John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education

Check List for Starting a New Term

This blog is inspired by fact that I discovered last week that to start something properly, that I start repeatedly, I need a check list.

After a nice long holiday break, last week I had to take my first business trip by air. The flight was at a ghastly hour in the early morning and as I was half way down my mountain road to the airport, I realized I had left my wallet at home. So I had to turn around, race back up the mountain and get my wallet.

When I arrived at the airport, I found that that all important “hook” that is supposed to perch on top of your roller bag was gone. This was a near disaster. It meant that I know had to roll two bags, using both arms, through airports instead of hooking one on the other and greatly simplifying my movements.

On my return flights from this same trip last week, I left my priceless pocket calendar on an airplane; and I left a beautiful silk and cashmere scarf in an airport lounge. What is happening to me?

I decided that I have not been practicing one of the keys to success: using a check list. And I really should have been inspired to have been better organized because I had seen only three days before this trip, the incredible new film with George Clooney, “Up in the Air,” about a metaphoric symbol for our times in the Great Recession: a man who aspires only to earn 10 million frequent flier miles on American Airlines as he flies from city to city earning his living by firing people at businesses whose managers have retained him to do the deed.

You’d think as a 3.5 million miler on my airline of choice that I would already have had at least a mental check list. Well, now I have a paper check list, just like the pilots that fly me, and I am going to use it prior to every departure. I am an adult. I learn from my experiences.

This has made me think: what kind of a check list do we need to start a new academic term?

More importantly, what kind of a check list do our students need? If you, my reader, are a college teacher, could you work with your students to make up a “check list” for them to complete to insure their success as they prepare to fly with you this term? Sure you could. I hope you will. Otherwise, many of your students will be “up in the air” and not well grounded in your course where you want them to be.

-John Gardner

2 Comments

  1. BryceJanuary 15, 2010 at 11:49 amReply

    Interesting thoughts. Checklists are a low-tech solution that have yielded big results in other industries. You might be interested in this NPR interview (http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=122226184) with Atul Gawande about the use of checklists in medicine. It made me wonder what role checklists could play for educators.

  2. John N. GardnerJanuary 16, 2010 at 10:53 amReply

    Thanks for your helpful suggestion and information. I believe that checklists are important for some educators and should be even more important for our students. In any focus group I have ever facilitated with successful students, when I ask them what are their strategies for success, number one is always “time management”. And I keep remembering that airline pilots on whom we all depend for safety MUST use checklists. But had never given same thought to say physicians. Moral of the story: Checklists are lifesavers. Thank you again.

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