The Smallest Tasks Make a Big Difference

It’s easy to put off small tasks. Sometimes we put them off until “later.” Other times we put them off so long that we just convince ourselves they aren’t important and forget about them all together. However, sometimes it’s the smallest tasks that end up making the biggest difference.

Below is an excerpt from a story in my new book, Life in Cut Time: Time Management for Music Teachers. Even if you’ve never taught music, or taken a music class in your life, you can surely appreciate the value of making time to take care of tiny little tasks that end up making a big difference to others.

Available on Amazon.com

If it Takes Less Than 5 Minutes, Do it Now!

Brandon was the kind of student who made teachers cringe when they saw him on their rosters. This student had been a menace to the school since his early days of kindergarten.

I tried everything with this student. I met with his parents and his classroom teacher. I had behavior plans and incentive charts. Nothing worked and my time and energy were quickly draining. At the end of the first semester, after I started to receive complaints from other parents that Brandon was inhibiting their child’s ability to participate, I had to have a heart-to-heart with Brandon’s mom about dropping her son from band.

After a lengthy conversation, we agreed to give him one last chance. This was against my better judgment, but I just couldn’t say no to this parent who was obviously also at her wits’ end.

A few weeks into the new semester, Brandon actually had a semi-good day. He came into class without causing a disruption, got out his trumpet, played along the whole time, and even volunteered to answer a question. I was shocked! I praised him over and over for his improved behavior, but he seemed unfazed.

As I wrapped up my work at the end of the day, I wondered if the day’s experience had been a fluke. I considered calling Brandon’s mom to tell her about the positive change I witnessed, but when I saw the lengthy to-do list on my desk, I realized I didn’t have time for another half-hour talk with her. I left school without giving it another thought.

When I got home that night, after stepping away from the situation for a bit, I realized I was being ridiculous. I had all of my band parents’ emails in my address book. It would take less than a minute to drop Brandon’s mom a quick email telling her about his progress. I signed into my account from home and pecked out a few sentences.

Dear Sheila,

I wanted to let you know that I saw a complete 180-degree shift in Brandon’s behavior in band today. I knew there was a motivated student in there somewhere and he definitely let that side of him show today. Thank you for working with him. If this behavior continues, I am confident he will find great success with band in the future.

There. Done. Less than 100 words and 1 minute of my time.

When I got to school the next morning, I was greeted with a tearful voicemail from Brandon’s mom.

Mrs. Schwartz, you have no idea how much your email made an impact on my son and our family. I am so afraid to read letters from the school because they are always bad. I have never had a teacher take the time to tell me that my son actually did something good or would ever be successful in anything. When I shared your email with Brandon, he flashed a smile from ear to ear. Thank you. As a mother, that is the best thing I can ever hope for.

She also left the same message for my principal who promptly called me into her office and thanked me for making such a positive impact at the school.

That day marked the end of my problems with Brandon. From that point on, he was the model band student. I could not have been happier. Sure, he still had his moments of inattention or defiance, but nothing more than I would expect from any 10-year-old.

That short email – the one that took less than 1 minute of my time and I almost decided I was “too busy” to send – ended up providing one of the best teaching moments of the year.

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Photo Credit: Zirconicusso

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