“Finish what you start”

It’s taken me some years – decades, or more precisely over half a century – to learn to finish every project that I start.

I’ve become better at this task with the passage of the years and as a retired teacher I have the opportunity to finish many unfinished projects.

I now try to work in 90-minute sessions of uninterrupted work, before I take a break. I use a kitchen timer to keep track of my time.

Andy Iadinardi

Two people who in recent years have helped me to see the importance of task completion are Andy Iadinardi, a construction superintendent for whom I directed a digital portfolio some years ago.

When I interviewed him for another (as yet unfinished) project, he told me about how many things he’d learned from his father. He learned the value of hard work. He learned that idea of honesty – “If it isn’t yours, don’t touch it” – and he learned the value of task completion: “Finish what you start.”

Fanny G. Martin

Similarly, I worked as a volunteer with Fanny Martin in the spring of 2012 when she was Event Manager for Jane’s Walk. Here’s what I’ve written about her for a recent for a recent LinkedIn recommendation:

“Fanny Martin was Event Manager for Jane’s Walk when my colleague Mike James and I were planning our first Jane’s Walk in 2012. Fanny was great to work with. As first-time walk leaders, we found her advice was practical, precise, and highly valuable. We had a great walk in Long Branch, Ontario in May 2012 and two great Jane’s Walks in May 2013. We’re now experienced walk leaders and owe many thanks to Fanny Martin for helping us get us off to a great start. Among her best bits of advice: (1) Ensure that you approach a Jane’s Walk as being in the nature of a conversation, and (2) Whatever project you’re involved with, finish what you start.”

Finish what you start at the institutional level

I retired from teaching in May 2006. I feel blessed that I have the opportunity to to keep on learning new things. I’m a strong believer in continuous improvement in all that a person does.

Many delightful things come to mind when I look back at my teaching career and all of the great things that I learned, and all of the ways in which I was able to contribute to the lives of young people in my role as a public school teacher.

Mike James was principal at the school in Mississauga where I taught as an elementary teacher for eleven years at the final stage of my teaching career. He retired a few years after I did and now we work together in organizing and leading Jane’s Walks in Long Branch (in Toronto not New Jersey).

The information that we share in Jane’s Walk events is shared in very concise and brief chunks of information. We know from experience that that is what walk attendees – indeed, attendees at all manner of public speaking events – like to encounter.

Keep it brief and to the point

At the end of this year’s two Long Branch Jane’s Walks, I remarked to Mike, “It’s great that we don’t have to ‘cover the curriculum'”.  Mike James responded (I paraphrase), “We’re past that.”

‘Cover the curriculum’ is an expression that educators used to focus upon in the past. There are at least two possible approaches to the curriculum.

You can try to cover every last item listed on official curriculum documents, or you can focus on ensuring that students actually learn something. In many cases, just focusing on ‘covering the curriculum’ means you do just that – whether students learn anything or not.

I share these thoughts keeping in mind the context of my remarks. There is much value in ensuring that the basics are covered, and are learned, as a May 8, 2013 Toronto Star article notes. There’s much to be said for the concept of doing your homework. I make a point of doing my homework – of ensuring I research a topic, and plan what will happen – in all of the work that I do.

Excellence without rote learning and standardized testing

A discussion about education would in the past, as it does now, bring up the story of the successful Finish approach to public education.

A May 9, 2012 Globe and Mail article on this topic is entitled “How do Finnish kids excel without rote learning and standardized testing?”

Launching the ship

Where am I going with this discussion? I’ve been thinking of the things that I learned as a teacher. I learned many things and many mental pictures and images will always stay in mind. I spent more than three decades as a teacher, beginning as a substitute teacher at a parent-cooperative infant day care (the graduating age was age one-and-a-half) on McCaul Street in downtown Toronto starting in 1975.

One of the most cherished images that stays in mind is a mental picture that I encountered in an instructional book late in my career about ‘Backward Design’ of the elementary curriculum. The author of the book spoke of past curriculum fads and projects in the history of North American education.

The author said – and I paraphrase:

“Imagine the launching of a newly built ocean liner. There’s a tremendous ceremony. A bottle of champagne is smashed against the bow of the ship. Everyone stands at the harbour and waves good-bye. The ship is never seen again.”

The point the author was making was that a typical curriculum initiative in years and decades past has been like the ship. There’s a big launch. Off it goes. Everyone waves good-bye. The liner disappears under the horizon and is never heard from again. In time a new ship is built, and off it goes.

I recall meeting with a superintendent of education, a friend of Mike James, and talking about how much this mental picture from the curriculum text – which all of the staff at our school had been instructed to read – appealed to me.

I stil smile when I think of that metaphor.

I would add that public education has in fact evolved tremendously since the days that I began in the field. I strongly believe that now when the new ship is launched it will be followed closely on Google Maps and will not disappear forever under the horizon as it proceeds on its way across the ocean.

 

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