Saturday, April 13, 2013

Brick by Brick, Bird by Bird, Step by Step

I saw this post today and reposted it through my Writing Matters account. The post is about a word wall and how a teacher improvised and adapted the use of a word wall and the surprising results.

The post reminded me of one of my favorite books about writing, Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. In the book she tells of the incident which gives the book its title.

Front CoverThirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a  report on birds written that he'd had three months to write. It was due the next day. We were out at our  family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen  table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper  and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother's shoulder, and said, "Bird by bird, buddy.  Just take it bird by bird."
I used that, among other things, in my freshman writing classes. Too often we are "immobilized by the hugeness of the task." Some tasks are truly huge, and other just seem huge. For freshman writing students, sometimes just writing was huge. . .procrastination aside. The blank page, the blank screen, taunting them.

I know a lot of folks think teaching is easy. After all, teachers have short days and work only 9  months a year. Right? Not so much. Those who really know teachers are quite aware that their days begin early and end late, continuing after the family is fed and the kids abed.

I know a lot of folks think education needs a complete overall, and I'm inclined to agree with them. But so does our tax system, our medical and health care system, and a bunch more. Whether in the camp of those who want radical changes or those who see the need for incremental changes, the fact is that we cannot institute change overnight.

I get to talk to administrators and teachers around the country. I learn so much from them!! But when I asked a group of administrators about priorities, one sighed and blurted out, "Even my priorities have priorities."

And so I swung into gear with my "Choose just one!" mantra. Just one thing. Choose just one thing you want to get done this week. Just one. Choose just one thing you want to get done this month. Just one. Choose just one thing you want your teachers to know or do before the end of the school year. Just one. Choose just one thing you want your teachers to know or do before school starts next year. Just one.

Everything is important but you can do only one thing at a time.

Just one.

Bird by bird.

Brick by brick.

Priority by priority.

Just make sure that each priority, each thing, each activity gets you and your teachers closer to achieving the vision as articulated by your plan. And if you don't have a vision for where you want to be or a plan for how to get there, little of what you do will accomplish much. So if you don't have a vision and you don't have a plan, that's the one thing, the only thing you work on. Right now, for now.