My wife, almost two-year old daughter, and I recently returned from a wonderful trip down to Disney. Regardless of what you think about Disney as an institution, the similarities between the organization and a school system are tremendous. So, it isn’t surprising that on the plane ride back, between singing the alphabet for the five hundredth time, and trying to teach my daughter that just because you can shake the seat in front of you, doesn’t mean you should, my brain was actively considering three very important lessons learned.
1. Regardless of how well you do something, someone will always do it better.
Instead of taking that as a challenge, we should take it as an opportunity to construct new meaning. Prior to our leaving for Disney, we thought we had a great plan for visiting the park with a young child. As we found out, while our plan was “workable,” many other families had better plans. So, rather than make up some sort of excuse as to why their plan wasn’t as good, or what advantages they had that weren’t available to us, we learned from them and adjusted our touring in subsequent days.
The same should be said of how we engage with our students and colleagues. No teacher is truly an expert in all things, and to ever believe that we can’t learn from others is a dangerous thought indeed. But, those who are better than us should be seen as teachers, not enemies, and it is important to approach a situation with a simple mantra: "I should leave this scenario knowing more than when I first entered it."
Our schedules are packed, and recent regulations in many states make it appear that they will only become tighter. No better example of this appears than when entering a Disney park. There is only a set amount of time available to walk the park, and lots of outside factors impacting your time (food, weather, naptime, etc.). So, it is important to think about your goals and focus on the priorities. Is the goal to ride a certain attraction? Visit a certain part of the park? Be back to the hotel for a lunchtime nap? These are important questions that must be answered, hopefully before you’re actually at the park.
Prioritizing in our classrooms or schools is no different. What must be done to make sure students benefit the most from their time with us? Who can assist with these tasks? What can be delegated? What constraints exist that might prevent us from meeting our goals? The key is that we will never be able to accomplish everything we want to, but we can accomplish everything that is of the utmost importance. And we should. We owe it to our students, colleagues, and ourselves.
3. Have fun.
When you walk into a theme park with thousands of people, it can be easy to forget the sheer wonder of the place and focus instead on the stressors. There’s a line just to get in? How can this ride already have a 2 hour wait? How much money did I just spend on that T-shirt? Why is the bus taking so long to get back to the hotel? While that type of thinking happens easily, and while that basic “disaster” mentality is likely a construct of our innate desire to always protect ourselves and those we love, it can deflate an experience very easily. So, instead of focusing on what you can’t do, focus on what you can. If all you get to is Dumbo, the teacups, and It’s a Small World, well, then rock on.
In our professional lives, we can’t forget this. If we’re having a rough day for personal or work-related reasons, we must do our best to focus on the fun. While recent data shows educators are less satisfied than we have been in the past, and while there is much to substantiate this feeling, our students are not to blame for this. Whether we are classroom teachers, building or district leaders, or curriculum designers, our students shouldn’t suffer just because we do. With all that many of them will be up against as adults, they deserve to have a little fun when under our care.