One of One, Not One of 50+

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Eighth Grade Lunch with Mr. Taylor’s Advisory

At the beginning of each school year I enjoy hosting lunches for each of our eighth grade advisory groups so that I can connect with our oldest students in a smaller group setting as they embark on their last year in our school.  At these lunches I ask each group if anyone has any questions or suggestions for me.  At today’s lunch one student asked me how long I have taught.  There were looks of disbelief around the table when I mentioned that my first teaching job started in the fall of 1971.  The looks were understandable since that year is three lifetimes ago for our eighth graders.

Coincidentally, I had recently counted how many school years I have enjoyed as student, teacher, or administrator.  It’s well past 50 years and could be even higher were I to count some years when I had oversight responsibilities for a group of Jesuit high schools in a particular region.  I did not do this tally in order to pat myself on the back for my durability and staying power but rather to savor the gratitude I still felt as I began this year at All Saints’.  I am graced to have spent so many years in environments I love and that I find deeply enriching and engaging.

That in turn led me to reflect on something from that first teaching assignment, which took place at a Jesuit high school in Kansas City.  One of my colleagues there was a jovial Jesuit priest who at that point had been teaching Latin at the school for several decades.  Whenever anyone remarked about something that happened at school on a given day, the priest would chuckle and utter the following: “It happens every year!”  I found myself annoyed by that response, and I finally figured out the reason.  The priest, who clearly had admirable qualities of persistence and commitment, apparently did not embrace the newness- in fact the uniqueness- of every year.  From his perspective he had replicated the same year dozens of time, and in that approach is something unsettling and unsatisfactory.

So ultimately it matters less that this is my fiftieth+ school year than that 2014-15 is the one and only year that each of us at All Saints’ have been gifted.  If I do not embrace this year as precious and unique, I shortchange my eighth grade lunch companions and everyone else at our school.  If “it happens every year” is my default response, then I shall have ignored the special possibilities that this year offers.

Until next time…

My best,
Leo

The Virtue of Single Tasking

Since so many of us pride ourselves on how much work we can accomplish, myself certainly included, I think it time to make the case for the virtue of single tasking as opposed to the limits of multitasking.  Actually I do not have to make the case since multiple research-based cases have been made that multitasking is not all it has been cracked up to be. 

Of course the negative consequences of multitasking vary wildly in term of the damage done.  The most tragic consequence is chillingly and graphically presented in public service announcements urging people to refrain from texting and driving.  The case could not be more compelling, but this phenomenon has not been eliminated in spite of the dire warnings.  

On the other end of the spectrum are those moments of leisure where the stakes are not very high: reading a newspaper while glancing at the television perhaps with headphones sending music in our ears.  Perhaps in that instance we are not really multitasking; we’re escaping from all tasks through sensory overload.  

My concern is about those middle-range activities, important but not necessarily life-changing in and of themselves.  I include items like reading a book, writing a letter, paying bills, having a conversation, doing homework, watching a performance, or writing a blog. 

One can only conclude that we all think we are better at multitasking than the research evidence indicates.  If doing one thing is good, two is better, and on and on.  But we are definitely in the land of diminishing returns.  In fact we are not saving time, the quality of our task performance is diminished, and mistakes are more plentiful.  Nonetheless we resist these realities, perhaps because the menu of options for each of us grows daily.  There is no little irony that the term multitasking was first used to describe computer capabilities.  Alas, we are people, not computers.  (That’s good news, by the way.) 

For me a great aid to single tasking is list making.  Such lists have proven invaluable to me over the years as I have worked to sharpen my focus.  Lists need to be limited.  Otherwise we are sorely tempted to multitask since that is the only way to address (inadequately) a list that is too long.  Lists also need to be prioritized: first things first.  If on a given day, I have not accomplished one or more tasks on the list, it is most likely for one of two reasons.  My list is too long, or I have deferred a challenging task that ought to have been first on my to-do list- not last.  

Until next time… 

My best,

Leo