I was out on a run this morning when I realized how much I wish our schools were more like my experience training for a 5K versus what some of them are like now. As I am a firm believer in trying to maintain a growth mindset, I believe that activities that force us to grow and exeprience failure, like training for a 5K, are good experiences for us as teachers as it reminds us of how our students feel in the classroom. It is so easy for us as teachers to forget what our students feel like when they are in the classroom. They may struggle and not experience success as quickly as we would like but we have to remember that true learning and success does not happen right away for everyone.
Unlike most subjects we teach in the classroom, running is not something I am good at or can be “proficient” at quickly. I have not run much in my life and do not have a good background that will make this any easier for me. I have had little motivation in the past to run and really did not have much in the way of a support structure to be successful at running. In the terms of running, I was a struggling student that was not set up for success because of my past and the setting I was in. This is different now as I now have the intrinsic motivation and the support system in place to help me become successful as long as I am willing to put in the work and the effort.
Without a great support system in place, many will not be able to experience growth or work towards success. As we struggle, we need to have a system supporting us to help us stay on that path of growth. In the last year or so I have become friends with a group of people who are much better runners than I am and they have been very helpful in supporting me as I try to run a 5K. They have the experience and knowledge that I lack but they have different perspectives from one another that allows for them to give me a variety of viewpoints to help me on my path. When I fail, such as have a bad run, they are willing to help me get better instead of just focusing on that failure. Unfortunately many classrooms are not set up to be like that. We do not create a collaborative learning environment where students can help each other and we focus too much on the failures themselves instead of how to improve. The “I teach, you learn” mentality also does not support growth as our students do not get the support they need. How can we better support our students and work with them instead of just teaching at them?
I finally have the intrinsic motivation to be successful at running as I feel the need to get healthy and know this is a way to make that happen. I never really had this motivation before but it makes a world of difference. How many of our students are not motivated to be successful at school? How have we helped them to obtain that motivation and shown them where it can lead you to? We have so many students that come to school and just want the day to end, they have to no intrinsic reason to be there except maybe to see friends. How can we change this so that they feel a desire to be successful at learning? Too often this intrinsic motivation factor is overlooked and we have to remember how hard it is for us to do something when we are not motivated to do it. Learning is not an easy thing and being motivated makes a huge difference between growing and not.
Measurement Of Growth and Success
I have the tools available to me to measure my success and determine my growth. Using a GPS running app on my phone I am able to measure my pace and record each attempt. This allows me to reflect on those experiences and determine a path on how to get better. While I have this data to help me, it does not define me as each run allows me for a chance to get better. One bad run may be recorded but it does not mean that I can not be successful in the future. I also know how to interpret the data in order to use it to make myself better. Do our grades and scores help our students understand what they need to do to grow? Does a 90% on a test tell our student anything about their understanding when compared to an 85% or are these scores to vague to be helpful? How can we make sure that our measurement systems in school help our students grow? What do our grades really measure and are they the best thing to have in place to help our students learn?
Ability To Recover From Failure
Today can be considered a failure as I was only able to run for about 1.3 miles before my ankle forced me to walk the rest of the way home. I will rest and work on my ankle a bit so that the next time I run I can be successful. This one failure is not enough to stop me and does not mean that I can not be successful in the future. I became much happier as a teacher when I stopped making it so that a single failure on an assignment or test stopped keeping my students from being able to recover. I stopped grading homework, I still gave feedback but I did not want to attach a score to something that was more practice than assessment. A student could do horrible on a piece of homework but we used it as a learning opportunity not as a score in the grade book. If the student did really bad on a quiz, we could focus on what we needed to do to improve and they had another opportunity to do so. I only cared if my students learned, I did not care about having 100s of data points in a grade book. I wanted them to always be able to recover and learn, because that is my job. Are our systems in place to help our students recover from failure, not give them a pass but to help them learn and grow even if they make a mistake or fall along the way?
Unfortunately my run produced more questions than answers, but these questions may be enough to get us down that path towards a better learning environment. I will be successful because I have the support I need, motivation to keep me going, an understanding of my growth and can recover as I fall along the way. These four characteristics are powerful when combined and I believe are necessary for any classroom to be a successful learning environment.