Monday, February 2, 2015

How do we measure success?

A student had to take an standardized assessment today.  He ended up with the highest score of the day.  We fought about it off and on.  "Why do we have do do this?," he asked.  "I'm gonna fail," he said.

I wasn't sure how to answer the first question in way that either of us was comfortable with.  But I was certain that he was wrong about the second.

Fortunately for both us, we had lots of flexibility in terms how long he needed to finish.  We stopped and started a few times.  In the end, I had to persuade him that he had done well.

I accept the need for having to take a standardized test every now and then.   I accept that progress matters.  But as the teacher of students who work super hard, but sometimes their effort doesn't translate to a high scores, I wonder.  How do we measure success?   As a hard core perfectionist and the mom of two hard core perfectionists, I wonder.  How do we measure success?

From either perspective, today's exercise was difficult.  For my student, as it would have been for me and both of my sons, the highest score was not satisfactory.  He set a high bar for himself, and in his mind, didn't reach it.  Other students in my class went home disappointed as well, but for different reasons.  They had worked really hard, but didn't end up with a high score.

So how can we salvage a day when most of us go home disappointed? As an adult, I have developed the coping strategies necessary to bounce back from most set-backs.  My students aren't quite there.  They need a little more encouragement.  They need to be reminded of how far they have come.  They need to know that all of us have bad days, and sometimes making it until bus dismissal time is, in itself, a measure of success.  They need to be reminded that hard work pays off in unexpected ways, but not always with a great score.

Winston Churchill said, "Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts."  All humans need this message.  Adults and students alike need to accept that we are not simply defined by our failure or - for all you hard core perfectionists our there - our success.

Do we keep going?  Do we get up and try, even when we'd rather not?  Do we have the courage to face both our success and our failures?  To me, that is the measure of success.  And that is the message that schools need to start sending to students.

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