PMP:037 Are You Growing? Learning to Celebrate the Small Wins

Last week I left school early so that I could watch our cross-country teams run at a local race.

My daughter Mattie being hugged by her big sister after a grueling 5K run when she improved her personal record time by 2 minutes.

It was one of those days where the sun and clouds kept alternating in the sky. My oldest daughter, Emily ran in the first race. When it ended, clouds moved in and a heavy shower began falling with scattered lightning and thunder. We huddled under the team’s tent canopy, and waited it out. Before long, the clouds moved away, the sun broke through again, and the races continued: boys’ varsity then onto junior varsity. My second daughter, Mattie, runs on the junior varsity team for our school.
All summer long these kids have been training: showing up for early morning runs or staying late for long runs. Sprinting 1,000 yard sets or running for 60-minute long runs have become a part of various routines as they’ve worked to increase endurance. I’m so proud of the dedication of all our high school athletes, but the dad in me is also proud of my girls.
Throughout their training, Mattie has struggled. She would be the first to tell you she is not naturally fast. But she has a consistent pace, and she never walks during a race. Before this race, she told me her latest strategy. “My goal is keep my pace so that I pass at least some of the runners and don’t come in last,” she told me in all seriousness. I smiled, gave her a hug, and then stood back to cheer her on.
When the starting shot rang out, the runners sprang forward, and before long, Mattie, in her red school colors, was trailing toward the end. She was pacing along in the wet grass and gravel, checking her Garmin, and watching as the distance spread between her spot and the frontrunners. But ever so slowly, she began to gain on some of the ones in front of her. Then she disappeared as they made their way through the back of the race route.
Before long, the frontrunners appeared again. Way behind and still trailing near the end was Mattie’s red jersey. She was still pacing along at a slow but steady clip. As the winners began crossing the finish line, I knew it would be awhile before she would reach the final stretch.
Runner after runner hit the finish line. And finally, here she came. Her strategy seemed effective, as she was not last in the race. When I looked at the finish line clock, however, I was surprised to see she was pacing two minutes ahead of her normal race time. When she hit the finish line, she handed off her race number, and then she fell onto the grass exhausted.
Her coach and I helped her to her feet, got her walking, and she couldn’t even talk as she tried to sip a sports drink. As we walked through her cool-down, she finally caught her breath long enough to begin crying. “Are you upset or happy?” I asked.
“No, I’m happy. I never thought I’d break my personal record by two minutes,” she gasped. “I’m happy. I’m happy.” When her big sister, Emily, made it over to her, she grabbed her in a big hug, and I pulled out my phone to capture the moment. Later Emily reposted it with this caption: “Words cannot even describe how proud I am of my sister. A PR by 2 minutes is phenomenal. You’ve worked so hard to get where you are and I’m so proud of you. Love you sister!”

How Are You Growing?

One of the strategies our cross-country coach uses is to encourage his runners it to keep records of their times. This way the athletes know if they are improving. Mattie told me once that she thinks about this while she’s running and will repeat what her coach says: “Pain is temporary. But a personal record is forever.”
Of course, this same truth applies to learning. This school year our teachers have increased their time in professional learning communities. Some of them are targeting essential skills and learning standards; others are focusing on behaviors and character traits we want to see practiced as a part of our school culture. Like most schools, our goal in collaboration is to invest in strategies and interventions that help all students.
But as we are looking at data, sharing common formative assessments, or following up with remediation or interventions, we can’t lose sight of the small wins. The pain of hard work is temporary, but growth and learning are forever.
I was sharing the photo of my girls with my superintendent. “You know what’s great about that story?” he asked. “Mattie didn’t win that race,” he said. “And she didn’t even win a medal. But she showed improvement. Just like we’ve been talking about this school year: she showed growth, and that’s what really matters.”

Now It’s Your Turn

Just like a good coach, as you measure growth, the goal is not for every one of your students to be at the top of his or her class. The goal is that he or she is improving and growing. What essential skills or habits do you want your students learning and mastering? In what ways do you want to see your schools growing and improving? How can you celebrate the small wins along the way?

Sign-Up For Free Updates and Ebook

When you enter your email address below, you will automatically receive Principal Matter posts and a free Ebook, 8 Hats: Essential Roles for School Leaders. Let’s keep learning together!

Subscribe for free weekly updates and receive free e-book!

* indicates required

(function($) {window.fnames = new Array(); window.ftypes = new Array();fnames[0]=’EMAIL’;ftypes[0]=’email’;fnames[1]=’FNAME’;ftypes[1]=’text’;fnames[2]=’LNAME’;ftypes[2]=’text’;}(jQuery));var $mcj = jQuery.noConflict(true);

Principal Matters–The Book!

Principal Matters (Final) 3D
School leaders are very busy, so each of the twenty-four chapters is designed as a quick-read and followed with take-action questions for follow-up or reflection. If you want practical ideas on understanding your purpose, managing school teams, dealing with challenges, and leading with courage, action, motivation, and teamwork, go HERE to pick up a copy for you or your team.

Think someone else would benefit from this episode?
William D. Parker
William D. Parker