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The Shift

By Dave Stuart Jr.

Last time, I shared a long and impossible list of things that teachers like us feel expected to do. Many of you wrote and shared your additions to the list (e.g., club sponsorships, lunch duty), making it even more accurate, and even longer, and even more oppressive.

Suffice it to say, the default conditions of our job produce not optimal pressure, but the soul-killing kind.

I feel this pressure, too. Every year. And when I do feel it, I have learned to erase the list and create a new one.

Here is another list of all the things I have to do as a teacher:

  • Promote the long-term flourishing of young people.

Now you might notice that this list is a bit shorter. Just in case, however, I've created a figure to make the comparison clear.

For both of these, you can end by saying, “This is the work of teaching. It is never finished.”

With List 1, the never-finished nature of the work means that we'll be ground down, one day at a time, until all of a sudden all those other careers that our college friends took start to seem really interesting, and teaching is a game of countdowns: days until this break, weeks until that one, years until I retire.

With List 2, the never-finished nature is okay. Of course it's never finished, that list leads us to think, because something as deep and wide as the promotion of long-term human flourishing is always going on.

Listen: the point of school is not the minutiae. The first principle is not building and maintaining your classroom library and making sure it's organized and that no one steals a book and that kids are using it and that you've read all the books in it… that's not the foundation of our work. The foundation is the long-term flourishing of young people. That's why we teach them to read. That's why we go to meetings. That's why we make sure they understand how the scientific method looks in biology and in physics and in life. That's why we teach curricula that are as knowledge-rich and literacy-infused and mastery-oriented as we're able to teach.

The meetings aren't the point, the clubs aren't the point, the tests aren't the point, the grades aren't the point. Much of the minutiae does have to get done. Much of it can be thoroughly enmeshed with the long-term flourishing of young people. But the list isn't the point, and getting the list done isn't the point.

A lot of time, the reason List 1 starts to drive me crazy is because I'm afraid of how I'll look if I don't get it done. What will the teacher down the hall think? What will my boss do?

But List 2 comes in to help. My reputation is not the point. My ego's desire to be viewed as smart and competent and able to manage it all… not the point. Neither is my job security. Neither is my comfort. Schools exist to promote the long-term flourishing of kids.

And what this does is it starts to actually make me better at doing List 1. I discern which of the items are just my ego, just my perfectionism. Which are furthest removed from promoting the long-term flourishing of my students? And so I'm able to divvy things up better: things I'll skip, things I'll satisfice, things I'll invest 85% of my effort into because they are so freaking important. (That's what These 6 Things is about.)

So believe it or not, this way of thinking, of shifting from List 1 to List 2, isn't just pie in the sky. It's not optimism detached from reality. It's not a message from someone who used to work in a school and now opines about how it should be done.

Nope. It's the start of a way of being as a teacher, a way of viewing the work and seeing the school, a way of disciplining oneself to serve hard and deeply flourish in the hardest circumstances.

P.S. I didn't know where to put this, but sometimes I think of the plant that grows on the top of Utah's Delicate Arch. It's got to be one of the severest places for a plant to grow — and yet it does. They call it the Prince's Plume. (Here are some photos: zoomed out, zoomed in.) That plant reminds me of teachers.

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14 Responses to The Shift

  1. Tina February 14, 2019 at 1:17 pm #

    Column two is the overarching goal. Column one lists the tasks to accomplish the goal. We cannot lose sight of column two, the goal, but we still have to complete much of column one with the end goal in mind.

    • davestuartjr February 15, 2019 at 6:28 am #

      That’s right. And List 2 is the way to discern what in List 1 is baloney, and what is worth 5% of our effort, and what is worth the other 95%.

  2. Norah Olig February 14, 2019 at 1:22 pm #

    I love this! This really is a great visual to help us keep our priorities in order and remind us of our Everest statements.

  3. Julia B. February 14, 2019 at 1:42 pm #

    Thank you so much for this post. The lists and visuals are such a great reminder that the lasting work is the one that is not finished. List #1 has been causing me to feel overwhelmed and lose sight of the true purpose of the work. When I am feeling overwhelmed, I will make sure to turn my focus to List #2. Thanks again!

    • davestuartjr February 15, 2019 at 6:29 am #

      Yes, Julia — perfect 🙂 We want to use List 2 to say to List 1, “Okay, what *really* has to happen here?”

  4. Tracy Howe February 14, 2019 at 3:30 pm #

    exactly what I needed to read today – Thank you! Every February I feel tired and overwhelmed and start thinking about other professions because I am worried that I’m not getting enough done – enough standards broken down to tasks, enough scores pulled up to demonstrate my capability and theirs, enough data analyzed and used successfully.

    • davestuartjr February 15, 2019 at 6:29 am #

      Yes, Tracy — that is overwhelming minutiae work. It tires me too. List 2 helps 🙂 Thank you!

  5. Ica Rewitz February 14, 2019 at 5:58 pm #

    I’m really excited about your upcoming mini-course in prioritizing. I’m sitting at my desk after school. I have a bunch of things from list 1 that I need to deal with. I have about 45 minutes before I need to be heading home, and I have NO IDEA which of those things from list 1 should get done RIGHT NOW, which should get done TONIGHT, and which to save for the dangerous designation of LATER. Thanks for your continual encouragement. 🙂

    • davestuartjr February 15, 2019 at 6:30 am #

      “The dangerous designation of LATER” — dangerous indeed! 🙂 I’m having fun making it, Ica!

  6. John Reynolds February 15, 2019 at 10:32 am #

    I greatly appreciate the posting and the comments above. The focus on long-term flourishing helps us find and define our common purpose. Getting the related categories down to five areas helps keep the key values in memory and in focus so they’re easier to practice, develop, and discuss. Having such clear and concise yet flexible values opens up excellent opportunities for collaboration and effectiveness. However, I find that the hardest thing is to come to agreement with others locally about narrowing down and sticking to the five or so things/categories that we should focus in on in order to pursue LTF collaboratively. Here is where things fall apart. Discussions, directions, and practices seem to morph back into the 34+ things. Sill, it is encouraging to find colleagues–near and far-who are willing to work on focusing in on and working out T6T.

  7. Alex Murphy February 17, 2019 at 5:49 pm #

    Dude, you are a Godsend. Thank you. I’m 25 and just starting to see how my career choices are stacking up against those of my college friends. When I get into that comparison game, I get hardcore FOMO (and, frankly, sometimes depressed). But when I remember that my JOB is to help kids grow up and learn things, well then I don’t feel so bad. Reminders like this one are so, so encouraging. Thanks, man.

    • davestuartjr February 17, 2019 at 6:13 pm #

      Alex, thank you so much. I really appreciate it!

    • Ica Rewitz February 18, 2019 at 6:21 pm #

      Alex – Dave is SO ENCOURAGING. I found him a few years ago, and he has been very inspiring. Try NOT to compare your profession to others because there will be so many things that are potentially frustrating, and yet, we GET to work with teenagers (or children.) We GET to inspire them and share our love of our content. We GET to be creative in figuring out how to do so! Dave has helped me to keep this at the front of my mind so that other things don’t feel quite so discouraging. Thanks, Dave! And thanks, Alex, for reminding us to consider how we might help some of the younger or newer teachers in our own buildings.

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