Shifting from others to self

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I have been struggling lately with how to explain to my students that they should be setting goals for themselves, looking at the big picture. Constantly I am going back to “writing is a journey” we work on the piece we reflect and we better our craft. When we read we talk about our thoughts and reflect on different things, the end goal being an increase in the depth of our responses. For each student, this starts as a competition, “What is the max page number we need, what is my mark, is my paper better than… who has the best story? What page are you on?”  These are all questions that I think teachers are asked or that we overhear students asking each other during the day.

I am not so sure why but this year it has really bothered me, this competitive nature regarding classroom achievement.  Looking back I did the same thing. Looking not too far back I was just as competitive as my kids are today. The testing environment is for sure largely to blame but so are the pressures we, and their parents, put on students. Teachers that have a standardized test can say until they are blue in the face, “guys this doesn’t really matter for me.”  But the more time we spend prepping for tests our students know that that is only a line, that we do care, the school system is about the competition. But I can’t help but wonder what if it wasn’t?

What if we became learner-centered versus grade centered? What if we had a system in place that valued student growth over time over the snapshots?

Today in class I used the quote, ” We achieve more when we chase the dream instead of the competition.” from Together is Better. I am loving these daily reflections on the words in this beautiful book, exploring different thoughts the classes bring to the conversation and today was no different. Many thoughts about feeling pride achieving a personal goal being better than just beating someone else, or that competing against someone versus against yourself might not really help you improve. One student mentioned the business world and how competition is important but businesses that succeed set goals that take them beyond the competition not just beat the competition. I had the thought that if we are only focused on competition rather than growth our success is linked to the failure of others and what kind of community are we building then?

I think it is pretty natural to want to be the best, but I wonder if we should change our focus to being the best us. Realistic goals and celebrations of success should be focused on self-goals reached. I am not talking about a participation award like so many that argue for a traditional grade or performance-based system tend to decry. I am talking about the power of realizing you have met your goals. That you have achieved your best. When I changed my focus from being the best teacher in the division to being the best teacher I could be for me and my students I became happier. The destructive culture that I helped cultivate went away. I wanted to help others succeed, and I want my students to have that change of mindset as well.

This should be about their journey, our learning journey not just besting the competition. I wonder what school cultures would look like if this was the norm?

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