Getting Off Task

Summer is a time when we feel free to get off task. What if getting off task is a valuable practice for the school year, too?

As old school as it may seem, I LOVE writing to-do lists. They help me to create a linear and contained focus for my life and I think I would be hard pressed to find something as satisfying as crossing the things off my list that I complete.

In an effort to reign in any lazy inclinations this summer, I created a six page list of tasks to accomplish. The list is organized by room of my house with an additional page for miscellaneous things that defy categorization. This list represents all the things that I wish I could get done during the school year but my exhaustion renders impossible to keep up with.

So far, I’ve managed to check about five things off my list.

The problem is not lack of desire to get stuff done. It’s that I forgot the most important part of summer vacation, which is taking time to be with people. Instead of clean bathrooms and decluttered closets, my accomplishments include long lunches filled with storytelling and reflection on the various struggles and celebrations the past few months have held for my friends and family.

Given the fact that I have the time to reflect on this, I’ve recognized that not getting through my list isn’t actually a bad thing. In fact, it is something to celebrate. A clean house is nice, but being available to engage with community is infinitely better.

A clean house is nice, but being available to engage with community is infinitely better.

With this epiphany, I can’t help but wonder if my over attachment to to do lists might occasionally hinder my connection to students.

The busyness of the school year requires a whole other level of organization. To manage this, my school to-do lists are complicated and intricate things. I have lists for the classroom that consist of lesson plans based on the standards, daily mini-lesson ideas that I want to use to reinforce skills, and steps needed to ensure success on district mandated common assessments. I have lists that help me keep my paperwork and meeting schedules in check. And then I have my keep-yourself-human lists that remind me to grocery shop and attend to the basic needs of life, which always feel a little ridiculous to me, but are often necessary.

These lists give me a false sense of control. Each fall, I imagine my classroom being organized down to the minute with daily bell work, silent reading time, mini-lessons, and student guided practice. Each spring, I look back over my plan book and think “Oh yeah…I was going to do that all year. What happened?”

Just as my summer to do list has been derailed by people, my school to do lists are often interrupted. And just as that is worth celebrating in June, it is worth celebrating September through May as well.

To be a good teacher, I need to be organized. But I also need to pay attention to students and their stories, which often means deviating from plans.

This dichotomy needs to be acknowledged, though. Set practices and routines can help to build the appropriate level of comfort for our students to feel free to share their struggles and successes. Being regimented has a place. So, as I work on page six of my summer to do list, which includes thinking about next year, I think I need to be mindful of the essential balance between organization and space for personal connection.

Thankfully, I have a few more months before I need to attend to all of that. So I will file these thoughts away and continue to practice finding the right balance between being productive and being available. Anyone free for lunch today?

Photo Credit: By Adam Diaz (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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