By David D. Craft, Greenvale Park Principal
Not everyone is a straight “A” student
Did you ever think you’d hear an elementary school principal say that? Parents and educators should be careful to hold realistic expectations for the children in their lives. If you agree with the premise of straight “A” students being rare, a question becomes obvious. What are some realistic expectations that will help a child reach his/her potential?
The mission of the Northfield Public Schools is to deliver educational excellence that empowers all learners to participate in our dynamic world. In light of this mission, Greenvale Park Elementary School is committed to moving children from perfection paralysis to having a process for managing adversity through perseverance. In order to meet that end, we must first understand the nature of how our children are hindered by an implicit expectation that they become perfect.
I recently heard a funny commentary on the radio between two sportscasters. One of them was lamenting about his favorite pastime, baseball. His observation was that many of the best young athletes were choosing soccer in the summer instead of little league baseball. He was nonplussed. He finished by saying he didn’t understand it. The other announcer said that he understood it. This announcer remarked that, “A kid can run up and down a soccer field all night long and never touch the ball. On the car ride home a parent can say, ‘You played a great game!’ In baseball, parents run the risk of seeing their kid strike out three times on nine straight pitches. You can’t say ‘You played a great game,’ on that car ride home!”
This radio exchange, although obviously comedic in nature, illustrates a larger point. Children today experience a great deal of stress trying to measure up to the notion of being perfect. They are constantly bombarded by images of perfection—perfect hair, perfect body, and perfect friends. Magazine covers and television commercials notwithstanding, a cursory look at the programming on cable television reveals this to be true. As parents and educators, we need to be mindful of this message because it is the implicit expectation of perfection that paralyzes children–a paralysis that results from a fear of failure. In reality, we should be training our students to fail as often and as fast as they can in order to succeed sooner! Perseverance is key to success.
IDEO (Innovation Design Engineering Organization) does not believe in complacency. IDEO is perhaps one of the most influential product development firms in the world. Their work has ranged from squishy handles on a toothbrush to high tech medical equipment. When pursuing a new design, they use a process called, “The Deep Dive.” The Deep Dive is a total immersion in the problem at hand. Through that process, they tap into the strengths of each teammate to persevere and overcome obstacles to innovation. When asked, they will tell you that their secret to success is to fail as often and as fast as they can in order to succeed sooner! Perseverance is key to their success.
IDEO’s team of experts are diverse. It includes an engineer, a Harvard MBA, a linguist, a marketing expert, a psychologist, and biology major. It isn’t by accident. They are an example of how, when we lead ourselves through adversity by connecting with our strengths, great things happen. It happens in the world of sales as well. Researchers cite a number of strategies that are essential for success when marketing a product. When implemented, these strategies increase sales. Researchers also pulled something else very interesting away from the data. They also discovered that there are many sales men and women who do not implement any of these basic strategies and yet they are very successful. The discovery: their success is attributed to their ability to connect their own individual strengths to the task of securing more clients and therefore more sales.
In the text above, relative to J.K. Rowling, she connected her strengths as a writer to the adversity she was going through and she produced some of the most popular literature of our time. In the case of the IDEO team, they connect the strengths of the team with problems, and innovation is the result. Indeed, great things happen when we persevere through adversity.
I played competitive baseball until I was 43 years old. I can attest to the depression which results from persevering through adversity. I struck out three times in one game. In fact, I struck out four times in a game once. Parenthetically speaking, the pitcher was 6’11” tall. He was pitching from the shadows and into the sunlight. His arm was so long that when the ball hit the catcher’s mitt, the pitcher’s fingers arrived shortly afterward with which he’d flick my nose. It was quite a distraction and is the reason for my four strikeouts! I digress.
In retrospect, I look back at my days as an athlete and it strikes me (no pun intended) that it was there, on that baseball field, that I learned how to fail. Co-curricular activities are like that, they provide an environment where children learn how to manage adversity in order to grow. Learning to manage setbacks, for all intents and purposes, is good. If done well, it can bring us to a higher plane. At Greenvale Park we encourage children to engage in activities outside of reading and math that incorporate failing and succeeding so that they are not afraid of taking risks.
J.K. Rowling, in a recent interview with Oprah Winfrey, referred to how her mother’s death influenced the writing of Rowling’s first Harry Potter book. Rowling related that she didn’t think it would be too strong to say that if she hadn’t lost her mother there wouldn’t be Harry Potter. Rowling had begun to write her first Harry Potter book six months before her mother passed away. Afterward she continued to write and experienced a number of setbacks. Instead of giving up, however, she embraced them. She persevered. In this regard, she remarked that we don’t give failure enough credit. Had it not been for Rowling’s perseverance through these setbacks, it is quite possible that J.K. Rowling would still be working in an office as a secretary.
Set a Goal, Persevere, and Succeed
Rod Carew set a goal to become one of the finest hitters in all of professional baseball. I heard someone ask him once, “What makes a good hitter?” Carew said that a good pitcher is able to find a hitter’s weakness in order to pitch to that weakness. When a hitter goes into a slump, he knows he’s been found out. So, a good hitter will analyze this in order to change his approach so that he can now hit the pitches that are being thrown. Rod Carew analyzed his setbacks in this regard and made adaptations for success.
His strength was the level at which he persevered. It is widely known in baseball lore that Carew was always the last one to leave practice sometimes hours after his teammates left the field. Carew succeeded by finishing his career with a .328 lifetime batting average. He had a .328 lifetime batting average because of the level at which he was willing to persevere. This is a common theme in most success stories. Successful people set a goal, persevere, and succeed.
Student Recognition at Greenvale Park
“A happy person is someone who looks in a mirror and they’re happy with who they see.” – Albus Dumbledore
Student recognition at Greenvale Park occurs once a month at a building-wide meeting. Each month, I meet with the whole school, faculty and students alike, to celebrate our successes together. It is at this time that we recognize students who have set a goal, persevered, and succeeded. We believe it is an important process that must not evade our children due to perfection paralysis, fear, or adversity. When children follow this process, they are starting down a trail that becomes an authentic lifelong strategy for success. Student goals are usually self-selected but are sometimes also set with the help of one of our faculty.
At Greenvale Park, every student who sets a goal, perseveres, and succeeds, achieves and grows at his/her own rate. In that sense, everyone can be successful. Success is an even playing field. The goals seem to come in all shapes and sizes. Some goals are challenging and others are quite simple. But that is of no concern to me. The goal does not drive a successful endeavor. It is the habit of setting a goal that matters. It is persevering through adversity that matters. Speaking to a Joint Session of Congress on May 25, 1961, President of the United States of America, John F. Kennedy, said… “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him back safely to the earth… not because it is easy, but because it is hard.”
Indeed, even as I sit in a second grade classroom proof reading this article, a student approached me saying, “Mr. Craft, I am challenging myself with this book. It’s hard!” She walked away with the swagger that can only be attributed to the self-respect she has already experienced. Once students are in the habit of self-selecting a goal for themselves, teachers and parents can help tailor the goals to challenge children to achieve more and to manage adversity better. Student recognition at Greenvale Park, therefore, is unlike anywhere else. It is based on the notion that adversity and the setbacks that can occur in that adversity are reasonable to expect if one expects to succeed.
Is it a perfect system? Perhaps not. I’ve already determined that perfection is not realistic. But consider this. Recognition is no more and no less than affirmation. Affirming a child is the act of communicating that we find something worthwhile in him/her. Affirmation heals a soul. Why not affirm children who set goals, persevere, and succeed? I struck out four times in one game and I felt like quitting that day. Had it not been for the encouragement of my coach, I would have quit. He took me aside after the game and gave me a dose of honesty one night. He told me I wasn’t a home run hitter. Ouch! Instead, he told me that I was a much better contact hitter. We talked, set some goals, and I persevered. In the end, I didn’t mind looking in my mirror. I played baseball 29 more years after that conversation, and I ended my amateur career with a .404 batting average.
It didn’t happen overnight, but it began with my coach that night. Sometimes all it takes is one dose of affirmation to create a lifetime of success. We never know which sentence we speak will be the one sentence a child remembers for a lifetime. As this school year begins, help your child set his/her own goals. Affirm them. Success will not come over night. But it will come.