How Do You Measure Success?

The London Olympic games are coming to a close, and I’ve noticed a few themes/issues throughout the games that seem to spill into the realm of education: 1) How do we measure success? 2) In 20 years, other sites may push twitter or Facebook aside, but I’m pretty confident social media is here to stay. How do we promote digital citizenry and prepare kids to use these tools productively and? 3) Privilege and equity – does every country have a fair shot at a sailing or equestrian medal? Does every child have access to a good education? 4) Standards: what are the standards for commentary on the Olympics? I know very little about gymnastics, but I don’t need someone to point out that a fall off an apparatus is not a good thing. Did the opening ceremony need a play-by-play? Can you imagine giving students the answers rather than providing opportunities to grapple with, discover, and construct their own knowledge? There are many more themes that have emerged from these games, but the first one I mentioned resonates with me the most. How do we measure our own success and the success of our students?

After Michael Phelp’s fourth place finish at his first event, the USA Today had a story titled: “Sluggish Michael Phelps is not swimmer we expected in London.” Since his first event, Phelps has become the most decorated Olympian in history, but I guess if you look just at the one fourth place finish, sluggish it must have been.

Why is it that some athletes cry for joy after winning a silver and other athletes are visibly disappointment, often with tears in their eyes for winning a silver medal.

The most emailed article in the New York Times over the past three days has been one titled: Raising Successful Children. It’s a parenting article about the importance of not over-parenting and allowing children to make mistakes and build resiliency on their way to success and confidence.

I’m not a parent, but I completely agree with the statement, “HANGING back and allowing children to make mistakes is one of the greatest challenges of parenting.” It’s a challenge of teaching as well. Not all failures are equal. They need to be ones that lead to growth. So what kind of mistakes should parents and teachers let kids make?

“In this gray area of just beyond the comfortable is where resilience is born.”

Perhaps being called ‘sluggish’ and then coming back to win 4 gold and 2 silver medals can qualify as a good measure of success.

I just came back from a great three day summer planning inservice with my colleagues where we spent a lot of time looking at and practicing how we assess and give feedback to our students and to each other. I wish us all a successful school year that can be measured by the risks we take ourselves in that gray area just beyond the comfortable and by the resilience we develop in our students. 



One thought on “How Do You Measure Success?

  1. Anthony, love your blog. I’ve been talking about Michael Phelps’ 2012 Olympics recently also because it is reminiscent of a key study about explanatory optimim by Seligman et al. The study is recounted in Learned Optimism. Here’s how I’ve summarized it elsewhere (

    “In 1988, Dr. Seligman worked with the University of California Berkeley swim team to determine which swimmers responded best under adversity. In this case, adversity was defined as how they performed in their next event after a sub-par performance. Matt Biondi had one of the most optimistic explanatory styles. In the Summer Olympics in 1988 in Seoul , Korea , the media were talking of Biondi’s chances of winning seven gold medals a la Mark Spitz in 1972. Knowledgeable observers, however, thought seven medals of any type against the competition in Seoul would be an accomplishment. Biondi took a disappointing bronze in the first event and, in an apparent mental error, coasted the last meter of the 100-meter buttyerfly (not his best event) and lost the gold by inches. The media buzzed with speculation as to how he would respond. Dr. Seligman was confident that, in accordance with his explanatory style, he would respond with top performances. Dr. Seligman was right. Biondi swept gold in the last five events!”

    Amazingly similar to Phelps in the most recent Olympics, wouldn’t you say?

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