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What If Itś Not About You?

Empowering Students To Be Their Best

Over the weekend, I attended my husbandś 50-mile run. The Mohican ultramarathon featured distances that ranged from the marathon to 100 miles. In particular, ultramarathon running requires athletes to lean into a support system to achieve their goals. Support crews provide direction, fuel, hydration, regular check-ins, moral support, perspective, insight, and anything else that keeps the runner moving forward. 

Itś Different From Other Races

Ultra runners benefit from having a crew help them through a race. Ultra events feature considerably long distances and require that athletes be on their feet for several hours. 

As educators, we are crewing several students as they make their way through an epic race; the school year.

My first introduction to the idea of serving as a crew member for a student came from Julie Woodard, @woodard_julie, a contributor to the book, 100 No-Nonsense Things that ALL Teachers Should STOP Doing said, Ïmagine a NASCAR race where students are the drivers. We become the pit-crew willing to support in any way possible. The pit-cew-team-mentality places the ownership in the hands of the students so that they can meet their personal goals or reach classroom expectations. As I thought about Julie Woodard’s idea of being a crew member to support students, it made a lot of sense as I watched the 50-mile ultra race and saw the tremendous responsibility the crew had.  

Every Athlete or Student is Different

Just as a crew cannot run the race for the athlete, as educators, we are tasked to support students but ultimately have to realize that the experience belongs to the learner. Like the Mohican races, our classroom features students of all levels going in all different directions. Some students are tackling the minimum experience or distance and will need more time to complete it than other athletes. What is important as Katie McNamara @KatieJMcNamara, a contributor to the book, 100 No-Nonsense Things that ALL Teachers Should STOP Doing, is that we ´Set the bar high, and students will rise to the standards and expectations. Once you have set the bar that completion is necessary, students will deliver.¨ As we would not praise an athlete who only ran a part of the race when there was an opportunity to do more, we should not accept incomplete work when we know students have more ability than they are showing.  

Where They Start

The key to doing a great job crewing a race for an ultra-runner, is recognizing what support is needed. Some athletes or students enter with partial or complete experience. However, no matter their ability, we owe students support and need to check in, encourage, and even consider opportunities that might challenge an initial goal. Some athletes have run a particular distance multiple times or completed something similar and feel very prepared for the task ahead of them, while others are not as prepared. 

Sometimes athletes have the courage to begin, but it is a courage that requires considerable support. It is our job as educators to notice the details. Even if an athletes or students are doing well, there might be an adjustment we can suggest to take them to a new level.  

Use What Works

Endurance athletes test out different fuel and gear in training. It is advised that athletes do not try new things in a race. As my husband tackled the distance last weekend, he sought out the things he knew worked.  He packed the fuel he used before. He chose familiar things like Coca-Cola, watermelon, and pickles at the aid stations. One thing about ultrarunning, is that the aid stations and fuel recommendations are a reminder that simple, whole foods work wonders. It is a great idea to try out new resources, but it is important to carefully weave them into a routine analyzing and assessing their purpose and how they fit best. There is no substitute for things that are simple and produce quality results. 

Gradually Try New Things Analyzing Them Along the Way

As educators, we are constantly introduced to new materials. We get the opportunity to try out new technology, textbooks, methods from conferences, and ideas we learn about on Twitter or other social media.  However, as Debbie Tannenbaum (@TannenbaumTech), author of new book, TRANSFORM: Techy Notes to Make Learning Sticky  said on The Lasting Learning Podcast with Dave Schmittou, says, if we keep gaining new materials and knowledge but don't organize resources, amazing technology begins to look like the treadmill in the corner with all of the clothes draped over it.  

We Cannot Run the Race For Students

Watching an ultra race reminds me that we can guide, coach, introduce and facilitate many growth opportunities. However, one thing we cannot do is run the race for students. We can serve as a pacer or run alongside our students for part of the race, but ultimately it is the learner who is doing the work and has to take ownership of the experience.

Refuse to Give Up Until Time Runs Out

In many endurance races, there is a cutoff time. Runners need to make it to a certain point or run the risk of not finishing the event. The element of time reminds me of what happens in the classroom.  Even if an athlete or student is not on pace, he or she has the potential to catch up. As a support crew, it is our responsibility to keep giving support until time officially runs out. Sometimes we do all that we can to create effectively and it doesn’t work out. Crewing an event requires that we are honest about the challenge ahead, and find a way to remain optimistic that there is always hope for something amazing to be accomplished. 

It might seem like a long shot for a runner or student to complete something, but the most extraordinary accomplishments are possible when people have a support system in place. 

Itś Not About Us

Ann Hlabangana-Clay, @AnnHC_Champ4All, a contributor to the book, 100 No-Nonsense Things that ALL Teachers Should STOP Doing says, ¨When we stepped into the educational profession, we were supposed to leave the capitalized ¨ME¨ at the door. Leaving ¨ME¨ at the door is exactly what happens when crewing an ultramarathon is about. It’s not really about us. 

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1 comment

  • Excellent food for thought!

    Ann Hlabangana-Clay on

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