Thursday, January 30, 2014

How Do You Try New Things?

Those of us who live in the land of child care and education get TWO “new” years, two fresh starts. For most of us there is a fresh start in the fall and then another that we share with the rest of the world in January.

Last August, our staff decided that we were ready to integrate in-depth project work into our curriculum and started preparing during our work days. We invited Sandra Floyd, mentor teacher at Epiphany Early Learning Preschool (and friend of mine!) to visit us and share her stories and perspectives on in-depth projects with young children. Together, we made a plan for a relative timeline for beginning our own project work. Like most centers, our curriculum really deepens by the winter time. Groups have gelled and interests have ripened. In addition, since this will be a departure for our teachers, we wanted to take all the time we needed to change our systems and learn about negotiated curriculum before we jumped in. As a result, we chose January to be our turning point when we expected that teachers would invite children into our first small group projects.

There is a book by Cher Huber, called "How You Do Anything is How You Do Everything", and I bring this idea up often with teachers. If I look at how I left the house this morning (woke up late but cheerfully with my son, no real routine, enjoyed pancakes with my toddler, left the dishes in the sink, had to run back for raincoat and boots once I got outside and realized that it was raining, sang songs together and talked about big ideas with my partner in the car on our way to work) it tells me a lot about how I do a lot of things; not terribly organized or neat,very focused on some things to the exclusion of some others, involving love and fun, thinking about things and my favorite people. In this spirit, I invited our staff to think about how we started new things in the past to learn how we might start our project teams this year. 

We talked about leaving the country for the city, installing a toilet, quitting soda, presenting at a conference, bike commuting, learning to knit, practicing yoga and dozens of other new things we tried. Just listing all the new things had an effect on people; some seemed surprised at how many new things they'd attempted lately, and others had a hard time creating a list at all.

If you'd like to try this yourself, think about some new things you tried in the last few years (marriage, sushi, rock climbing, Spanish lessons) and narrow it down to one successful thing and one unsuccessful thing. Answer these questions:

Successful thing:
Not so successful thing:

Why did you try it?

Why did you try it?
What words come to mind when you think about doing this thing? 

What words come to mind when you think about doing this thing?
What were your positive thoughts before you tried it?
What were your positive thoughts before you tried it?

What were your negative thoughts before you tried it?
What were your negative thoughts before you tried it?

Did you try it alone or with a friend?

Did you try it alone or with a friend?

What helped you succeed?
Why didn't you succeed?

Together we discovered that different motivations, self-talk, and strategies worked for different people. Despite this, everyone felt that they learned something about themselves that would help them on their next new endeavor. 

Whatever new things you may be trying out in 2014, this collective wisdom may help you accomplish them!

What motivated successful tries? 
Because it's: healthy, necessary, expresses who I am.
I knew I could do it.
For the challenge
I like big changes.
To prove something to myself or someone else.
Cool people I wanted to be closer to
Doing something for myself
Looking for a new hobby
I was not successful at the opposite.
Why not?
I didn't have to if I didn't want to.
It would be calming for me.
Change can be fun.

What motivated unsuccessful tries?
I felt like I was ready mentally to do it.
I thought it would be healthy.
I thought it would help me find something to do with my hands.
I was interested in it.
People around me were doing it.
I think I should/someone told me I had to do it.

I wanted to prove something to others.

Words that come to mind when we think of the successful thing:
Successful, arduous, challenging, exciting, whole body, complicated, calming, fun, intimidating, accomplished, feel good, gutsy, new, beautiful, flexibility, practice, interesting, refreshing, success! fun, relief, proud, excitement, joy, effortlessness, sharing.

Words that come to mind when we think of the unsuccessful thing:
frustrating, boring, utter failure, procrastination, self doubt, shame, anxiety, new, finances, impatient, comfort, wanting to feel a different way than I do, conflicted, cognitive dissonance, she can do it so I can do it (Comparison) competition, tired, frustrated, bored, nope, defensive, Oh my god! Wanting to turn in on myself, embarrassment, pissed off, blaming ("It would have worked if only...") 

Thoughts we had before our successes
I can do this.
I love this.
This is going to be great.
I love change.
I'm going to be so ________ (Identity)
I don't have enough resources to pull it off.
Maybe I'm underestimating myself.
Who might this affect?
Will I have the follow-through?
I'm a fraud. I'm waiting for the other shoe is going to drop
How can I do it? (Making a plan.)
I can't do it. (Self doubt)
I've failed before.

Thoughts before an unsuccessful try:
people will love it!
salary or other extrinsic rewards
maybe I'll meet some interesting people (bribing yourself)
What if it's just like the last time? What if it takes for ever?
How could I ever do this?
What if it doesn't look/turn out the way I want it to?
I'm not... (Identity)
I don't think I can afford this.
Will I embarrass myself.
It's going to take a long time and involve a lot of details.
I think I'm going to succeed
I don't like what I am going to do.
This will be easy.
I'm afraid I might be scrutinized.
I'm afraid.
This will be a neat thing to try. 
It'll be great this time I just have to stick with it. 
It'll be so nice when this is all over. 
Wouldn't it be awesome to create?! 
No big deal, I'm ready. 
I can totally do this.

What helped you succeed?
I felt good doing it
I felt healthy and got out of my head.
I knew I could.
I had to do it.
I made an investment.
My passion for it.
I had support from a team.
Listening to others telling me I was succeeding in spite of my own judgments of myself.
I played to my strengths
I avoided comparing myself to others.
I trusted myself and others, let go of control. (For example, trusting my sister to make the onions at Thanksgiving!)
External accountability/peer support
A more flexible attitude, willingness to learn something
I brought someone else into the process.
I learned from my mistakes in the past.

Why Didn't You Succeed?
It takes so long, and it's SO boring... not fun. (It was a bad match.)
social opportunities
I didn't have natural ability 
I was working alone.
no support/guidance/resources 

This exercise and collected insight gives us a great opportunity to learn from the past in order to succeed in the present. How could you use this information to support a new endeavor? PTCC Teachers, has this collective wisdom informed you as you get started with project work?


  1. I wish I had been part of this conversation! What a wonderful, reflective exercise that honors the teacher as a learner and risk-taker. I can't wait to hear more about the project work.

  2. Thanks, Lise! It was a really rich hour and a half. I think that it's really helped teachers with their frame of mind as they move forward into the unknown. Everyone is responding with curiosity, eagerness, and a sense of fun despite their fears or insecurities. It's been fantastic, since any big change like this can bring out a lot of negative feelings. I'm proud of our teachers and we're just getting started!