I just completed my 47th marathon in Chicago this past Sunday and that distance give you lots of time to think. My analysis of the race this year focused on the similarities between the field of 45,000 runners, and the students that come to school and populate our classrooms.
As I watched the runners all around me, I noticed a variety of approaches to running styles. Some had longer stride length while others seemed to have foot strikes at twice the pace of mine. There were runners carrying elbows high and others who seemed to have their arms by their sides. One woman ran with a video camera mounted to her hat and had such a backward lean that I could only imagine the pain that would cause. Runners were guided by their pace wrist bands or watches or their internal clocks. I saw two runners with carbon fiber legs. Some runners had many layers of clothing on while at least two men were running shirtless. I ran past costumed runners and runners supporting their favorite charities. I saw three runners whose visual impairment meant they had guides running the course with them offering key information at the appropriate times.
As I think about the students coming to our schools, I know there are a variety of approaches to learning styles. Some are more proficient in math than language arts. Some are beyond others in the technology aspects but may lag in another academic area. Learners might be guided by their internal organizational skills or may need agendas created for them. Some may have physical restrictions that they have overcome personally while others may need additional human support. Students’ learning levels may be readily visible to the naked eye, or may be buried under deep layers. All students will require feedback at appropriate times along the way.
The spectator support along the way made every runner feel like a champion. Signs and cheers amused and elevated participants (as an aside my favorite sign read “Worst Parade Ever”) as they pushed past each kilometer marker successfully. In our schools, descriptive feedback could make every student feel like an academic champion. Acknowledging the skills, providing supports, and believing that every learner can will get them past each grade marker successfully.
Some runners were able to maintain a consistent pace throughout the course, while others had varied pace depending on aspects of the course, their energy level at the moment, or stopping to take on fuel. The fastest runner in the field completed the race more than six hours ahead of the last person to cross the finish line and I’m sure each had a different perception of the course. Some students are able to maintain a consistent pace throughout their school career and stay on grade level. Others are accelerated and exceed expectations ahead of their peers while others struggle to gain proficiency and may need more time or a different strategy to master the hard spots. Some of our students get tired and may also need more fuel.