Imagine you’re a basketball novice and are getting shooting tips from a friend.
You go out in your driveway and take about 50 shots but only make three. You may be a little discouraged but not enough to throw in the towel.
You get a few more pointers from your friend and head out again the next day. You take about 50 shots again and only make five. Now you’re officially discouraged. You just keep missing, all the time.
But, of course, someone could tell you that you improved your shooting ability by 4% in 24 hours. They could tell you nearly doubled your shooting skills literally overnight. Maybe they even know what typical hoops improvement is from day one to day two and could tell you whether your improvement is on track or higher.
In my experience as a teacher and school administrator, I find that the greatest growth impediment for a student who has typically not succeeded in school before is thinking about the rut they are in.
The antidote is easy: celebrate not where they are but the rate of their progress—prefer steeps slopes even to high points.
That’s why in breakthrough classrooms, you’ll typically see lists on the wall not of kids with the highest grades, but of those who’ve grown the most since the last test or project. You could have a C and a B student, if they’ve worked hard to pull up from the D they started with. Not only do students escape feeling like “F students”, but they have a shot at beating the so-called “A students” on a daily basis.
Before you get tangled in worries that this lowers the bar, or say, “Are you kidding me? So is a kid penalized for coming in strong?” think about something you struggled with and abandoned.
When naming something you believe you could never do—speak Mandarin, ride a unicycle, pass AP calculus—look at the first time you decided you’d failed and ask, “Instead of saying I’m still not good at this, what if I’d said, ‘ok, 18% better than yesterday.’”
In the “new normal,” even A students will have to learn at an increased pace—and shouldn’t they be expected to anyway?
If you’re a school, start considering honoring and incentivizing students’ growth rather than their current status. Think about what this might change about how you grade or communicate grades. Start thinking of classroom routines and moves with parents that reinforce them.
If you’re a parent, you can start acclimating your kids to this even now. Ask yourself this question every day: “What has my child improved at that I’m unlikely to notice because it’s still not what I expect?”
This works to build pace and momentum in anything. Like it or not, telling your kid they dropped only four F-bombs today instead of the five they dropped yesterday is going to get them to zero much faster than withholding your recognition until they do.
If you’re a leader or managing struggle to develop your people, all of the above.
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