Good Enough

“Le mieux est l’ennemi du bien.” ~Voltaire

If there’s a lesson that this year is likely to teach me, it’s the value of saying good enough.

As usual, I’ve taken on a lot this academic term. Teaching five classes (three preps, two of which are new) in middle and upper school, serving as an Instructional Technology Facilitator, serving on the Faculty Evaluation and Review Committee, and creating a new club (Cooking 101). I suspect most teachers know this kind of busyness. Bill, for example, writes about his struggle to do the kind of formative assessment he’d like to and still have dinner with his family.

I constantly struggle with the desire for things to be perfect and that desire plus a heavy workload can be a recipe for disaster. This year, rather than aiming for excellence in everything, I’m looking for places where I can be “good enough,” as a means of keeping the boat afloat and having an enjoyable voyage. I’m far from a perfect system or mindset, but the following are some principles that have proved useful.

Spread out the good enough
It’s tempting to cluster your good enough efforts in areas in which you think are less important or less enjoyable. Maybe it’s the class that meets post-lunch or house cleaning or organization of your classroom or blogging. Spreading out the good enough doesn’t mean that there aren’t some areas that won’t get more of it than others, but if you’re always making good enough efforts in one area or for one class that can begin to shape how you view it. So clean your house with reckless abandon (or hire someone!), but only do that once every six months and the rest of the time clean it good enough. Prepare a beautifully designed, carefully-documented lesson occasionally for all your classes, not just the ones you like the best.  

Plan for the good enough
This seems somewhat counter-intuitive.  Isn’t the time for good enough when you haven’t had time to plan? It can be ok to say good enough in the moment. But I find if I do that, I’m more likely to feel like I’m slacking, which often leads to an ultimately unproductive mini-meltdown 🙂 Better to plan ahead for tasks/spaces in which you’ll do what needs to be done but no more.

If offered opportunities for good enough, take them
If a colleague offers to help out with something, say yes, even if it means things not being done exactly the way you might do them.  Don’t always feel the need to re-design activities from scratch. Beg and borrow. (I find spaces like Twitter and the English Companion Ning great resources.)

Help your students say good enough
This is particularly challenging at a school where one of the cornerstones of our mission is excellence and the bulk of our students continually push themselves to excel in an array of activities.  I found that giving students quick, informal feedback on their work can help alleviate those anxieties about expectations. I also try to follow up whenever, I get an email from one of my middle school students after 10pm on a week night to see what was keeping them awake and if there are adjustments we can make to help them say good enough and get some sleep.

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One thought on “Good Enough

  1. Meredith — A lot of wisdom in this post, ma’am. I’m a big believer in “good enough” … for some things.

    Last year our district changed its teacher evaluation program, pre-emptively stating that the vast majority of teachers would receive ratings of “proficient.” So, after more than twenty year of “excellent” ratings, last year I was rated “proficient.” If “proficient” is analogous to “good enough,” I now sort of have permission to aim for that level of performance when I so choose. My pride, conscience, and personal interests won’t let me do it for everything, but it’s sort of liberating to know that my employer doesn’t really seem to expect much more than that most of the time.

    Isn’t there also something in Outliers about the concept of “good enough”–that finding the sweet spots of certain activities is actually more efficient and productive than expending extra energy to max out everything? It’s better to be “good enough” and then move on to something new.

    If the focus at school directly involves students or writing, I’m OK with trying to give 110%. As we all know, there are manyother things in a teacher’s work life that are not too important. Those get a “good enough” approach.

    Gary

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