As a Middle School teacher, I get the vast privilege of leading a cohort of students to see things differently, try on new ideas, and form new (hopefully positive) habits.
A few weeks back for their journal prompt, I instructed each class to draw 3 columns, the last of which to remain blank that day. In the first column, they were to write any tasks or accomplishments that they’d been procrastinating on but that they wanted (or needed) to do. In the second column, they were to write allll the reasons (real or imagined) why they could not complete these tasks. The next day, they’d brainstorm with their classmates on how to get over the hurdle.
I gave them my own present example at the time: Not completing my “Synonym Wall.” In the classroom, I have taped colored slips of paper with “Bad” or “Said” or “A Lot” inside a “No” symbol, and then surrounded each with a plethora of alternatives for students to use.
But I stalled out. I began this project in August(!) before the students arrived, and I still had “Nice” and “Good” to go. Okay, so that’s column 1: Finish the Synonym Wall. What’s column 2? What are my hurdles? Well…: I was using these fancy scallop-edged scissors to cut out the synonyms, and the scissors are ill-effective and hurt my hand when cutting the strips. I had been using a system of color coding each word group, and I wanted blue paper for “Good,” but I didn’t have any blue. I was also using a colored-marker pattern I wanted to repeat, but that was feeling cumbersome and complicated. Finally, now that it’s been so long, who cares whether it gets done; are the students even using it?
Hurdles for me can be MINOR(!!) inconveniences, like “the scissors hurt my hand,” or larger fears like, “My work makes no difference.” Yet, whatever the hurdle is, I cannot overcome it if I do not identify it. So, even though writing all these hurdles down made me feel a little silly and immature to see that I can be stymied by such gossamer blockades, I knew it would lead me to column 3.
“What the hell are you gonna do about it?”
In fact, that very afternoon, after having modeling this process to all 4 of my class sections—pointing to the Synonym Wall, reading the hurdles aloud, and considering again and again the hilarity of such stalled action—I went downstairs to a coworker’s materials closet and fetched whatever colored paper was available, grabbed any freaking Sharpie I had and a pair of OMG-so-non-hurty normal, straight-cut scissors, and COMPLETED the Synonym Wall!
The next morning when I modeled column 3 for my students, I was able to write down each of the above in “Overcoming the Hurdle.” One Overcome I also got to write was, “I think the Synonym Wall is important, whether the students use it or not.” And: “The perfect is the enemy of the done.”
I rewrote this last one on a sign that now hangs above the whiteboard. (In whatever color and on whatever color I had available!)
Every day, I could write a list of Tasks I Procrastinate, Hurdles, and Overcomings. And maybe I should. Because each of the remaining hurdles on that list 4 weeks ago have now too been vaulted.