Turning Over Every Stone

I’m not always very thorough.

I’m the kind of guy who too often starts asking everyone in my family if they have seen the ketchup after I quick-scanned a shelf in the fridge, only to have my wife find the ketchup on that very shelf and roll her eyes as she hands it to me.

“Did you even look?”

Or I won’t throw a snack into a bag for my daughters when we go to the playground because it just seemed like “too much work” only to return an hour later with too hangry kids screaming at their dad for being unprepared.

I think it’s part of the reason I don’t like to put on coats and hats and gloves on winter days.

Or why I often forget to respond to really basic emails or text messages.

Or why I sometimes do most of the dishes.

Or put away almost all the laundry.

I’m just not terribly good at finishing things, or following through on a task, or double-checking for certainty.

It’s hard for me to admit, mostly because my wife might read this, but I might be the kind of guy who leaves some stones unturned.

My wife though, she is completely the opposite. I noticed this again this week when she threw a house party for a few of her favorite candidates. In the last few years, she has filled her time finding the local politicians who are working the hardest to alleviate poverty and doing everything she can to get them elected. Working anti-poverty campaigns and going against the establishment and big money incumbents isn't typically a winning strategy, so she tirelessly knocks on thousands of doors, makes as many phone calls, sends emails and messages, and occasionally, tries to get some people to come to our small little duplex for a party.

This week, she invited three candidates in local races to a wine and cookie bash in our living room and sent out an invite to a few of her friends. I took note as she sent the invite a few weeks in advance and followed up by email the week before. Then, she individually started texting everyone who was a “maybe” on the facebook invite and asking them to come. She called people, she sent individual emails, and she followed up with every question.

In the end, there were about 30 people crammed into a living room that comfortably fits about 5 to hear a candidate for county council, a seat few of us even knew existed last year, talk about reformation in our county jail and how we are treating inmates.

It’s true, people generally don’t vote in local elections. But my wife has started to prove that voter turnout and engagement might be a fixable problem. And she proves that to me all the time.

We have a lot of fixable problems in education. And many of them just require us to be a little more thorough than we have been in the past.

Last week, while my wife was spending her days turning over every stone, I was trying to learn from her example in the classroom. We had done the planning for a perfect intervention. We had identified 18 students who needed some work in reading, and we had the availability of an interventionist who had the time to work with them.

All we had to do was inform the students, tell them why it was needed, find a room in which to work, make sure everyone was present on their intervention day, let other teachers know if they were missing classes, print any materials that were useful, get the interventionist all the information she would need to help each individual student, motivate the students to attend, remind them, and then sometimes go and find the students and personally persuade them to go to a little, kind of awkward, room for some small group reading instruction that they weren’t fully convinced they needed.

Easy, right?

The real work of education is in the sweat and effort of individualized intervention. It is in asking every question, thinking of every solution, exhausting all resources, and turning over every stone. It requires us to be much more thorough than I am used to being. It’s a double and triple check for the ketchup before I yell for help, it’s packing multiple snacks for our trip to the park, it is finding matches for all the socks before I jam them in my drawer, and it is washing the last two cups before I get distracted by something else.

Right now, after I write this blog post about being thorough, I should really be sending an email to the interventionist, the principal, and a few other people about our intervention last week and our schedule and plan for the next week. I should be making sure we are on the same page and that we know who is supposed to be where, when, and what they are supposed to be doing. I should be working to make sure now that everyone will be getting exactly what they need tomorrow. That will make for a really hard Monday. I’ll be busy, running, and doing everything I can to help it work well. But I’d rather leave that to someone else, or just hope that it falls into place.
I’m tempted to avoid turning over a few of the dirty rocks because it is kind of inconvenient.

But I think about my wife, who is probably thinking about how to follow up on her house party this week. She is probably thinking of ways to turn that moment into money, or votes, or more door knockers or phone callers. When her first email doesn’t get a response, she will probably start making some calls and visiting some houses because she knows that to get results you have to be thorough.

You have to turn over every stone. Our students deserve that.