The other day I was working with a group of Kindergarten teachers, otherwise known as the saints of the teaching world, when a second-year teacher gave me some words of wisdom that I think God intended me to hear. She lamented that the first time she tried to have her students use scissors it was a disaster. So much so that she went home and told her mom, a retired Kindergarten teacher, that they were never using scissors again. Ever.
Her mom gave her some advice, which has been reverberating through my mind ever since: The first time you do ANYTHING with Kindergarteners, it’s a disaster. Just expect it. And know that it will get better the more you do it.
I think that advice may not be just for Kindergarteners. It may apply to any person, or group of people, no matter their size.
I think about the first time I tried to ride a Razor scooter – I’m lucky I didn’t end up at Urgent Care with a tree-shaped dent in my forehead. Or the first time I modeled a lesson in front of a teacher – the lesson went too long, I hadn’t planned out EXACTLY what to say during the think aloud, and the kids left the lesson confused and befuddled.
I brought up this scissors story to a different group of teachers during a lesson study in which we decided to try revision stations from Kate Messner’s Real Revision . We planned each station, prepared the materials, and tried to anticipate students’ confusions. But the teachers were still worried that it wouldn’t work. Well, guess what? The first time, it probably won’t! It might even turn out to be a complete Kindergarten-Scissors disaster. But that doesn’t mean there’s not value in the attempt.
If we gave ourselves room to have a nuclear-meltdown disaster every time we tried something new, and just expected it to not go well, then I’m guessing we might be pleasantly surprised at least half the time. And that’s a WAY better feeling than the anxiety and frustration that comes with expecting perfection and not getting it.
Some might think this is a pessimistic way to look at things, but I actually think it’s the opposite. It’s giving yourself permission to flop at something the first few times you try it, to expect it to be less than perfect. And to be optimistic that it will improve a little, with every future attempt.
Expecting disaster could make us more daring and willing to try a new strategy. And in the process we might end up being kinder to ourselves.