress, not perfection. We don’t have to be perfect or do perfect work. And sometimes the path forward is just being still for a while and reflecting on what’s going on inside.

Tim WoodsThe Roots of Procrastination

Simplify with the Daily 10

Screen Shot 2015-11-09 at 12.11.48 pmHere’s a simple technique that can simplify your life a lot. I’ve been doing it for about a year and it’s worked for me:

Every day, throw away 10 things.

Here are my personal rules:

  • Obvious garbage doesn’t count.
  • It still counts if you take a picture of it and then throw it away.
  • Mystery electrical cables from the junk drawer count.
  • Books I know I’m not going to read again count.
  • A file folder full of old health insurance forms from Belgium counts as one.

I drop a lot off at the Salvation Army. 10 a day seems to be the right number.

It’s done a lot for me:

  • Less clutter
  • I know where things are
  • I spend less time spent trying to find things. If I don’t have it I realise it quickly and it’s never been a problem.
  • I’m more organised

We’ve all heard stories about immigrant families who arrive with almost nothing and achieve amazing things. I think that the fact that they don’t have a lot of baggage actually helps them.

Having fewer belongings helps with focus. It’s a good reminder that it’s not what we have, but who we are. That’s a fact that we’ve all thought about, but I’ve found this habit to be a helpful reminder.

Tim WoodsSimplify with the Daily 10



target“What single activity would keep you fascinated and motivated for the rest of your life?”

Do you know what that would be?

It’s not simply sitting on beach, doing nothing. Not for the rest of your life, every day. And it’s not just something that pays well, because we’re assuming you could do anything. And it doesn’t have to be something you already do. There are no rules here at all.

Think about it.

This is a powerful question. In fact, this question is worth as much time as it takes you to find your answer. Because you can (if you want) start to organise your whole life around it. You can start doing more of your one activity and doing less of things that aren’t that. You can slowly start to become so good at your One Activity that it becomes your job –if you want to. That’s the kind of world we live in these days; we have room for all kinds of specialists. Everyone admires focus. And everyone admires a person who knows what they want. Some people make their money playing video games.

If you get stuck with this question, here are some tricks. Consider listing the things that you definitely don’t enjoy. This can point you in the right direction (away from the bad stuff). Or, simply start to pay more attention to what you enjoy. Start to record moments of the day that you felt more engaged, more alive, or determined. Noticing these moments can point you in the right direction too.

Please share this question with your friends using the and let me know (in the comments below) what you think.

To go further:

  • The One Thing by Gary Keller. Basic Lesson: Figure out the most high-leverage, high-impact, high-value activity you could be doing and spend several hours doing that every single day.
  • Good to Great by Jim Collins. Basic Lesson: The key to being great is being honest with yourself and figuring out your core activity, which is at the intersection of these three questions: What do you have the potential to be the best in the world at? What you can make money doing? And: What are you passionate about?
  • And Talent Is Overrated by Geoff Colvin. Basic Lesson: time spent practicing and getting lots of accurate feedback is what really builds amazing skills.
Tim WoodsFocus

The May 2016 ToK Essay Titles

perry the platIf you are completing the IB Diploma Program in May 2016, the official Theory of Knowledge essay titles you’ll be working with have been released.

I’ve created some videos to help you if you’d like. Click the orange button below and I’ll email them to you. And we have ToK Essay Facebook groups. We have one group just for students and another one just for ToK teachers. We’d love to see you in there.

There are 6 Official Titles for May 2016

1. “In gaining knowledge, each area of knowledge uses a network of ways of knowing.” Discuss this statement with reference to two areas of knowledge.

2. “Knowledge within a discipline develops according to the principles of natural selection.” How useful is this metaphor?

3. “The knower’s perspective is essential in the pursuit of knowledge.” To what extent do you agree?

4. “Without application in the world, the value of knowledge is greatly diminished.” Consider this claim with respect to two areas of knowledge.

5. To what extent do the concepts that we use shape the conclusions that we reach?

6. “In knowledge there is always a trade-off between accuracy and simplicity.” Evaluate this statement in relation to two areas of knowledge.


Watch Free ToK Videos!

Tim WoodsThe May 2016 ToK Essay Titles

Advanced Business Extended Essay Research

Advanced Research TechniquesIn this post, I wanted to share with you a resource straight out of latest online course: Business EE Mastery. I know a lot of you are working on your Extended Essays at the moment, so I thought you’d probably appreciate some extra help.

If you’re interested, you can try-out my Business EE Mastery video course online for FREE at the moment. You might not need any more help, but if you do this works and I’m happy to help.

Either way, here is some info that will help you with your research:



The ability to research effectively is all about two things: 1) Efficiency and 2) Thoughtfulness.

You need to know how to get the information you’re looking for quickly and also, be willing to think about what you’re looking for.

Normally people look for the wrong information.

Wrong information is information that has nothing to do with your research question. And EE students use information like this all the time. You can use some information that doesn’t really relate to your RQ (for example when filling out a SWOT analysis), but you want to get and use as much highly-relevant information as you possibly can.

I’ve already talked to you guys about using a variety of research sources. That is a big part of this. It really is worth spending some time exploring different types of sources –rather than just the first page of Google results.

A few techniques to improve the quality of your research:

1) Break your RQ into sub-RQ’s

If your question is, “Should we invest 1 million dollars in X?” ask yourself (and people at the company) what are the questions that need to be answered before that major question can be answered. For example maybe, for this business, the questions are: 1) Can we afford it? 2) Is it going to improve the satisfaction of our customers and 3) Is it going to help us improve our market share?

For another business, they might be more interested in improving their efficiency, or brand image.

The sub-questions help you focus your research and make sure you’re seeking out information that is relevant. Sub-questions also help you justify the Read More

Tim WoodsAdvanced Business Extended Essay Research