Rocks, Pebbles, and Sand


You may already be familiar with this old tale, so bear with me.

 A philosophy professor once stood up before his class with a large empty mayonnaise jar. He filled the jar to the top with large rocks and asked his students if the jar was full.

The students said that yes, the jar was indeed full.

He then added small pebbles to the jar and gave the jar a bit of a shake so the pebbles could disperse themselves among the larger rocks. Then he asked again, “Is the jar full now?”

The students agreed that the jar was still full.

The professor then poured sand into the jar to fill up any remaining empty space. The students then agreed that the jar was completely full.

We can use this story in a number of different ways:

  1. The way we look at life: The rocks are equivalent to the most important projects and things you have going on, such as spending time with your family and maintain proper health. The pebbles represent the things in your life that matter, but that you could somehow live without, e.g., job, house, and hobbies. Finally, the sand represents the remaining filler things in your life, such as material possessions, watching TV, and browsing social media.
  2. The way organizations look at effort: The rocks could be equivalent to strategy. The pebbles represent tactics. The sand represents individual actions taken to actualize the tactics.
  3. The way educators look at teaching and learning: The rocks are the big ideas that define the desired understanding. The pebbles are the standards that represent the underlying knowledge and skills necessary for understanding. The sand represents instruction, exercises, and student work that build toward attaining discrete knowledge and skills.

Two brilliant educators, the late Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe popularized a version of “C” in the 90s with their “Understanding By Design” approach to curriculum development. Many school districts and publishers immediately adopted the approach.

The idea of “rocks” symbolizing big ideas brings us to today’s podcast guest, Andrew Sachs. Andrew is CEO of Nobel Coaching & Tutoring, a firm that helps develop young learners into leaders.

Andrew hails from an earlier career as a technology entrepreneur. There, he rubbed elbows with software coders and engineers and saw firsthand that success depended in large part on one critically important “rock”: teamwork. Collaboration. At Nobel, Andrew wants to help young leaders develop that same critical skill. Listen in to our conversation as Andrew explains that teamwork goes way beyond just putting people together into groups – and what led him to the conclusion expressed in the opening quote.

If you made it this far, thank you. I know you have a lot of information options tugging at your sleeve.  I hope you enjoyed this one.

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Jeff Ikler
Jeff Iklerhttps://www.queticocoaching.com/
The river that runs through my career lives – as teacher, publisher, coach, podcaster and author – is helping individuals acquire knowledge, skills, and self-awareness so they can better achieve their desired results and impact. • As Director of Quetico Leadership and Career Coaching, I work with individuals and leaders to overcome obstacles and make sustained changes in their behavior. • I co-host the podcast “Getting Unstuck – Shift for Impact,” where I bring to light inspirational stories of transformation in the field of education. • I am the co-author of the soon-to-be-published book for school educators, Shifting: How Educational Leaders Can Create a Culture of Change.