Domino Season

When I was maybe 11 years old, I set up exactly two hundred and seventy-two dominoes around my bedroom. I know that it was exactly two hundred and seventy-two because I remember counting them all many times. The dominoes snaked their way around my room from the top of my bed frame to the top of the chest of drawers, down to the floor to be in line with the skirting boards, on top of books and over a makeshift bridge (also made of dominoes) and eventually ending up on the far side of the room near the window.

It took what felt like weeks of my time (it was in reality maybe an hour?) and I remember the sun shining down illuminating the pathway towards from the bed where it started to the final stop underneath the window.

I yelled out for my brother to come and see the glorious kaleidoscope of dominoes in my bedroom. I called out for him to not come in through the door because the pathway was in front of it, and like any good older brother he didn’t question why, he just went around to the back of our house and half climbed into the room via the window.

I looked at him expecting to see the pride I felt bounce back at me through his expression. What I saw was a cheeky grin. That grin, I came to realise, was not my friend. Without breaking eye contact, he slowly…



…bent down and set off my domino train from the reverse end.

I was devastated as I listened to the gentle crack of each tile as it fell against the next, echoing against the otherwise silent corners of my room.

With my mouth open in shock, I looked up at my brother. “What?” he challenged when he saw me ready to burst into tears, “You can always build it again.”

Obviously I thought he was wrong. I simply couldn’t build it again. It was too hard. I wouldn’t know where to begin. I couldn’t just start all over again.

Except I could.

I could begin again and I could reset everything. It might be difficult, but it was definitely ‘do-able’

Sometimes it feels like there is too much to even make a start – like two hundred and seventy-two dominoes making a mess on the floor – but there is always a place to begin.

We may not feel like starting, and we hardly ever feel like starting over, but the point is that we can.

Students that I worked with at a previous school used to call this time of year, ‘Domino season’. It is the time of year where cold and flu and stress take over and our motivation falls away, bit by bit, dropping like dominoes, one after the other. A lot of the time when we work or study, there is a single incident that sets off a chain reaction that feels too big to recover from. It might be that a student puts their heart and soul in a draft but gets feedback that they are off-track and the errors seem too hard to correct. It might be that our immune system is low and the number of assessments is high and we don’t know where to begin. It is the time of year when we have scheduled out revision plans so tightly that even the slightest shift in timing could throw the whole week off track.

So how do we start? How do we begin when we are too overwhelmed to know what the first step is?

Well, the first step is easy…stop ‘digging the hole’ making things worse and start ‘constructing the ladder’ to help you climb out to where you need to be and get back on track. The number of Internal Assessments for the Diploma Program does not change, in fact, for a few months it feels like they keep coming, one after the other. Although it may seem like it is difficult to begin, one by one they will help you get to the end.

A couple of quick strategies that will help anyone get started:

  • Ask for help (your greatest resources are your friends, family and teachers)
  • Make a list of what needs to be done and make sure that you check off items once you have completed them – the sense of accomplishment will spur you forward
  • Block some time off to get started. You may need to be ruthless and say ‘no’ to the invitation from friends, or the movie on the weekend, but creating time gives you opportunity. Each subject and task is as important as the next, but some may need to be prioritised.
  • Start with something small. Once you have finished the first couple of items on your list, you will have created enough momentum to continue.

Most importantly, know that with any ‘to-do’ list, and any time you feel like you have to start over, there is always an end point. Every list can be finished, every task can be completed. Every domino can be re-set in order to watch them fall all over again.

Lastly, a word in my brother’s defence, when he saw me unable to start resetting my dominoes, he climbed fully in through the window and began standing the tiles upright again starting from the very place where he knocked them down. And this is a key thing to always remember, that there is typically help at hand.

#ISMainfranken #IBDP

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