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March 16, 2018

Connecting with Students: It’s Not Always About the “Gold”

The Olympics have got me thinking….A few weeks ago the 2018 Olympic Winter Games began and I, along with so many throughout the world, found it to be “must see” T.V.  You need to understand that the Olympics and I go way back…all the way to 1980.  It just so happens that the first Olympics I truly “experienced” on earth have become part of the fabric of American sports.  The 1980 U.S. Hockey team won the gold medal and this “miracle on ice” was, to say the least, memorable.  I distinctly remember rushing to the front door of my house after they had won, only to shout “U.S.A!” over and over again…fortunately, none of the neighbors called the police….I was only 9.  It became a childhood memory for one reason, and one reason only: They won the gold. 

What if they had lost to the Russians in the semifinals? What if they had fallen to Finland in the final match? Would they have been remembered?

If you were challenged to name the most memorable Olympic athletes of all time, could you do it? Who might you name?  Mary Lou Retton? Michael Phelps? Jackie Joyner-Kersee? Carl Lewis? Bonnie Blair? Eric Heiden? Jesse Owens? Apolo Ohno? These, of course, we remember because of their unmatched performances and ability to rise to the top (of the awards stand!) Their achievements are a reflection of great coaching and teaching, a high level of commitment and sacrifice, hard work and determination, and flat out ability.  These top athletes got the most “air” time on the network…the most attention by the media…the most praise by the commentators…and the most love by Olympic fans.

But..…what if they had fallen, lost, false-started, or just “had a bad day?” Would they have been remembered?

Who are the memorable Olympic-caliber students of your classroom? They are the most motivated, engaged, high-achieving, accomplished students you work with each day.  They are talked about most by the faculty…get the most attention and praise by those observing the workings of your school…and, more than likely, receive the most love and support at home.

I should add that there are also Olympic athletes that receive a great amount of attention for reasons they’d often not like to reveal.  They cheated, lied, manipulated the “system”, and got caught….or….they failed to somehow reach their potential and are remembered as a failure.  Can you think of any students who fit this description? These are the ones we remember because of their inability to perform in the classroom and unwillingness to follow the rules. They’re memorable…but often in challenging ways.

When I think about the Olympics (and teaching) I think it’s important to remember the vast majority of students and athletes that fall “in-between” these two groups.  While watching the short track speed skating event recently, an interesting thing happened.  There were 5 competitors in the final race and the perennial favorite fell on the last lap.  She finished last. The expected runner-up took the gold medal and the crowd roared.  The commentators spent the next several minutes detailing what had happened, even showing a video clip about the both the 1st place finisher…and the last to cross the line. No mention was made, however of the 3rd and 4th place finishers.  It was as if they were never on the track competing and didn’t exist.

Some of our students are high achieving and seem to always win a medal.  Others consistently fail to perform to their potential (or miss the race altogether!).  But what about those that finish in the middle?  Are they memorable? Do they receive the recognition that they deserve?  Stop for a moment and think about all of your students that are “in the middle.”  Can you see their face? Do you spend as much time training them as you do your gold medal performers? Do they receive as much attention as those who continually fall or manipulate the system?

The core values of the Olympics are friendship, excellence, and respect.  I’m going to make a point during this time of the school year to seek out students “in the middle” who are striving to represent these values and appreciate their contributions.  Although they may not achieve the scores and judges’ marks reflective of a place on the medal stand, recognition may be long overdue. 

What do you think?

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Lance Raabe is our on-site course instructor in Council Bluffs, Iowa. If you are looking for a course experience where you learn face-to-face, make connections with other teachers, and are ready to make a difference in your classroom and in the world, check out our summer on-site courses:

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