Yesterday I found my notebook, the one I had been searching for since January. My work notebook: spiral bound, jumbo size, Ecojot—with an elephant on the cover. An extension of my mind, full of to-do lists, notes from planning with teachers, new ideas, and reflections on professional learning.
It’s the perfect size to carry around. Substantial, with paper that feels satisfying under an inky pen, a visual cue for thinking work. I grab it on my way out the door, and I’m ready for anything.
Had I left it in a classroom? At home while quarantined? I searched everywhere, but the notebook had simply vanished.
I have a stash of these notebooks at the ready—I typically work through at least two a year—and I love going online to special order them in advance. I can’t explain why I didn’t just do the obvious thing and start a new one.
I’ll find it, I kept thinking.
In the meantime, I had been jotting on loose sheets of paper, carrying sticky notes in my pocket. Two overgrown gardens took hold in my classroom—one at the table reserved for coaching work, the other in my remote teaching space, as I desperately sought to differentiate my competing roles this year.
(Semi)-regular pruning solved the clutter problem in the short term; it did feel good to periodically throw away the notes in the “finished” category from week to week. However, this sticky note system left no trail, no evidence that anything at all of significance was occurring over time. Without artifacts to reference, there were no lasting signs that all the busy-ness of this year was having any impact at all.
My thinking work was being taken out with the trash, and I struggled to find traction. Every day was Groundhog Day—an endless loop of so many tasks that were somehow never the right work.
And then this morning.
This morning I joyfully opened the long-lost notebook to its next clean page, wrote at the top: Week of 3-1-21. . . and I had a physical reaction to this very routine act, this ritual of professional life that I had been missing.
I felt a sense of calm. I felt like myself, for the first time in way too long.
I realized that all the frenetic note-taking in random places over the past two months reflected my own state of mind.
I know that writing keeps me grounded. When I don’t carve out space to create, I can feel it. What I discovered today is the extent to which some of my rituals for writing extend to my professional life. That notebook is a tool for thinking that anchors me to purpose. And in this year of so much uncertainty, I need visual and physical reminders of why I do what I do. I need artifacts of why this work matters, because it is so freaking hard right now.
As I started my list for this week, for the first time in a long time, I felt confident that I had the capacity to tackle everything on it.