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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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A photo of the word "2015" written with fireworks.

You don't accidentally climb Mt. Everest. People who set out to ascend that peak often make it to the top. Some don't. But I promise this: if you don't try to climb Mt. Everest, you won't.

You don't accidentally have an awesome year. You don't accidentally learn something new (not usually, anyway). People who put themselves in the position to learn end up learning.

St. Jerome says, "Begin to be now what you will be hereafter."

Put yourself in a position to make 2015 epic. But first, you'll have to get up the gumption. Gumption is a word we use in the southern U.S. although it's of Scottish origin. It means "spirited initiative." It can also mean resourcefulness. Let's make it simple. Here are three steps for getting up your gumption to achieve greatness this year.

1. Learn From Mistakes and Move On Smarter

While I was looking up "gumption," I waited an extra moment too long and burnt the bottoms on a batch of chocolate chip cookies! So I called the kids, poured tall glasses of cold milk, and we scraped off the burnt bottoms. After we had a few laughs, we mixed up another batch together and popped them in the oven for the event tomorrow. We made the most of the mess. We started over.

The person who doesn't make mistakes doesn't make anything. Hundreds of thousands of people didn't burn cookies today because they didn't make any! I mess up all the time. William Gladstone says, "No man ever became great or good except through many and great mistakes." If you marinate in the acid of your mistakes, you'll dissolve your will to take risks tomorrow.

Epic Action Item #1

Get up your gumption by learning what you can from your mistakes. Stop now and reflect on your mistakes. Make a list of how you can do better next time or avoid the mistake. Move forward.

2. Set Audacious Goals

There are those who have had the same resolution ten years in a row. There are those who hang their head like Droopy Dog moaning, "Oh me" -- without considering how easy it is to start saying, "Oh boy!"

Try this experiment. Look around you for the color blue. You'll see it everywhere! Then look for red. There it is! Then look for orange. What you look for tends to jump out at you. If you look for negative, you'll find it. If you look for ways to achieve a goal, you'll start seeing ways to make it happen.

This past year, I finished my second book and am working on my third. I really wanted to finish it over the summer. Alas! My plans were interrupted when I realized that a new building under construction at school needed my attention. But this year, I'm going to keep climbing my Mt. Everest.

An old Chinese proverb says, "The man who waits for a roast duck to fly into his mouth must wait a very, very long time." I'm not going to let the fact that I didn't finish that book last year keep me from pushing forward. I'm going to push forward and get it done!

You have a big audacious goal that you want to attempt. You have your own Mt. Everest. What are you looking for this year? Defeat? Or a way to make it happen? If you want certain defeat, don't try to win.

Epic Action Item #2

Get up your gumption by setting one big goal. Take some time to list all of the goals that you'd like to achieve. Keep this list with you over a few weeks, and each time your thoughts return to one of them, make a mark beside that goal. While you can have more than one, pick one audacious goal. Write it on a card. Keep it with you in your wallet. Read the goal to yourself. Take steps toward creating habits to help that goal become closer to reality.

3. Make Epic Memories

One of my favorite books of 2014 was A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. The author, Donald Miller, says:

If. . . a good story [is] a condensed version of life -- that is, if story is just life without the meaningless scenes -- I wondered if life could be lived more like a good story in the first place. I wondered whether a person could plan a story for his life and live it intentionally.

I've decided that I want to make a scene -- not drama in a negative, draining way, but memorable scenes.

Like this past Sunday when I was watching three-year-olds at church. I decided that I was going to be epically involved with them. We sang songs. We told stories. I wasn't watching them play -- I was playing, too. When I was done, a precious girl held my face in her little chubby hands and looked at me. She said, "Miss Vicki." I looked her in the eyes not knowing what was next. She continued once she had my full attention. "I luv you!" (And yes, she pronounced it "luuuuuuuv.")

I am tearing up thinking about it. Because now that I view my life as one of the stories I write, I'm always looking for memorable scenes. I'm looking for out-of-the-ordinary things to celebrate. I'm looking for the dramatic and the unusual.

Because I don't remember the thousands of Sundays when I watched children. I remember the one when I played with the children. I don't remember the thousands of Monday mornings when I got up and drank my coffee. I remember the one when I put on my headphones and danced around the room to "Hooked on a Feeling." I don't remember the hundreds of days that I had a lesson plan. I remember the day when the kids dressed up as actors to do a news report on new technologies.

We forget the ordinary days. We remember the unusual ones. So if we want a memorable life, we've got to start making memories.

Jump in the pool with your clothes on. Dance with a baby. Run with the dog. Overcome that horrific obstacle to achieve your dream. Your epic year starts with how you savor every moment. Your epic year starts with you.

Epic Action Item #3

Get up your gumption to do something out of the ordinary today. Determine that you're going to get out of the ruts of your past and do extraordinary things to make memories. Do something different.

My hope for you is that you’ll take these three steps and do them. Life is hard, but it's harder when you lack the gumption to move forward. Life can also be epic. Let's be epic. Let's make 2015 our best year ever. We can do this.

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TODD SENTELL's picture
TODD SENTELL
Author of the hilarious schoolhouse memoir, "Can't Wait to Get There. Can't Wait to Leave"

CREATE MEMORIES. CREATE A NICKNAME

One of my proudest teaching moments came when I gave a little professor-type kid the perfect nickname. His existence on Earth begged for a nickname and I believed I was placed on Earth with the one mission of coming up with his nickname. I was profoundly moved by this revelation. I was shocked that it wasn't his real name already.

Anyway, I'd been noodling over my final selections for some time ... weeks ... and the day came when I officially bestowed my decision upon him in class in front of his classmates. Everybody freaked out with its dead-on accuracy. The victim was pleased with it, too. He thought it was perfect.

Later that day at lunch I was sitting at the teacher table and I told my teacher buddy, Gary the math teacher, to look over at the kid and while he was looking at him that I was going to utter the perfect nickname I came up with for him. Gary started looking at him and then he said, "Okay, say it."

I said, "Winkelberg."

Gary said, "Good Lord that's perfect. He really is a total Winkelberg!"

I breathed again into Gary's left ear," Winkel ... berg." I was so proud.

(1)
Betsy's picture

I love this! The first sentence of this is the best ever!

(1)
Sarah Z's picture
Sarah Z
Reading Instructor, Tutor and Blogger focused on improving education for struggling students

Great article. I love your "Action Items." Too often people think of improvement, especially New Year's resolutions, as simply changing something they don't like. The idea of improving by setting out to achieve or create something is much more powerful.
And getting started, actually taking the time to focus your effort on making steps to achieve your goal, even if it's only 10 minutes at a time, is key.

Norah's picture
Norah
Early childhood teacher, writer, life-long learner

It is great to see just three easy steps and action plans. Much more achievable than a longer list. Best wishes for your journey up Mt Everest in 2015.

Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher's picture
Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher
Computer Fundamentals, Computer Science and IT Integrator from Camilla, GA

Thanks Sheila! Awesome that you'll be at ISTE. Make those memories - you'll be so glad that you did!

Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher's picture
Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher
Computer Fundamentals, Computer Science and IT Integrator from Camilla, GA

This is fascinating. As long as Winkleberg loved it - but in some ways it implies a wink with a twinkle in the eye and an iceberg that goes so very deep. I'm wondering if that was intentional. I LOVE THAT NAME. (As long as he loves it too.) Kids can be funny with nicknames. I do give many of them but there have been a few times kids didn't want one and I respect that too. It is about having that kind of relationship of give and take. ;-) Love it.

Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher's picture
Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher
Computer Fundamentals, Computer Science and IT Integrator from Camilla, GA

Thanks Betsy. I say this to my students ALL THE TIME. I tweeted it out a month or so ago and people went CRAZY retweeting it. I guess it is one of those things you don't know resonates until your PLN on Twitter says - HEY IT RESONATES. Now I tell it to teachers every time I speak. Glad you love it. ;-)

Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher's picture
Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher
Computer Fundamentals, Computer Science and IT Integrator from Camilla, GA

I agree Sarah. Because often those things you DO go forward to replace those things you don't like. For example, I decided that I'd start working out each morning "at the point of delerium." So, I roll out of bed, dress and run into the workout area and do daily burn really before I have time to think about not doing it. I'm more awake during my quite time and I feel great all day. If I don't have a lot of time then I aim for 10 minutes. But focusing on what we want to DO does help (at least for me) so much more than the "not dos". Thanks for commenting. I LOVE GETTING COMMENTS. It is like a present when I take time each weekend to scan the comments on my Edutopia blog posts. Thanks!

TODD SENTELL's picture
TODD SENTELL
Author of the hilarious schoolhouse memoir, "Can't Wait to Get There. Can't Wait to Leave"

Winkelberg loved it, all right. He loved any humorous and kind-hearted attention thrown his way. But it gets better ... so I wouldn't get in trouble I told his mother about the nickname ... just to make sure she was OK with it.

She had one for him, too, but it wasn't as good as mine!

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