As I watch the 2012 Summer Olympics, it’s hard to not be inspired by the amazing pool of athletes from across the globe. Over a period of two weeks, we not only get to watch athletes compete with one another, but hear about their triumphs and struggles. Whether it’s a story on the Biomechanics of Usain Bolt, Saudi Arabia’s Sarah Attar competing in the 800 meters or Oscar ‘The Blade Runner’ Pistorius being the first double-amputee to run in an Olympic race, they are all inspiring. I exhaustively enjoy watching and reading every competition and story that I can sneak into my busy day (even sports for which I still don’t understand the rules). However, I keep coming back to the same question: what is more important the journey or end result?
As athletes prepare for these games, many go into specialized “gifted” programs, to improve their skills. They are placed into intense programs with the goal of making it to the Olympics and winning a medal for their designated countries. But I wonder, are these athletes being set up for failure if they don’t make the team or attain the desired medal? Has the end result become more important than the journey? We hear many stories about the spirit of the Olympics and how “the most important thing is not to win but to take part!” But do more of us embrace the official Olympic motto of “Faster, Higher, Stronger”? Has our competitive nature taken over the ‘spirit’ of the Olympics? For example, China has come under scrutiny as “messages of congratulations from the government to athletes through the state news agency have been sent only to gold medalists, not those winning silver or bronze.” In the US, we see medal count updates posted online and interviews with athletes who are asked whether they are disappointed with their silver and bronze performances. Athletes are even disqualified for trying to get a competitive edge by taking illegal drugs. So I wonder, has the “win at all costs” gotten out of hand and have we lost sight of the true Olympic spirit?
Have we also embedded a ‘win at all costs’ motto in our educational system? Increasingly, more students, educators and schools across the country are caving to peer pressure and have been caught cheating on standardized tests. Whether in Atlanta, California or another part of the country, the stories are all the same. Parents are also increasingly falling prey to the peer pressure. Recently, I overheard a conversation between parents about redshirting. To gain a competitive edge, parents are holding their children back before they enter Kindergarten to try and give their children a competitive edge. The video below explains this concept of redshirting in greater detail:
The pressure to perform is costing students, educators, school leaders and parents to lose sight. We must give our children and students the tools and knowledge to succeed to the best of their abilities. There will always be someone “Faster, Higher, and Stronger” just as there will always be someone smarter. I believe Powerful Learning Practice’s CEO, Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach says it best with this line: “none of us is as smart or good as all of us.” The success of our future generations will greatly depend on how we all collaboratively work together to solve the problems of today and tomorrow.
As we begin this school year, I challenge educators, parents and school leaders to work together to make sure we are creating an environment in which students will remember their journey to discovery and success while feeling comfortable to fail, get right back up and try again!
Not sure how to do this? Join Powerful Learning Practice in our Connected Learner Experience this year. You can develop an action research project around this or another topic of your choice. You’ll have Community Leaders, Connected Coaches and Experienced Voices on hand to help you master both the tools and the concepts you need to create classrooms where deep student learning and high achievement are the norm.