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The Perfect Cake

It was getting as close to perfect as I remembered for a while. Christmas and summer break with family and friends. Kids back playing sport and catching up with old mates and acquaintances we hadn’t seen for ages. Even better, with a return to school on the horizon with some sort of confidence that we won’t go back into Remote Learning.

They were all small glimpses of what our new normal would hopefully be. RIPPER!

It wasn’t all perfect. I’d successfully dodged Covid bullets all Summer before it hit us last week….our family’s covid-free run came to an abrupt end. It stopped us in our tracks, which meant that the start of the school year would be disrupted for all of us. It was disappointing but partly expected.

So, we buckled down and set our sights on seven days of isolation, accepting that we would start the school year a few days late. That week didn’t unfold how we’d initially planned. As the first family member into iso, I was the first out. I was just doing my best to keep us on track and keep some sort of normality in our lives. Amongst all the chaos, it was my son’s birthday, and I was on baking duties. For such a special occasion and given the circumstances, I wanted to bake a cake that was Instagram worthy. I wanted it to be perfect. Although I aimed for perfection, a more honest assessment was that I couldn’t even consider it to be great. At best, I could probably only describe it as ‘good enough’. But that ‘good enough’ was all that we needed at that time. It brought us together (in a social distance type way), it made us laugh, and for a moment, we were distracted from the challenges around us.

As I reflected that night, I realised I had set myself unrealistic expectations of creating a perfect cake, which would lead to creating the perfect moment. I’d forgotten about the importance of just enjoying the little things along the way and being there for each other. I was focused on the end goal and looked for something tangible to provide enjoyment.

And on the cake, the feedback was great. As the baker, I may have seen the odd flaw, but everyone who tasted it, didn’t see it the same way. Again, another reminder that perfection is often just an abstract contrast we create in our mind. Your perception of perfect is different to mine. The good news is that we are both right.

So, what’s baking a birthday cake in covid got to do with school?

All too often in schools, we aim for perfection. The perfect day, the perfect class or the perfect activity. But without realising, we sometimes set unrealistic standards and place unrealistic expectations on ourselves. Unfortunately, this drive for excellence can become self-sabotaging. We can perceive ourselves as failing or even incompetent.

It’s vital in these moments that we remind ourselves of the difference we make and just as important, what our kids need. It might be as simple as enjoying a moment that is not forced, but instead formed. It’s how you respond in these moments and create that ‘good enough’ feeling that will help your young people grow and learn. Yes, it’s good to aim for perfection, but it just needs to be an aspirational hope that we shoot for, and sometimes hit, not something we expect to accomplish every moment of every day.

Your students will remember the start of the year by the everyday ‘doing your best’ moments. They’ll remember if you were there for them and if you shared the challenges along the way. Their memory won’t be about the perfect worksheet, the well-designed PowerPoint or project you set. It will be about how you showed up and what you’re setting up for the year ahead.

So, forget about the cake and enjoy the event. It’s the rituals that are developed around the events that give it value.

Check out other articles Simon has written here.