There is a new song on my radio, and we’re playing it on Alexa about twelve times a day lately. It’s provocatively called “Dream Small.” It’s a Christian song, so the overall message will not resonate with some of you, but I want to extrapolate, if I may, and say something that’s been on my mind.
My Twitter feed, Facebook feed, Instagram, and email are full of them right now: announcements, invitations, must-reads, must-sees, must-goes. If you had the money and freedom, you could fill every waking hour of every day with professional development this summer. Not just this summer – this month, and last month, and the month before that. More than any time in my now 14 years in the education field (I know, just a baby compared to some), the professional development opportunities have grown on a scale I can’t even describe. Are you Google certified? National Geographic certified? Caught the #FlipgridFever? Ditched the textbook? Climbed the digital summit? Teaching like a pirate yet? Certified OPI tester yet? Deskless yet? Backward planning your next year? Lifted off to more CI? Nailed down the difference between OWI and OWL – and doing them both?
Blood pressure up yet?
Don’t buy the lie you’ve got to do it all.
Don’t get me wrong – the digital revolution coupled with the comprehensible input revolution have, well, revolutionized our field, in absolutely amazing ways. I believe these opportunities are improving teachers’ practice like never before! Teachers are energized, connecting with their students, making a big difference.
But there is a group of us that I want to caution here: pregnant teachers and teacher moms of young children.
If you know me, you know I have three precious children. They’re 9, 5, and 5 right now (I’m in that month of the year where I keep explaining, “No, they’re not twins, they’re Irish twins- born exactly 11 months apart”). They’re growing and changing, learning to read, learning to bike, learning to navigate the world around them. In the last few days I’ve had to explain the term “child abuse” and the concept of body hair. Every day is a new adventure.
Facing these adventures used to drain everything from me- everything except resentment. If I didn’t have to answer all their questions, maybe I’d know how to use Flipgrid. If I didn’t have to make 13 meals a day, maybe I’d have fewer drafts and more published blog posts. And many of you know for the last four years I’ve been homeschooling them. If I didn’t have to check those division problems, maybe I wouldn’t have a teacher’s burning question sitting in my email dated 6 weeks ago.
I’m done with those musings, and the peace is addictive. I want to encourage you to fight for that peace in three ways.
Make a done list, not a to-do list.
This is one of the best pieces of advice I received from seasoned moms to a new mom. At the end of the day, instead of looking at a long to-do list and wondering why you couldn’t get to it, make a list of the things you did do. Do it mentally if you have to, but better yet, write it down, or tell your husband or best friend or someone. Did you fix breakfasts? Put on any makeup? Fold anything at all? Grade a few quizzes? Read a blog post that gave you a low-prep idea for your current unit? Pick up a teacher-appreciation gift for your child’s preschool teacher? Tell someone about it!
If you must to-do, count partial as done.
Okay, so I do have a to-do list. I use Todoist to keep track of projects I’m working on but also just tasks I want to keep up with around the house. I find it satisfying to check off things as I accomplish them. But here’s another great lesson I learned after my first (reflux-afflicted) daughter was born: I had to be satisfied with getting some of the dishes done. And I am still loving the power of 15 minutes. I can set my timer, grade some assignments, and when the timer goes off, the task is checked for today. Here’s the catch: the task appears every day. Todoist lets you set up a task for “every day” or “every Mon Wed Fri” or “every weekday” and so on. If I so much as put a load of laundry in the washing machine, even if it doesn’t get dried or folded, “laundry” gets checked off. Partial is done, and I’ll see that task again tomorrow.
Compare apples to apples, if you must compare.
A few years ago I left all personal use of Facebook and these days I’m fairly inactive on any sort of social media. I turned off all my notifications and don’t open the apps regularly. Why? I am a sucker for sinfully soul-crushing comparison. Why can’t I be as prolific as him? Why don’t I get invited, liked, retweeted, consulted like she does? Why aren’t my students’ writing and speaking samples looking like those students’ products?
Enough of that. Social media has revolutionized how we can connect, get and share ideas, but it’s also dangerously reshaping everything from how bullies hide and pounce to how our brains are wired. I doubt we’ll know the real consequences for a hundred years.
When I used to compare my diaper-changing, exhausted foggy existence to some superstar ACTFL or TPRS author’s brilliance aloud, my husband would ask me to think about this other person’s phase of life. How many children do they have? What age are those children? The answers freed me. If they did have children, these children were grown. Many people who write amazing resources for the rest of us are not the primary caregivers for multiple young children. And the few who are? They are not in the classroom anymore. Look around and show me the mom of 2-4 kids who teaches 140 students a day while her phenomenal TeachersPayTeachers resources are funding her determination to only drive a Lexus and travel internationally twice a year. She doesn’t exist. We fall into a trap of taking the characteristics of really good individual teachers and putting them together in our minds to build this superstar teacher consultant publisher writer designer traveler mom, and she does NOT EXIST. How much time have we wasted comparing ourselves to people who do not face our circumstances?
But here’s the thing: one day those will be your circumstances. This pregnancy will end and so will the nausea and the swelling in your ankles. Your children will not always need you to wipe their noses (and everything else). Cherish the sweet moments, knowing that you will not have those moments for long. And in the difficult moments, when you feel the most creative thing you’ve done today is mix banana with avocado, know that the way it is now is not the way it will always be.
Briefly, back to social media…
Regarding how social media pushes us to constantly compare ourselves, I’m not suggesting you disconnect, not entirely. But make some rules. Consider these questions:
- Could you set a particular time of the year you don’t receive social media notifications? Like December and July, for example?
- Could you severely restrict your use of particular tools, like only family and friends you personally know on Facebook? Only professional use of Twitter? Limiting yourself to only 2 or 3 social apps so you have to trade one for another if you’re going to join a new one?
This is critical. Identify the sources of the message that you’re not cutting it, that you’re not reading enough, not signing up for enough workshops, not helping enough with the conference, and send them packing.
A tiny rock can make a giant fall, so dream small.
The freedom for professional development may or may not be there in the future. I know that at least for next year my kids will be in a regular school setting. I’m openly excited about the freedom my creative side is going to enjoy (I hope!), but I cannot predict what my future will hold. I do know that in this day, I am at peace as I dream small, in the shape of three towheads we call “Team Cottrell Cuties.” And though coming to this place was a journey through darkness whose depth very few know about, I have finally found peace in touching a piece of eternity every day.
The rest of the world can wait on me or not. For now, I dream small.
And if you care to hear the song, it’s fantastic:
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