Feeling Puzzled?

As the New Year is upon us, I am hopeful that everyone was able to enjoy some time with family and friends over the holidays. I was fortunate to spend the holidays with my wife and daughter, and some of my close friends. Also squeezed in there was the tradition of the World Jr Hockey Championships (Go! Canada Go!).

Another activity I have come to enjoy over the winter break is to sit down to the challenge of a puzzle. For no other reason, but that working on a puzzle over the course of a few days provides some mental relaxation and time with my family. I haven’t done this every year, but this year left me with some down time between Christmas and New Years.  I was excited to begin after I poured the contents of the puzzle onto the table.

The beginning of a challenge

After a couple of days Angela and I were beginning to wonder if we were stumped or the puzzle makers had made an error!  We felt stumped, as many of the pieces just did not seem to fit. But the drive to finish kept us working on it.

Trust me: The fish on the right is not right!

Finally, after a few days of attempting to fit the differently shaped pieces into the remaining spaces, I realized that I needed to take a step back.  We were down to the remaining 20 pieces but they just wouldn’t fit!  Looking at  areas of the puzzle that didn’t seem quite right, I discovered that we needed to move an entire section of the puzzle towards the middle.  We had the pieces together correctly, but the entire section was misplaced. With that move, we were then able to complete the rest within a few minutes.

Aaahhh the feeling of accomplishment

At the end of the day, doing this puzzle afforded us some much needed relaxation and time at rest together. We had absolutely no reason to keep working for days.  There was no Letter Grade or Percentage to be assigned, we simply wanted to overcome the challenge presented; the satisfaction that comes from accomplishment. This one was rewarding because at one point it was tempting to force the remaining 20 pieces into spaces they didn’t fit just to finish.

Because tomorrow is the first day back after a restful break, my mind is already getting “back into the swing of things”.  Intrinsic motivation is an invaluable gift; one that is very relevant to the world that I am about to dive back into tomorrow and ultimately, what many educators strive to bring out in our students everyday.

It’s also reminder of the importance of “double-loop” thinking when considering perceived challenges. We could have sat and forced the pieces into spaces that did not fit properly.  This certainly would have been the easy and quick fix.  Even though stepping back and trying an entirely different approach to our last few pieces added time, it afforded us the ability meet our challenge and complete the puzzle properly.

Given that I’m now linking completing a puzzle with broader thinking and our education system, I have come to a couple of conclusions: (1) that my time off was a success – I’m obviously feeling rested, and (2) that my wife is right – it’s time for me to get back to work!

Wishing everyone a great 2012!