Wednesday, March 2, 2016
The "Have Done" List
My observation yesterday by four district administrators proved to be a bit eye-opening. For me.
I was determined not to do anything out of the ordinary when they came in for their ten-minute observation. I've been teaching for 20 years, I told myself. I don't do dog and pony shows. What you see is what you get. If they didn't like what they saw, well, that was too bad.
I will confess that I did rearrange my schedule a little to accommodate their arrival in my class 30 minutes after school started. I may not do dog and pony shows, but who really wants to watch 24 third-graders correct their math homework? So, we did that first to get it out of the way and so we would be involved in the daily read aloud when our visitors arrived. After that, since it was "Trailer Tuesday," I planned to show the book trailer for Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate, who also wrote The One and Only Ivan, the book I was currently reading aloud. My class was loving Ivan and one of my students had actually recommended Crenshaw to me, so it all fit together nicely. I had purchased a copy of the book, and I knew my students would be eager to get their hands on it. Plus, the time I spend reading aloud to my class in the morning is my favorite time of the day, and I felt that I would be most comfortable having strangers in my room watching me do something I feel passionate about.
At the end of my visitors' observation, they all tossed a note on my desk and filed out of my room. A quick glance at the notes assured me that no one had written "That really sucked. What were you thinking?" When I finally had a chance to review the notes more carefully, I discovered that they were all complimentary and each one noted the excitement my students displayed for both the book I was reading and for the one introduced with the book trailer. "What a great idea!" one of them wrote.
That's when it hit me.
I have spent quite a bit of time this year beating myself up over all the things I haven't done. So many things I wanted to try but never got to. So many things I tried but didn't quite work out the way I had envisioned. I was so busy looking at all the things I hadn't done, I forgot about all the things I had done. Because I had started Trailer Tuesday years ago, I didn't give it much thought anymore. It was just part of my routine.
Routine. Merriam-Webster defines routine as "a regular way of doing things in a particular order; a boring state or situation in which things are always done in the same way." I had been doing Trailer Tuesday for so long that I had stopped seeing it as something exciting, even when I could plainly see the excitement on my students' faces. It was simply something I did, and over time I had developed the idea that everyone else did it, too. In short, it was nothing special.
Several years ago I attended a GATE training by John DeLandtsheer. I remember he suggested highlighting completed tasks on a to-do list instead of crossing them off. At the time that made no sense to me. I loved crossing things off. It gave me such a sense of accomplishment. Now, however, I finally get it. Highlight your accomplishments. Don't just cross them off and forget them. Put the focus not on the things you haven't gotten to yet but on the ones you have. Celebrate them.
I have a long to-do list, albeit a mental one, that haunts me. I am sure many of you do, too. What if instead of a to-do list we made a "have done" list? What if we highlighted all the things we have accomplished, however small or routine they may seem to us? How might our outlook change? And what if we had our students do the same?
Focusing on success rather than failure. Not a new idea, certainly. But one I all too often forget. Maybe it's time to change that.