Life isn’t 100% or Fail

Now that the NCAA basketball tournament is over and the “madness” has subsided, I have a few thoughts related to sports, teaching, and the current culture.  Tonight’s game was a perfect example…Butler shot the ball worse than any team I’ve ever seen in a championship.  It was a legendarily bad game.  Here’s the problem; I have already seen enough on twitter and heard enough on talk radio about Butler’s season being a failure to make me sick.  Are you kidding me?  A small school comes out of nowhere to make the championship TWO YEARS in a row and now everybody wants to pile on because they lost both times.  A low-seeded underdog making the finals two years in a row is one of the most amazing accomplishments in college basketball in a long time.  Increasingly, however, our culture has shifted to where people believe that you either win it all or you are a failure.  Don’t buy into this B.S.! (Reminds me of when the Bills lost four Superbowls in four years and were labeled by many as embarrassments and failures.  Hello!  To lose four consecutive Superbowls, you have to GO to four consecutive Superbowls, which is an unbelievable accomplishment.)

As a San Diegan, I followed the SDSU Aztecs closely this season.  They had never been in the top 25 and never won an NCAA tournament game.  They finished 34-3, ranked 6th in the nation, and went to the Sweet 16.  Still, after losing to UConn, some claimed it was all for naught.  One team wins and all the rest are losers…what a misguided and dysfunctional way to look at the world.  

Do you want a guaranteed formula for disappointment in life?  Just set up the rules of your life so that you have to win every time or have 100% success in order to feel fulfilled.

So how does this apply to teaching?  I was doing a new teacher training last month and a second year teacher asked me a fantastic question.  After watching me demonstrate lots of student engagement strategies and techniques, she asked, “When you use these strategies do you have full engagement from 100% of your students?”  I said, “O.K….I’m going to tell you the real deal.  NO!!  What I have is more engagement than I would have had if I didn’t use these techniques.”  She then shared that she feels unsuccessful when she tries to add creative and engaging presentations because sometimes there are students who are still not into it.  I think many teachers set themselves up for failure this way by making it a 100% or nothing game.  I always strive for 100% engagement but if anyone comes away from my seminar thinking that I never have behavior management problems, students sneaking a text in their lap, or a kid staring out the window, then I have given you the wrong impression.  It’s about getting better.  It’s about adapting, adjusting, and trying to tweak and improve everything that you do.  It’s not about beating yourself up if you don’t attain some unreachable level of “nirvana-like” perfection.

This all or nothing mentality also leads to teachers having more of a fear of failure.  If it always has to work 100% of the time then that means that you will be unwilling to take risks and step out of your comfort zone.  I often say, “If you haven’t failed in the classroom lately than that probably means that you aren’t pushing the envelope enough and you are being too safe.”  I had the pleasure of working for John Wooden for 3 summers at his basketball camps and one his wise sayings was that “the team that makes the most mistakes usually wins.”  That sounds counter-intuitive.  What he meant is that the team that makes the most mistakes is the team that is going for it and actually DOING something.  Playing cautiously is a recipe for failure in sports, business, teaching, love, and just about everything else.  To reach the highest levels of any pursuit, you have to be willing to fall on your face.

It seems everybody is piling on teachers right now.  We have become fashionable targets.  Honestly, I don’t let it bother me and you shouldn’t either.  Success isn’t something that is bestowed upon you by an outside source (or a test score!).  It doesn’t come from winning the championship or going undefeated.  (By the way, I can’t help but to mention the ridiculous notion behind No Child Left Behind that our schools are failures if 100% of students aren’t proficient by 2014.  This is exactly the type of misguided goal that I am railing against.)  So what then is a reasonable way of defining success?  I’ll turn to John Wooden again because I don’t think I’ve ever read a better definition of success.

“Success is peace of mind, which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to do your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming”

– John Wooden

He was wise man.

Dave Burgess