Sunday, October 6, 2013

Frog and Toad: A [Todo] List Lesson #cpchat #ilchallenge #savmp

Not long ago, I was reading Frog and Toad Together by Arnold Lobel, to my son. You know, the book from the early 70's about, well, a frog and toad who have silly, every day hijinks. While the reading level is a stretch for me sometimes, the stories teach some pretty simple lessons about getting along with others, being a good person, and the life and times of a public school principal.

What, Ed leadership lessons from Frog and Toad? Well, yes, sort of. Read on to find out more.

In one great story, "A List," Toad starts his day like principals the world over...

One morning Toad sat in bed. 
"I have many things to do," he said. 
"I will write them all down on a list so that I can remember them." 
Toad wrote on a piece of paper: A list of things to do today
Lesson 1: Write it down or forget it. There are many systems and styles for keeping track of todo lists. I prefer a web service/app called Toodledo. This powerful todo list has a couple of killer features. First, I can use it on the web and on iPad and on iPhone (I think that other devices are supported, too). Second, after learning about Start Dates from Justin Baeder, I love that with Toodledo, I can set it and forget it (I ought to give George Foreman credit here, yes?). In other words, if tonight, I remember that I must schedule end of year conferences with teachers starting on May 15, I can add a task, give it a May 15 start date, and then forget about it until May 15. As long as I've told ToodleDo to hide future tasks, I am set.

The story goes on:

Then Toad wrote other things on the paper. 
"There," said Toad. "Now my day is all written down."
Lesson 2: You must take the first step. Coming up with a great idea to be organized is useless if you don't actually start.

Toad actually engages in one of my favorite, useless, feel good activities:

Then he wrote: Wake up
"I have done that," said Toad, and he crossed out:  
Wake up
Lesson 2a: No lesson here other than remembering that it is the small things in life that can sometimes make us happy.

Toad continues his day and visits Frog.

"Hello," said Frog.
"Look at my list of things to do," said Toad.
"Oh," said Frog, "that is very nice." 
Toad said, "My list tells me that we will go for a walk."
"All right," said Frog. "I am ready."
Lesson 3: Toad actually uses his todo list! How many times has the principal wondered what to work next. Just look at the list. It is that simple (except, of course, when it is incredibly complicated). There may be a corollary here: others may follow if you ask them to do something that is actually written on your list. Maybe if we show them that it is on a list, they will follow. Maybe.

Later in the story, the wind picked up:

"Help!" cried Toad."My list is blowing away. What will I do without my list?"
"Hurry!" said Frog. "We will run and catch it."
"No!" shouted Toad. "I cannot do that."
"Why not?" asked Frog.
"Because," wailed Toad, "running after my list is not one of the things that I wrote on my list of things to do!"
Lesson 4: Uh-oh! This is not good. Principals need to be flexible and responsive. Our todo lists are useful tools, but really - I can just imagine it: Oh, Principal Fliegelman, please deal with these two fighting students. Sorry, not on my todo list today; I will add them in tomorrow. Of course, a principal can't do that. Just recently, Justin Baeder wrote about this in a blog post: the nature of the principalship and the way we have to handle tasks is different from they way most todo systems and apps are designed. Again, we have to be ready to change course any minute - just part of the job.

Moments later Toad gets stuck.

"I cannot remember any of the things that were on my list of things to do. I will just have to sit here and do nothing," said Toad. Toad sat and did nothing. Frog sat with him.
Lessons 5: The list does not make the principal. In fact, this would be a good place to insert ideas about creating systems to help get through a day or working with a wonderful admin assistant who has the principal well trained. Instead, I will share one last lesson.

Lesson 6: A successful principal will have a Frog to sit with.

So, Toad shows us both the value and the pitfalls of the todo list. This principal, for one, learned a lot.