Dr. Tim Lautzenheiser said once that “It is easier to be better than somebody else than to be the best we can.” These profound words remind me of the bear story. You know, the one where two hikers stumble upon a bear in the woods and take off running as the bear begins his chase. Suddenly, one of the hikers stops, grabs his backpack to pull out running shoes and begins to put them on. The second hiker exclaims that he needs to keep running so that they can outrun the bear. The first hiker simply says, “I don’t have to outrun the bear, I only have to outrun you.”
In Dr. Tim’s book The Art of Inspired Teaching, he shares that our society has been programmed for everything to be judged, including art. We have so many contests and award shows to see who is the best. That’s what we do in the good old U. S. of A. We praise the winners and make every second best seem like less than they are. Why do we need an opportunity to win something before we decide to put forth effort?
As soon as we put standards out there to be judged by, the game is changed…even for people who didn’t know it was a game. When expectations are set, and a measurement is observed, people behave differently. Is it because they want to win? Win what? Recognition? I suppose we all want recognition to some degree. I can remember my first day working at the Bicknell IGA. I was a sophomore in high school and my very first task was to block the cleaning aisle. That meant that I needed to clean up the shelves moving everything to the front and making products nice and neat with labels facing out. It meant the world to me to have our manager, Mr. Wampler, walk by and say “good job”. I wanted to do a good job, but hearing that from my boss made me want to do an even better job the next time.
Is teaching an art or a science? Teaching degrees, for example, come with Bachelor of Arts, and some come with a Bachelor of Science. Obviously teaching is both. The art side of teaching recognizes that different people are going to attack a problem differently based on their strengths and the needs placed before them. The science part is equally strong as one must ensure that practices chosen are based on research and will lead to the most learning for students.
In Mt. Vernon, we are embarking on transforming our district into a Professional Learning Community. The PLC process, as I’ve shared in all of our schools, is s system of ongoing collaboration focusing on results and learning. PLCs allow us to use the science of teaching and learning to guide us to improving our craft, a craft that relies just as much on the art as it does the science. I don’t doubt that we will succeed.
As we go down this path, I implore you to find your worth in your own growth, not in a comparison with your colleagues. The last time I checked, not one person I work with was exactly like someone else. Dr. Tim shares this: “The ultimate competition of life is with the person we see when we look in the mirror and the only way to win is by continuing to play the game to our best abilities. It is not a judge’s opinion that determines our worth or artistic value, but rather our own opinion. Certainly be wise about learning from other people’s’ opinions and suggestions. Consider their thoughts and feelings and apply them where they are appropriate, but ultimately, you make the call.”
So, the moral of the story…do YOUR best, not someone else’s. If a student does their best, and falls short of a prize, don’t we heap significant praise on them? Of course we do! Praising work, even if one falls short of the goal, helps to provide motivation.
One of my favorite, yet most thought provoking quotes comes from W.H. Murray. Please read it…and read it again…and read it again…
“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative and creation there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from decision, raising in one’s’ favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.”