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Doing It All vs. Doing One Thing Well

By Dave Stuart Jr.

Note from Dave: This article is by my friend and our colleague, Lindsay Veitch. I find Lindsay's New Year's Revelation to be especially poignant to my own season of life right now, and I hope it's timely for you as well.

It was New Year's Eve, and we were sitting around a spread of appetizers: cheese, meat, shrimp, the works. More than ready to move on from the past year, I wasn’t feeling particularly reflective. Yet I was forced into a moment of such pondering when my husband asked me, “What’s your big takeaway from 2017?” I hadn’t spent any time developing this thought, so I surprised myself when I instantly said, “I’m learning, or I guess, relearning, that I can’t have it all. I can’t be it all. I can’t do it all.” Wait, I wondered, where did that come from? I felt instant relief and freedom in verbalizing what I suppose was stored up in my subconscious for who knows how long.

When I thought more about this, I realized the source: I am a dreamer. Wanting more of this and that and always hoping for the other thing. I long for an impactful teaching career while simultaneously desiring the life of a stay-at-home mom. I fantasize about the hot sun and a warm climate, yet I pine for mountains and snow. I want to be in a room full of important people until I remember that I prefer silence and serenity.

Having it all, doing it all, being it all. Too much? Clearly, it’s time to dial it back.

I’ve been fixated on this idea — simplifying, focusing, and decluttering my brain — ever since. And man, it’s been a welcome and freeing realization. I can’t do it all. I can’t have it all. I can’t be it all. We get so tangled up in our lives, our dreams, our tasks, our goals, our mission, our calling, our everything. We plan and act and tweak and do, do, do. If you’re like me, you probably have about 95 new things you want to try, 24 places you’d like to visit, and several dozen teaching strategies and methods you want to implement. We can drown in our ambitions to do more, be more, achieve more.

Sometimes it’s best to stop. Take inventory. And ask a very simple question: what is one thing I can do really well? For teachers, this is often a tricky thing to answer because we do so many things, and we mean so much to so many people. We answer to administrators, parents, our colleagues, our students, and our own families. We have a lot of relationships to nurture and expectations to see through. But, truly, put all of that aside for a minute and ask, do I have a method or strategy or best practice that I can deepen and develop to foster and perfect? We often try a bunch of different things and end up exhausted and frustrated and frayed. Our kids sense it, and we know this is not the best way to fulfill our very important assignment.

Several years ago, I, a young and easily excitable teacher, was in this place. I was blessedly inundated with teaching strategies and methods galore. This is a good problem to have. However, I realized then, like I realized when talking to my husband on New Year's Eve, that I couldn’t implement, have, or do all of those wonderful things. And, if I tried, I knew that I couldn’t do any of them very well at all. I knew I had to make a strategic instructional decision.

For me, teaching writing was overwhelming and mentally exhausting. Trying to meet the demands of ever-changing standards and state tests and my self-imposed goals as a teacher, I tried what felt like several hundred ways to do a better job teaching writing. I regularly rushed through the instruction and bumbled around trying to help my students make sense of the writing task at hand. Writing days left me feeling like my head was a balloon full of hot air and about to burst. Some wise mentors in my life suggested I simplify. And the oldy-but-goody, less is more, became my mantra. I set out to discover or invent a simple, effective writing structure and focus solely on that when teaching writing. Focusing writing instruction on one simple, transferable method was a game changer. I felt free to slow down, take the time to make sure kids got it right, and intentionally reinforce the same method over and over, all year long.

It can be difficult to admit that we can’t do it all, have it all, or be it all. Yet there is so much freedom when we do. Give yourself permission to declutter your mind and teaching playbook. Focus in on one strategy, method, or practice that you can develop and dive deeply into.  

To learn more about my writing method, The Write Structure: A Simple and Effective Method for {Teaching} Writing Across the Content Areas, read this article. Alternatively, you can purchase the ebook here.

2 Responses to Doing It All vs. Doing One Thing Well

  1. Kathy Below January 20, 2018 at 4:49 pm #

    To Lindsay and Dave,
    Someone finally said it out loud and there was no lightning. In a world of SLO, growth data, learning objectives, I felt eaten alive and we were only two weeks into the school year. I decided to dial it down a notch and not get caught up in the crazy world of school. Are the kids reading, writing, and being challenged? You bet! I’m not trying to be uncooperative or belligerent, I’m trying to survive and not squash my love of teaching. Thank you for letting me know that I’m not the only one with these feelings….

    • davestuartjr January 30, 2018 at 4:08 pm #

      We’re so glad, Kathy, to let you know that you are indeed in good company 🙂

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