Will Gardner is well-known in New Bedford for founding Alma del Mar, a K-8 public charter school founded in 2011. Alma has developed a strong local reputation for its unique culture and successful track record with students, who they refer to as scholars.
Leading Alma and its talented team of teachers and administrators is no small task, but Gardner seems to handle it effortlessly. Perhaps one of his secrets is that he sneaks away to Groundwork one morning a week to focus on what he calls “deep work.” As anyone in a leadership role knows, taking a step back from day-to-day management is essential to staying innovative. If you run into Will at Groundwork, you will find him hyper-focused on the task at hand. But he’s friendly and willing to chat when he comes up for air. On a recent snow day, Will was generous to tell us a little more about his work philosophy in this month’s member spotlight:
What’s your profession?
I’m the founder and Executive Director of Alma del Mar Charter Schools. We currently serve 450 young scholars in grades K-8 at our first campus and will be adding a second campus this August with 200 additional scholars in grades K-2 and 6.
Describe a typical work day for you.
I’m only at GW one morning a week, so it’s not my typical day. On that day, I spend the morning doing only my “deep work”– stuff that requires serious, sustained focus. I’m generally unavailable during that time and I’ve found it to be highly productive!
The rest of my days I start my morning at our full staff Huddle. My most sacred duty at Huddle is singing our awkward birthday song to staff members who have birthdays that day. Then I’m typically doing my morning duty, which involves greeting scholars and at least once a week leading a singalong at the elementary school Morning Warmup.
If I’m lucky and I’ve planned well I have an hour or two to do some long term work– budgeting, strategy, board engagement etc.
My afternoon is generally spent meeting with members of our talented Alma crew, including our Leadership Team. I also find plenty of excuses to get out of my office and get into classrooms.
What’s the biggest challenge you face at your job?
Alongside the rest of our crew, I find one of the biggest challenges is maintaining my energy and commitment over the long term despite being repeatedly confronted by the challenges that our scholars and families have to face on a daily basis. Many of our scholars are up against tremendous odds and I’m continually in awe of their ability to step up to the obstacles that life puts in their way, in addition to taking on the rigorous academic tasks that our teachers put in front of them.
Do you have a morning routine?
I’m highly dependent on having my morning routine, which involves exercise, meditation and then planning my day based on my to-do’s and the hard landscape of my calendar. Oh and coffee. Strong coffee.
What are your favorite productivity tips or hacks?
I’ve been a disciple of David Allen’s GTD methodology for over 10 years now. Whether it’s GTD or another productivity system, I recommend taking regular time to think about how you approach your work. If you are a “knowledge worker” as Peter Drucker defined it, then a big part of your job is actually defining what your work is.
What do you listen to during the day?
Lots of songs and cheers coming from the kindergartners downstairs. When I’m at GW, I listen to various Spotify playlists of instrumental music without words. I’ve been listening to a lot of Mbira music from Zimbabwe recently. It was my go-to study music ever since I first heard this type of music at Wesleyan.
How do you benefit from using a coworking space?
I love having a space where I can go and do uninterrupted work with unlimited coffee consumption. As an extrovert, I also like being able to say hi to my coworkers at GW when we’re between tasks.
What’s in your digital toolbox?
Omnifocus is hands down my most treasured app. I also love the iPad Pro with Apple Pencil combo. It means I can take handwritten notes (shown to increase retention) but still store things digitally and be paperless.
What inspires you?
Recently I’ve been blown away by visits from our first group of Alma alums, who are now freshmen in high school. A lot of them have come back to visit or volunteer at Alma, and they’re so grown up! Alma’s mission is to put our scholars on the path to college and to challenge them to be service-minded leaders. Our alums are a living embodiment of this mission and they give me hope that the future is very bright indeed!