How NOT to Measure Success in Education or in Life -

How NOT to Measure Success in Education or in Life

It was “one of those weeks.” I had finally found a moment to sit on the couch, sip my iced tea, and close my eyes for just a minute.  My eyelids barely touched before I woke up to a scream.

“Devin’s hurt!” yelled my older son, Wendell, running through the patio door. Well, six-year-old Devin’s always hurt. I calmly remained in my reclined position.

Have you ever experienced that moment of panic when your mind races between “This is an emergency!” and “Don’t get blood on my sofa”…? That’s what happened when Devin walked through the door. I grabbed a clean towel, snatched my keys, looked outside, and realized we weren’t going anywhere. The evening before was the big football game at the high school next door, and someone had thrown a rock through the rear window of our van – which was now covered with shattered glass.

I called a friend who was in the middle of a bridal shower.  She sent her husband to chauffeur us to the hospital. We called my just-home-from-work husband from the ER. He later recounted his part of the story:

As soon as he hung up the phone, he heard screeching from the boys’ bedroom. When he entered, our hamster was sprawled, trembling, in the middle of the floor. He soon realized the kitten had wiggled his head into the tunnel of the hamster’s habit trail and was now flailing about and making horrible noises in an attempt to free himself. My husband later told me seeing the cat with eyes bugging out and ears plastered back, he briefly considered making a video of the scenario for Funniest Home Videos. Instead, he separated the two animals and came to join us.

While tucking Devin into bed later that night, I learned the details leading to our eventful afternoon. Our swing set was sitting on the concrete patio, to give time for a newly-planted lawn to fill in. Devin had tied himself to the top of the set and was attempting to fly. When the rope came loose, he landed on his head on a shovel on the concrete patio. The “play-by-play” made me shiver.

As a good teacher, I am dedicated to looking for a teaching moment in every situation. While tucking him in and stroking his forehead, I asked my son, “Honey, what did you learn from this experience today?”

He looked sweetly into my eyes and replied so sincerely, “Mommy, I should have tied the rope tighter.”

I collapsed into bed that night convinced I was not fit to teach anyone’s children, let alone my own. In fact, I was not even fit for motherhood. In this moment, I was convinced that I and my family were failing miserably.

But then there was another day. I was running errands alone. If you have children (and I have a feeling you do – or you spend a lot of time around them – or you wouldn’t be interested in this story), you know how rare and how special these times can be.

Blue sky, clean air, fluffy clouds, and birds chirping as I pulled out of my driveway. I indulged in a caramel latte, which I didn’t have to share. At each stop, I found the exact item for which I was looking, in the perfect color, the right size, and on sale.

While driving down the frontage road, a song came on the radio station. The words caught my attention. “Life is precious, Life is sweet…”

“Life is precious,” I thought. ‘My life is sweet!” My family is wonderful, my kids are turning out great, and my life is peaches and cream! In this moment, I was convinced that we were a tremendous success.

Are you getting the picture? In the two days I have described, my emotions dictated my perceptions of success and failure. See how easily we are swayed by our circumstances? We are emotional creatures, and our emotions swing on the pendulum of life. This is a dangerous way to evaluate our lives, our children, and our students.

I wrote Evaluating for Excellence to help you – parents and teachers – take the emotion out of the way you evaluate the progress you and your students are making. When we can separate one tough day from the whole, we are more likely to carry on. When we can keep one delightful day in perspective, we are more inclined to remain consistent.

I am thankful I did not throw in the towel on the marathon day I described first. I am equally as thankful I did not boast to very many people of my family’s infinite perfection on the second day. The same is true for every area of academic and character training. We all have ups and downs. The question is, “Are we continuing to move closer to the goal?”

“What is the goal?” you ask. This resource ought to help you sort that out. In the meantime, give thoughtful consideration to these suggestions. I hope they will help to steady your swing on the emotional pendulum and enable you to truly enjoy this precious time to learn and grow with your students. It is all too fleeting!

Dr. Teresa Moon, founding President and CEO of the Institute for Cultural Communicators, is an internationally-recognized seminar speaker, education consultant, author, and leadership coach. Each year, she travels globally equipping students, teachers, and parents to become “cultural communicators,” transforming ordinary students into extraordinary communicators and authentic leaders.

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