Consistency, Improvement and Achievement

As a teacher, much of what I do is hidden in a classroom and is never seen by the public. For the most part, that isn’t a bad thing! Students need to be able to try and fail and learn without fear of the world judging their progress. But sometimes, it’s nice for the world to see our progress and celebrate our achievements.

One of the really big and visible projects that my students and I spend thousands of hours on each year is the UIL Theatrical Design Contest. Unlike most of the work that my students and I do on a daily basis, the theatrical design contest garners interest from parents, teachers, the community and administrators alike as it’s a pretty cool contest and has some nice hardware in the form of awards. 🙂

2019 SHS UIL Theatrical Design Team

Over the last 8 years, I’ve had the privilege of working with the team as co-coach. The other coach, Mindy, and I are pretty awesome partners. We balance each others strengths incredibly well and are able to keep each other motivated and moving forward when the other gets downtrodden. Thankfully, we haven’t yet been ready to give up on the same day!

As more and more school districts across Texas learn about the contest and hear about the awards and points the school can earn in UIL, the competition gets tougher. As a veteran team with lots of awards, we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to keep winning. And this isn’t easy! Especially when schools look to our team as the team to beat and learn from us on what to use and how to win! Eek.

SHS UIL Theatrical Design Group Entry, State Runner Up

But this post isn’t about the competition! This post is about the process, the system that we have created and what I have learned about coaching winners over the years. When I read (actually listened via audible) the book Atomic Habits by James Clear, all of the things that we do on a daily basis as coaches really solidified.

James Clear’s mindset is that true success and progress is created with incremental change. Working for 1% growth or improvement everyday. Clear also talks about how this 1% mindset pushes you to continually improve and refine the process. You aren’t swinging for the fences everyday. Your aren’t trying to hit a home run every time you come up to bat. You are just focusing on getting to first base every single time you come to the plate.

The purpose of setting goals is to win the game. The purpose of building systems is to continue playing the game. True long-term thinking is goal-less thinking. It’s not about any single accomplishment. It is about the cycle of endless refinement and continuous improvement. Ultimately, it is your commitment to the process that will determine your progress.

 James Clear, Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones

In 2013 when we won our first medal in Theatrical Design, Mindy and I looked at each other and said, okay… we can do this! SHS students had made it to the state meet prior to this year, but we had never been able to break into the medals. With this win, we reevaluated what we had done before and what we needed to do the next year to do better. And we did. We had two winners the next year. The next year we had 6 medalist with 2 being state champions.

And we have continued to have this level of success because we have created a solid system and continually refine what we do. After this last week, all I really wanted to do Monday was chill. But my students were already processing and thinking about next year. I talked with all of my classes and told them of the success of the last week and we celebrated our students medals. I invited students to be a part of the team and welcomed new interest.

We don’t even have the prompt for next year, but I have almost a dozen students already sketching, brainstorming and working on techniques that can help them achieve their goals for something that is truly 365 days away!

Why are they interested? Well, success breeds success, we know that. But I think some of it is that we are teaching skills that are applicable to so much more than one contest. Learning photoshop or how to draw in perspective are transferable skills that allow students to consider their world in much broader terms than previously imagined. While a student may use photoshop to create their poster for marketing, that student has also learned about graphic design and has useful job skills! While a student learns how to draw a set design in perspective, those same skills are the base skills for architecture and industrial design.

Never Miss Twice

https://jamesclear.com/good-habits

Finally, James Clear talks about simple things you can do to build better habits and one of his tenets is to NEVER MISS TWICE. I love this mindset. In the world of art and theatre where so much of what we do is subjective and difficult to judge, I’ve taken the NEVER MISS TWICE mindset to heart. I use this in my classroom with students about deadlines. I use this for my personal accountability. I use this in all aspects of life. And we use this coaching this contest.

Yesterday, I asked students to reflect on what they learned during this last year of work and what they would tell students as they began their journey for the upcoming year. Much of what they said embodies the mindset of NEVER MISS TWICE. Like, time management and research, owning design decisions and following through with these decisions.. and so much more. I’m sure that it is odd to many that I would claim the concept of NEVER MISS TWICE in the art world. But really, so many times one off day leads to a week of wasted efforts. One decision made in haste requires a truckload of more work. It is so easy to compound the problem because you aren’t willing to address the problem head on and instead of dealing with it once, you deal with it twice or three times or more!

And there you have it. My thoughts and reflections from this past week in terms of achievement and growth. If you haven’t read the book Atomic Habits, you should.

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