Sunday, September 16, 2012

The perfect is the enemy of the good.

"Le mieux est l'ennemi du bien."
'The perfect is the enemy of the good.' 
- Voltaire

Those who know me know that I am not a philosopher.  A brain-stormer? Definitely.  Doer? Yup.  Deep thinker? Hardly.  The quote above doesn't come from my reading of Voltaire, rather from hearing it in the pub somewhere talking shop with family or friends.  In fact, I had to google the quote to source it.

I share this quote, though, because it speaks to the heart of what may be our biggest challenge at Blackstone Valley Prep: sustainability.  We hired the members of this team because we believe in people who are driven to dramatically change the course of young peoples' lives.  We believe that our teachers are urgent about closing achievement gaps and raising the bar for all. We believe that the BVP team believes in every one of our young people - 100%.  Indeed, this is hard work, and we celebrate hard work!  One phrase I've heard used to motivate scholars to push themselves is "the reward for hard work is more hard work."

What happens when you combine this urgency and push for excellence with our strategy of more time?  The immediate result: amazing outcomes for our scholars.  I have had the opportunity to watch tremendous lessons this year.  Classrooms look incredibly inviting.  Student work is celebrated publicly.  The trajectory of our scholars is very, very high.  And there is data to prove our model, both our own data and the results of others who espouse the same high expectations model around the country.

But what about longer term?
Couple pushing for excellence with a scheduled longer day, the actual work-day for teachers too often turns into eleven...or twelve...or more hours.  Add a commute to Newport, and, ... wow. Weekends?  If not serving scholars on one of the Opportunity Days, Saturday and Sunday are often spent planning, grading, or both.  To be sure, when at family events, the conversation (too) often turns to school the intended respite is undermined.  So what do we do?

Part of the answer:
Organizationally, based on meetings with a teacher committee last year, we are trying to tackle  sustainability head-on.  We made many attempts to improve communication of planned events outside of school time.  We have reduced the required number of Opportunity Days, and we have added additional stipends to hire team members to do the planning for these days.  Moreover, we have made some moves to build additional staff into our model to support teacher absences without lowering the quality of instruction for our scholars.

Another part of the answer:
"Martyrs" cannot be celebrated.  Working through a cold - definitely.  Coming in when you think you have mono - not okay on many, many levels.  Checking in during a maternity leave? Sounds great (send us pictures!).  Trying to grade papers or write plans from the hospital - no way!

Yet another part of the answer:
We need our super-motivated, highly urgent, perfectionist team to look into themselves and say, this work is good enough, and then go home, or to the movies, or the gym, or the pub.  The cost of getting to perfection is, indeed, too often too high.  The break might even help process the solution to the work...surely there's brain research out there on this topic.

But short of that imaginary thirty hour day, know that "the perfect is the enemy of the good."  We must be able to continue to do extraordinary things for our scholars and still live full, meaningful, satisfied lives.  As long as we communicate with one another what we can and cannot reasonably accomplish in a reasonable amount of time, we will achieve excellence together.

And with that, I am signing-off to back-to-back soccer games for my two eldest...perhaps during the work-break my brain will accidentally stumble upon the right way to launch our much needed capital campaign....

No comments:

Post a Comment