This summer, I’ve been off. This summer, I’ve been running.
There was a time when, had you told me I’d enjoy running and all the sweat and pain that go with it, I’d have scoffed in your face with no regard for your hurt feelings. That has become the case, though. Lately, I find myself running four or five times a week, sweat, pain, and all. It sometimes feels arduous or insurmountable, but when I meet the top of a hill, a sustained speed, or a distance or time goal, the feeling is actually quite amazing. A flood of endorphins and a little proving yourself wrong can do wonders.
My own forays into a field where I was previously derelict have me thinking about my students. So often, we struggle to figure out how to motivate our students. Some use carrots and sticks. The methodology I attempt revolves around convincing kids that they can accomplish what they didn’t imagine was possible if they are willing to work for it. This is a fact for my growing life as a runner. The other day, I ran 35 straight minutes on hilly terrain. It was a major accomplishment for me that became possible because of many runs in preparation. It was a painful experience but a tremendously rewarding one.
My grandmother used to say something along the lines of, “You can’t make anyone change. They have to want to change themselves.” For me, this summer was a perfect confluence of running sneakers and desire to change. How many seven or eight year olds are reflective, mature, and introspective enough to take ownership of their own change? Precious few.
Young students are not always sufficiently equipped to understand the steps necessary to overcoming an obstacle and achieving a goal. It is the teacher’s role to help clear the hurdles by pointing out strengths, weaknesses, and next steps that support achieving the goal. The teacher needs to be a cheerleader and trainer, supporting the student through difficulties and pain, but also challenging him sufficiently and pushing him to give his all.
This enables our students to push up the next hill and through to the next mile.