The 'Best' Right Things aka "The Day After Perfect"

There are other posts I want to write but I can't do anything until I get this one out of my brain.

I've already posted about this quote a couple of times:

"Be brave enough to be bad at something new." It's from a motivational speaker, author, and entrepreneur Jon Acuff that I subscribe to. He's coming out with a new book called "Finish" and he released the first chapter. Everything in quotation marks in this post comes from that chapter.

I was reading it and re-reading it at the same time because it goes right along with the TMC-hangover we all deal with in some measure...the fact that we can't do everything.

We hear so many good ideas that we aren't doing that we forget about all the good ideas that we are doing.

And then we go home feeling like these other teachers are awesome all the time and we are awesome never. We start to make plans feeling like we need to shove every new idea into every inch of our lesson plans. If not...we're not doing the best thing for our kids. Right?
"The first lie perfectionism tells you about goals: Quit if it isn't perfect."
Well guess what? It's not going to be perfect. It's never going to be perfect. You aren't going to be perfect. Ever. Now that we have that out of the way, there is nothing to be afraid of! The door to better teaching is forever open to you!
"We will gladly give up the whole thing when we discover some error or imperfection in our performance."
We make posters about how important mistakes are for learning and growing but then we beat ourselves up for our own mistakes. We talk ourselves out of trying something new because making a mistake might....embarrass us? Scar the children forever? Make us lose control?
"Doing something imperfectly won't kill you."
It won't kill anybody expect that spirit of perfection that tries to keep you complacent. If you aren't growing....are you dying?

I live in farm country so I guess that explains why I keep comparing teaching to farming. Do farmers plant the same plant in the same ground forever? Or do they take breaks so the land can recover? Do they try new strains? Do they try new fertilizer? Do they try new technology?

At the end of the day they are still planting seeds and reaping a harvest as new tools come and go.

But here's the thing maybe we forget...every farmer starts with different soils. Different climates. Different weather patterns. Different seed batches. Different talents. Different pests. Different equipment. Each farmer has a learning curve and has a wide variety of areas to grow in. How does he decide which area to work on? Well, there's too many variables so he better try one thing and never change it forever.

Since when has too many variables stopped a math teacher?

It's important that we recognize how we are all starting with different soils- a different foundation. My foundation is building relationship with students. I'm really good at and it comes naturally- it's hard to even explain things that I do that make it happen. So when I am reaching for new tools, I'm reaching for things that fix my pacing, my curriculum, my rigor, etc because those are the areas where I need growth.
"The problem is that perfectionism magnifies your mistakes and minimizes your progress."
Twitter and blogs can put a magnifying glass on our mistakes because we see such a plethora of new ideas. But turn that magnifying glass on to your craft and your progress. Where do you see gaps? Where do you see low performance? Now when you look at new tools, use that magnifying glass to direct your focus. Pick the tools that are going to make the biggest difference for YOUR SOIL.

And realize that everyone needs different tools for different seasons.
"The harder you try to be perfect, the less likely you'll accomplish your goals."
If your goal is to be the best teacher you can be or to make a difference....you're not going to accomplish them perfectly. Do you even know what perfect would look like it? And if you let perfect scare you, then you aren't going to accomplish them at all. 

You are doing the right things. You are scared you aren't doing the 'best' right things. But if you are honest with yourself about your progress and trying new tools to fix problems, that's always going to be the 'best' right thing. And the energizing part is that there will always be a new problem to fix and a new tool to try. You will never run out of data to analyze or classes to experiment with.

Welcome to a lifetime of growing!! You're officially a farmer.
"The day after perfect is what separates finishers from starters."
So the day after perfect fails...when you screamed at a kid, when you said something inappropriate, when a lesson flops, when the whole class fails a test, will you give up forever? Does a farmer who makes a mistake go back and rip out every seed he's planted? I don't think there's a perfect harvest but there will always be hungry people willing to eat. And there will always be curious students who are willing to learn. They won't be perfect and you won't be perfect but together you will make things grow.
"The opposite of perfectionism is not failure- it's finished."


  1. Thank you! You don't know how much I needed just those words today. As I begin my 7th year, it feels just like my first because I always feel like I can do so much better. I needed the reminder of what I am doing and have done right and build on that instead of starting from scratch. Thank you for all the math love you share. I pray I can encourage others as you have encouraged me.

    1. I could not have made it without the encouragement of my twitter fam and blog commenters. We are in the encouragement business! We sow it and reap it whenever we need it.

  2. I just wanted to say THANKS! I read this yesterday after a really rough start to the day. I needed to hear these words!!

    I'm making changes this year and trying to get things going with interactive notebooks, trying to reach some struggling students, so truly appreciated these words.

    1. It's always scary to make changes but at the end of the day, are you serving your students better? We all do the best with what we know!