It was an ironic discussion.
We were collaborating away at a School Improvement Team meeting, discussing the things we are currently doing to improve student reading achievement. We listed out ten or more things we are working on, along with some things we haven’t even started to tackle. And, that was just reading. Then there’s math. And writing, science and social studies. In addition to that, we want our students to develop strong, positive character, and to have a need-satisfying environment. We need to innovate and incorporate technology and 21st century skills. The list of goals goes on and on. No wonder educators feel like their heads are spinning and they are working so hard but not getting anywhere.
Our conversation settled in on student goal-setting. Teachers began discussing the value of students having specific, achieveable goals catered to the next steps in reading achievement. Students could have ownership of their goals and their learning, and take the ‘goals’ with them even when they traveled to a different class. It would give deep meaning and purpose to their practice and it would help them have a sense of accomplishment when they achieved the goal and began to tackle a new one.
There is irony in having a goal about making goals. There is also irony in that teachers would benefit from specific, attainable goals in the same way students would. If we gave students a list of twenty goals to achieve right now, it would be overwhelming. It is the same for adults. We have to narrow our focus or we cannot do anything well. We have to pick a goal like having an uncompromising focus on reading, and stick to it with a fervor.
That very same morning of this meeting, I listened to a #mybad podcast with Jon Harper and guest Cameron McCoy. Cameron is a freshman at Morehouse College, and in the podcast he shared a mistake he made early in his freshman year. He was so excited to get involved on his new campus that he overextended himself and ended up sick in the hospital. He needed to bring himself back to his mission at Morehouse, and that was to get a great education and better himself.
I was compelled to tell Cameron’s story to the team that morning, to help us understand that if we want to do amazing work, we have to stay focused on our main goal. After we tackle that goal and have a solid plan in place, we can move on to our next goal. We have to have “squid eye” to not only see the things that we are doing to bring us closer to meeting our goal, but to also see the things getting in our way. Squid eye, a laser-like focus on best and worst practices, comes from a book called Fierce Leadership by Susan Scott.
Later that day, a teacher left a photocopy of a few pages of a book on my desk, telling me that it reminded her of what we talked about that morning. It was a chapter from a book called Present Over Perfect by Shauna Neiquist. I was sold on the title, and so touched by the passage from Job highlighted in the chapter. Neiquist tells us that in this passage, “God says to the snow, ‘Fall on the earth.’ That’s it. Just do one thing. Just fall.”
We can do that. We should do that. Just do it, that one thing, with all you have.
Do that. Do it good. Then, do something else.
Stay focused on our mission. Have squid eye. Just be snow.
“Remember that what gets talked about and how it gets talked about determines what will happen. Or won’t happen. And that we succeed or fail, gradually then suddenly, one conversation at a time.” -Susan Scott, Fierce Leadership
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