012: The Tough – Yet Playful – Mindset

Don’t be a victim of challenges, choose to be a humble pit bull instead.

My wife and I enjoy a few guilty pleasures. Mint chocolate chip ice cream, “Friends” marathons, and the occasional cider run, just to name a few. However, one of our greatest, sometimes ridiculous guilty pleasures is our insatiable need to watch MTV’s The Challenge. For those many people who are unaware, The Challenge is a ridiculous show focused on a group of minor MTV celebrities from other MTV shows who live in a house together and compete in crazy events. Each week one, or more people are eliminated until a victor is declared.

The Challenge is definitely geared towards a young adult audience, and it’s content does not promote great value. So, why do I mention this show if it’s considered trashy entertainment? What purpose does this show hold for teachers? Simply put, the study of one person in the series, Derrick Kosinski.

Unless you’ve actually seen Derrick in action, it’s difficult to give his performances due credit. However, there are three aspects of his personality that I’ve noticed which I feel should be considered by educators to improve our resilience through difficult times in our teaching careers.

Aspect 1 – Playful Attitude Towards Competitors

During the series, most times Derrick faces a fellow challenger in a head-to-head competition he would state how he was going to tear the other competitor apart, or that he’ll hold his ground to the bitter end. Now, what I’ve gathered by watching the show is that what he is saying is partly true. I personally see his demeanour as mostly playful.

Although it has taken me time to understand this concept, and I continue to work at it, I feel that by being playful with adverse situations a person can immediately compartmentalise a problem, thus limiting the emotional toll it may have taken on oneself.

This past week, I faced a mountain of challenges. First, our Year 4 Play had four different showings, two of which were late night. Second, I had to organise a last minute trip to a local rowing club, which included a nearly two hour walk with thirty students through Cambridge (not for the faint of heart). Third, I needed to organise a high-level Special Education Meeting with our Senior Leadership Team and Governors. Finally, we received a call on Monday that our school was going to go through our inspection. These things on top my regular teacher tasks made the week seem a bit insurmountable.

How the hell did I manage it? Well, all good teachers worth their salt would get through it, but I wanted to get through it smiling at the end. The first thing I did was tell my Headteacher in our Monday meeting, “Bring it!” He laughed, and understood what I meant. I wasn’t being cocky.  Rather, I was setting the tone. I was going to tackle each task as best I could, and I was ready for it. I was being playful with difficult odds.

Aspect 2 – Determination of a Pit Bull

In the most recent episode of The Challenge, Derrick was brought on as a special guest during the elimination portion. This is when two competitors go head-to-head in a random game. The elimination round can be anything from a puzzle to a physical task. Clearly the producers of The Challenge knew that if they were going to bring Derrek in, the elimination had to be physical.  The game was a type of tug-o-war with a set of rings.  One player had to take the rings from the other player and hang them on a hook.  Derrick was pitted against one of the largest competitors he had ever faced.  After many, many rounds of gruelling, body-slamming torture, Derrick’s competition became so tired he lost his sense of the game and Derrick won by walking the ring to his hook.

Derrick is a small man.  Every competitor he’s faced is larger than him, yet he is one of the most feared champions on the show.  Why?  Derrick is a pit bull when it comes to completing a challenge, especially when the challenge is one-on-one.

Reflecting again on this past week, I decided to take on each task with this mindset.  Derrick is single-minded when facing a challenge, and he NEVER gives up. Nothing else matters in that moment.  When having to accomplish any given task, I gave myself to it fully.  I focused on completing specific parts without interruption, and without stopping.  By doing this, I was able to get more done in a shorter amount of time, and I wasn’t stressed about the other items I needed to sort.  Be a pit bull when facing any challenge. Be relentless until you’ve finished the task you set out to complete.

Aspect 3 – Humble Spirit

Something that a friend of mine noticed about Derrick after one particularly tough season was his gracious, and humble competitive spirit.  Whether Derrick wins, or loses, he maintains a high level of integrity.  He recognises the strength in his competition, and respects it.  Derrick does not seem to be a person who flaunts his abilities and subsequently belittle the abilities of those he has faced.  I feel that due to this humble nature, Derrick sets himself up to win.

If you read The Art of War by Sun Tzu, an overarching theme is that in order to win any battle, one must have knowledge and respect of his enemy.  This same concept can be applied to the amount of work a teacher may have.  If we respect our work, knowing what is most important and what is not, we set ourselves up to complete tasks that will have the greatest impact in the classroom.

During this difficult week, my first priority was to take care of my students.  I needed to ensure lessons were solid, my students were learning, and that I was able to track their progress effectively to inform my teaching.  I respected how much work I had to tackle, and I evaluated what was most important.  By doing this, I was able to sort out my week so that my students were my top priority.

Remember, no matter what you do as a teacher there will be moments that test you. With today’s expectations of educators, our mental fortitude will be tested. This is an inevitable reality. However, by changing our perspective we can change the mental and emotional impact challenges can have on us. Don’t be a victim of challenges, choose to be a humble pit bull instead.

Until next time!

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