OK, men … it is time for you to pretend that you don’t know what Spanx are.
For those of you who don’t know, Spanx is an underwear maker that focuses on making undergarments that make you appear thinner than you are and, yes, they make them for men as well. It is a billion-dollar company started by their CEO, Sara Blakely. She shares the story that her father would ask her at least every week at the dinner table what she failed at lately. He would then give her a “high five” and they would celebrate the failure because there was always some amazing nugget that she learned by stretching herself to the point where she was not successful. She learned that success lies on the far side of failure. Her company continually grows and thrives because it continues to stretch, fail, learn, succeed, and then start the process over. It is the only way to truly grow.
I remember when my dad was teaching me to catch a baseball. He was pretty good at throwing the ball to my mitt. I remember the first time he didn’t and the ball landed with a thud right in the middle of my chest. Through tears, I grumbled because he didn’t throw the ball to where my mitt was. He explained that I had to move my mitt to the ball and tried not to laugh. Since then, I have had failure after failure on the athletic field … just like Michael Jordan, who many times was one of the leaders in the NBA in missed shots. He had a little success along the way. I did as well at times, but let’s just say I was not Michael Jordan.
Our students have many, many opportunities to learn through falling short. It is the only way they grow to be what and who they want to be. When I was young, we could get a grade a variety of ways and we were always asking for “extra credit.” The teachers would come up with something — cleaning the blackboards, doing a worksheet, or some other activity that most definitely did not indicate I knew the subject. It just showed that I knew how to play the system and ultimately get the grade I wanted without actually having to work to gain the knowledge. In real life, I have found this does not work to make the grade.
Since, starting with our sophomore class, our kids will have to pass a test mandated by the state to graduate, this is becoming more important. The state doesn’t care what their grade is and neither does the SAT or the ACT. All they care is that they actually know the subject. That is requiring us to behave differently as educators. No more “extra credit” and no more allowing kids to fail. They have to know how to think critically and demonstrate they know the given curriculum in order to succeed. To that end, if a kid is working at the D or F level, we are simply saying you haven’t learned yet and we are going to keep working with you until you get it. We are NOT going to give up on our kids.
There is something to be learned in failure and not succeeding the first time or the twentieth time. Ultimately, failure is not an option. That is true for people working for Spanx as well. It is OK to not succeed at first, but settling for failure and not being resilient and persistent in order to succeed is not acceptable.
Now go put on your Spanx and go play some baseball (where failing at the plate just seven out of 10 times is considered success)!
Steve Woolf is the superintendent for the Woodland Park School District. Go to wpsdk12.org to watch “Woolf Weekly,” his message to the community.