My school has a set of explicitly stated core values. They were derived at one or two faculty meetings in my first year. I remember we broke into smaller groups and talked about values that are, and I quote, “bone deep” at our school.
One of these core values is continuous improvement.
It sounds great when you say it to your kids. I mean, “We’re always working together to get better!” Who dares say that continuous improvement could be anything but positive?
In fact, I do. I have come to see that it isn’t always good.When done right, for example with all those Standard Based Grading enthusiasts who have seen results, it can be powerful. Carrots and all that. But it can be done wrong — and I think I’ve finally come to see the insidious side of continuous improvement.
It implies that we should always be working to do better. It also implies that we are never going to be good enough.
I’m in a bit of a teacher funk — and for those of you who read this, you might know by now that I get this way every so often. And then I do snap out of it. But it’s a cycle. I know some of you out there feel the same way as I do. I read it in your posts and your tweets. The sentiment: “I never knew how much I sucked until I met all of you.”
I have over 120 blogs in my google reader, I follow twitter daily (until a few days ago), and I stand up with all of you and engage when writing this blog and commenting on other blogs and tweeting about interesting things I read. I am constantly engaged and engaging and interested. And for 90% of the time, I love it. I love it because it brings meaning to my vocation — meaning that lies outside of me talking to myself in a self-contained bubble. It encourages me to have high standards and always keep striving to do better and provides me with models which to emulate.
And then, then, I get overwhelmed by it all. Usually brought on by a contemplative realization. Where I feel like I should be improving and I’m not. Where I’m making the same mistakes that I did as a first year, and wonder how is it I can’t overcome them? And where I’m just never going to get to that place where I want to be at.
Which is to be great. Which is where I can reach every kid and have them not hate math at the least, and love math at the best.
And I know it’s idealistic and Sisyphean and naive. And it’s what I want.
It’s the dark side of continuous improvement. Because I start feeling like I’ll never get there, and in fact, I won’t, because perfection is impossible.
I will snap out of it. I always do. But I don’t want to be in this cycle forever. I fear burn out if this continues to happen.
So I’m wondering if I should do what I tell my students to do when approaching a huge task. Break it into smaller chunks. And those into smaller chunks. Then the gargantuan task won’t seem so impossible, because in those chunks is an actionable plan. And then work on achieving some of those chunks.
Here’s my thought: I should make a list of 5-10 goals I want to accomplish next year (e.g. build a sense of community in each of my classes). And break those things into smaller actionable chunks (e.g. concrete actions I can do and check off which will hopefully build a sense of community). And make a sticker chart which I have on my desk — which I can see if I’m actually taking the steps I’ve outlined to achieve those goals. 
Perhaps if I do that, I won’t have this insidious and amorphous “continuous improvement” thing looming ahead of me. But something that I can realistically accomplish, and keep track of, and feel good about. Because who doesn’t feel good when looking at a chart full of stickers?
 Yes, you SBG enthusiasts out there, like your standards…