Perfectionism stops people from completing their work, yes — but even worse, it often stops people from beginning their work. — Elizabeth Gilbert
Middle school life is awesome.
There is so much hope at this age. So much optimism. So much willingness to try new things, to push the boundaries of what is expected, to create humor and fun at every turn.
Yet there are also subversive forces at work. Quiet fears and anxieties plague our teens as much as they do adults — sometimes even more so.
Problems with One Word 2020
The collection of OneWords pictured above gives me joy, yet it also gives me cause for concern.
I shot this picture one week after introducing the One Word idea to my eighth graders in 2020 and getting them started on what I thought could be a fun activity of self-expression, identity, and vision for the future.
One week. At least two separate blocks were set aside to work on these — maybe three. And here I was, looking at 16 completed pieces out of 28.
A week and a half later, the picture had improved a little. I now had 21 completed OneWords on the wall.
But that was still 25% missing — ten days after introducing the activity.
What was going on?
The Trap of Perfectionism
I talked to one of my missing seven about it. He was sheepish, freely admitting that this little art activity could and should have been finished by now.
“I don’t like mine,” he explained matter-of-factly. “I want to start it again.”
At a glance, it’s an admirable sentiment, isn’t it? High standards. The pursuit of excellence. The commitment to improvement. The idea that one is demanding better of themselves.
As committed professionals, we can empathize, because we’ve had those same thoughts as well.
But there’s a fatal problem, because perfectionism can kill production.
Those noble intentions of improvement and further iterations can be lost to the sands of time. Days turn quickly into weeks. New learning activities come and go.
And the One Word, the essay, the video project, the whatever-has-to-be-perfect … doesn’t get finished at all.
Shipped is Better Than Perfect
For some of our learners, we desperately need to see more effort. More thought and care. More attention to details. More personal investment.
We know that as they increase their commitment to the process, their learning will grow.
Those students are not the ones I’m concerned with here.
The ones I’m concerned with are capable of completing the task and meeting the learning target. But they hold such high expectations of themselves that their perfectionism becomes their prison. Fears of missing the mark — their own mark, mind you — hold them back from trying.
I think it was Seth Godin who first observed that shipped is better than perfect.
The idea being that as long as a product is sitting somewhere being thought about, dreamed about, improved upon, held onto because “it’s not ready yet” … it has no relevance in the world.
The finished product — whatever form it takes — may have its flaws. It may be criticized or judged. It may be rejected.
But at least it’s out there.
Engage the Gears of Momentum and Improvement
And once the work is out there, the gears of creative production become engaged. The iterative process gains traction. And the journey of growth and improvement becomes inevitable.
So it is with blogging. And vlogging. And podcasting.
All of these creative endeavors get uncomfortable. I have thoughts of regret and humiliation almost every time I hit publish, because nine times out of ten I am keenly aware of how the work could have been done better.
But I continue to ship, and ship, and ship, because I know that as I do, as I gain more reps, the confidence and mastery will come with time.
This is the all-important lesson I want to share with my students.
There comes a time when you must hit publish. When you must submit the work. When you must hand in the essay. When you must move on.
It may not be perfect. But it’s out there. It can be consumed by others. It’s in the conversation.
And it’s for that reason that shipped is better — way, way better — than perfect.
Dr. Francois Naude is an award-winning teacher, education engineer, co-founder of the Work Integrated Learning tracker, speaker, presenter, author, podcaster, consultant, mentor, entrepreneur, and Crossfit fan. Catch regular content from this former South African teacher of the year on his podcast and YouTube channel, both called Super Teachers Unite.
Questions, Topics, and YouTube Timestamps
5:18 – It’s story time! Please share with us about a low moment or an experience of adversity that you’ve faced in your teaching or education career, and describe how you overcame it.
11:53 – Francois, I want to start this conversation with Super Teacher. You’ve built your brand, YouTube channel, and podcast around this term. So here’s the all-important question: In your opinion, what defines a super teacher?
15:55 – You and I have shared some good conversations around content creation in the education space. We both enjoy sharing ideas through podcasts, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube. In your view, is content creation and networking a good move for every educator?
19:18 – As you look across your PLN and your own professional practice, what else is setting you on fire about education today?
22:37 – How are you looking to grow professionally and improve your practice right now? Can you share about a specific professional goal or project that you’re currently working on?
24:34 – Outside of education, what’s another area of learning for you? What is it that ignites your passions outside of the classroom and brings you alive as a human being? Tell us why this area interests you and why you enjoy it.
25:45 – Share about one personal habit or productivity hack that contributes to your success.
Voices and Resources That Spark Francois’ Thinking
On Twitter:#ZAEDU for all things related to South African education
In this edition of the Roundtable, host Tim Cavey connects with Rita Rai, Nadia Irshad, and Peter Anderson from Glarea Elevated Learning, a school that is charting a unique path to learning and instruction.
What is challenge-based learning, how does it help students, and how does it fit with inquiry and other approaches to instruction? You’re about to find out.
Select any of the timestamps listed below to jump to specific portions of the discussion. ⬇️
Listen to the Audio-Only Podcast Episode on Spotify
Catch the Next Teachers on Fire Roundtable LIVE
As of this post, I’m still appearing weekly on YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter at 8:00 a.m. Pacific/11:00 a.m. Eastern. I’d love to see you join us and would be happy to feature your questions and comments on the show!
RILEY DUECK is a sixth grade teacher in Surrey, BC, Canada. At the time of our recording, he was a second year educator, speaker, innovator, blogger, and the host of the Not Many of You Should Become Teachers podcast.
In his first year of teaching, Riley and his sixth grade colleagues were trying to address some negativity among their students. Even as they planned some fun events before spring break, the complaining from some corners didn’t seem to let up.
Peak frustration came one day for Riley as he was doing his best to hype one of these term-end activities with his class. As he was speaking, one student loudly interrupted him with an obnoxious “NOOOOO!”
Shocked, Riley admits to returning some verbal fire and letting this student know in no uncertain terms that their interruption had been extremely rude. But later in the day, when Riley found some time to follow up privately with the student, he discovered that the interruptor had actually been excited about the events Riley described and in fact was crushed that a family vacation would take him away from school a day before these fun events.
Riley realized that the student hadn’t been frustrated with him or his plans at all – just frustrated that his family’s travels meant that he would miss out. Thankfully, Riley was able to completely restore the relationship, and by the time they parted ways for spring break, all was well again. The incident was another good reminder for Riley that student behavior is often not exactly what it seems. There’s often more to the story.
How Can Faith Integrate with Learning?
Riley works at an independent faith-based middle school, so I put to him the question: why does faith belong in K-12 contexts at all?
Riley explains that a faith-based school wasn’t actually his original plan. Fresh out of university, his plan was to teach in a public setting where he would be able to work with underserved children. Hiring didn’t go quite the way he envisioned it, however, and months of soul-searching about his core values and mission led him to reconsider the path forward.
When a last-minute opportunity to take a sixth grade teaching position appeared, his initial misgivings melted away, and he started to see the positive aspects of teaching in a faith community as a person of faith. He thought about the ways in which his beliefs, passions, giftings, and creativity could be used to inspire students and actually “teach in ways that are authentically Christian.”
Riley isn’t interested in the traditional trappings of religion or Christian culture; instead, he’s passionate about showing students what it means to experience a real relationship with their Creator and love the world as he does. Other factors included the chance to coach volleyball and participate in international service initiatives in Africa and around the world – two other core passions that align with his values.
Finally, after taking the time to consider all angles, he decided to accept the offer to teach sixth grade in a faith-based school, and it’s been a fantastic journey so far. Every day, Riley is grateful for the opportunity to use learning experiences to lean into the life and love and restorative work of God in the world.
Not Many of You Should Become Teachers: the Podcast
Riley shares a passion for content creation. For years, most of his creative energies were directed to YouTube, but in recent years those energies have moved into podcasting. The podcast medium has become his medium of choice for discussions of faith and learning, and he enjoys doing exactly that with co-host Dave MacFarland, another former guest of Teachers on Fire.
The Not Many of You Should Become Teachers podcast takes its title from a warning found in the Bible’s book of James, where the author describes the critical importance of education. It’s an activity not to be taken lightly, the ancient writer implied. On the podcast, Riley and Dave maintain that spirit by exploring the field of teaching as a high calling and grand responsibility.
The podcast is also meant to start and continue discussions around Christian education today. What is its role and place in modern society? What should its mission be? What should a holistic study of the integrations between faith and learning include? In Riley’s view, the podcast fills a need for more critical conversations in these spaces. Although the hosts speak from the context of a faith-based school, Riley feels like public school teachers who have an interest in the intersections between faith and learning will enjoy their content as well.
How Does Content Creation Lead to Learning?
Riley looks back at his high school media classes as the catalyst for his current passions and activities around content creation. As an enneagram 7, the fun of trying new things, creating, sharing, and starting conversations easily overcomes the fear of creation and hitting the publish button that many wrestle with. Learning opportunities simply become more fun and engaging when we’re creating.
Riley’s also a believer in the growth mindset and the power of learning from mistakes; it’s when we step out of the comfort zone and take risks that we’re likely to grow the most. The people who have made the biggest impact in the world are generally those who have taken the greatest risks and overcome fears of failure, and this applies to relationships and community-building as much as it does to technology and communication.
Another Source of Fire in His Practice: Teaching Math
Something else that is setting Riley on fire in his practice at the moment is teaching Math. He regards Robert Kaplinsky as one of his key mentors in this area. “He’s a Math-teaching genius,” says Riley. “Anything that can be made problem-based in my Math class has become problem-based.”
From Kaplinsky, Riley has learned how to offer lower floors (easier on-ramps) for engagement and learning while also offering higher ceilings and opportunities for further growth and extended learning.
A Professional Goal: More Indigenous Integrations
Riley has a couple of professional goals on the go. One of them is to do a better job of integrating First Nations content and pedagogy throughout his teaching practice. He sees a natural congruence between the Christian value of reconciliation and curricular mandates to recognize indigenous cultural values and ways of knowing.
Learning from Travel
“I love travel and tourism and the leadership opportunities that come with that,” Riley says. He’s worked with AirBnB to offer tour experiences in downtown Vancouver, and he’s the sort of traveler that carefully researches every aspect of future trips in order to absolutely maximize his time and take advantage of every opportunity in foreign destinations.
Essentialism: Doing Less to Do More
“I have a love-hate relationship with productivity and self-help,” Riley laughs. He points to Gregory McKeown’s Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less as a book that shaped his thinking in a profound way in terms of narrowing his focus and avoiding overwhelm. Contrary to conventional thought, we can actually be more effective and productive by doing less, McKeown argues.
Voices and Resources That Spark Riley’s Thinking
On Twitter, Riley recommends following @TobyATravis. He’s the superintendent of Village Christian Academy in Fayetteville, NC, and he’s got a grounded vision for what Christian education can be. He also points to his podcasting co-host, @MrMcFTeaches, as someone who tweets a lot of valuable insights around teaching, current events, social studies, faith and learning, and more.
When asked for an edtech tool pick, Riley shouts out Google Classroom. He’s continually impressed by the ways that Classroom improves and continues to serve educators and students well. Follow Google Classroom on Twitter @GoogleForEdu.
On YouTube, Riley still enjoys the legendary PewDiePie. PewDiePie is a reader, a thinker, and an excellent commentator on what is going on in the world. He uses clever memes to communicate his message, and he’s simply entertaining.
At the time of this recording, Riley had cancelled his Netflix subscription. His entertainment choices were skewing old school with Survivor Season 40.
As we said our goodbyes, Riley gave us the best ways to reach out and connect. See below for details.
Growth mindset and the Power of YET have put me on a new course.
In 2017, I began a Master’s program at Vancouver Island University. As I entered the program, I read a book that would change my life.
In Mindset, Carol Dweck writes: “When do people with the fixed mindset thrive? When things are safely within their grasp. If things get too challenging — when they’re not feeling smart or talented — they lose interest.”
I realized that there were steps I was not taking and moves I was not making — because they weren’t safe. They were risky.
But growth doesn’t happen in the comfort zone. After all, my fixed mindset was the reason it took me 16 years to begin working on my Master’s degree!
The Power of YET
As I read about the Growth Mindset I also learned about The Power of YET. You know about the power of YET, don’t you? In our classrooms and for our learners, it sounds like this:
I don’t understand this Math concept … yet.
I’m not a talented artist … yet.
I’m not a tech person … yet.
The Growth Mindset says that anyone can learn anything if they will simply apply effort over time. As educators, it reminds us that we never know the full potential of our learners.
I’m Not a Podcaster … YET
As I continued to read great books and engage in rich education conversations, the Power of YET started to whisper in my ear in another way.
I’m not a podcaster … YET.
You see, as I made the 30-minute commute between Surrey and Burnaby each day, I wasn’t listening to sports talk or pop radio. I listened to podcasts — because I had an insatiable appetite for learning.
I started to dream. Could I start a podcast that profiled great educators? Could I share their amazing ideas and practices with teachers around the world?
Carol Dweck says that we can look back at what could have been, or we can look back and say I gave my all for the things I valued. And so I jumped on the track of content creation with both feet, knowing that as terrible as I was at the beginning, I would continue to grow and improve my craft over time.
Two and a half years, 166 episodes, and over 130,000 downloads later, I can safely say that the Teachers on Fire podcast is impacting the education conversation.
Creation in the Classroom
But how can this passion for creation shape our classrooms and practice?
For one thing, creative activities in the classroom challenge us to move AWAY from cultures of passive compliance.
David Guerin says the ones who are doing the talking are doing the learning. And according to Jennifer Gonzales, our learners need to be DOING something.
In the classroom context, this looks like …
Agency + Ownership
Design Thinking & the Design Process
Genius Hour + IBL + PBL
Voice + Choice
A culture of 5 Cs
So how does creation show up in my 8th grade classroom?
Through creative representations of learning on Seesaw.
Through collaborative design projects on Canva, Google Drawings and Slides.
Through authentic product development, marketing, and sales.
Through movie making on WeVideo and screencasts on Screencastify.
And of course, through podcasting, including the Gr8 Expectations podcast. One student is even starting his own podcast!
Educators Have a Mandate to Create
My #OneWord for 2019 was CREATE. Create new content, new learning, new relationships.
But why should other educators take part in content creation? Because content creation …
Allows us to reflect more deeply on our own professional practice,
Allows us to share our learning with others
Allows you to build relationships with other great educators — like Rose and Gabriel Pillay (the organizers of EdVent).
The Teachers on Fire podcast is my weekly Pro D session. It’s my scheduled appointment with great educators around the world. I learn something in every conversation, and every single guest shapes my thinking and inspires my practice further.
So let me ask you: How will you contribute to the education conversation?
Don’t let your fears stand in your way. Remember, growth doesn’t happen in the comfort zone.
We were created to create. So embrace the growth mindset, share your learning, and change the world.