The ‘uh-oh’ feeling

Goals. It’s the beginning of the school year, so I’m sure we’ve all got them. As you think about the goals for your year, how do you feel about them? This summer I read the book Run Like a Pirate by Adam Welcome. Adam has been a teacher, vice principal, principal, and director of innovation and technology. He also travels all over the country to speak with schools and districts.

The gist of the book Run Like a Pirate is his experiences during 2017. Now, you may wonder why that year. In 2017, Adam set a goal to run one marathon a month for every month of the year. Personally, I like to think of myself as a runner. Those of you that follow me on Twitter may see me post my run stats, pictures from my run, or something on Twitter about those early morning miles that I get in. I’ve run multiple half marathons and have contemplated stepping up to the full marathon. But the idea of running even a half-marathon a month seems completely overwhelming to me, let alone doubling those miles each month!

When you have set goals for yourself in the past, how often do you set a goal that you think “I’ve totally got this, no problem!” and then you do crush that goal? It makes you feel good to know that you’ve met the goal. After meeting that goal you probably set another one.

But here’s a thought. Goals are meant to stretch us. They’re meant to bring us to the growing edge. They should give you that feeling in the pit of your stomach that says “uh-oh” because you aren’t quite sure if you can do it.

It’s important to set goals with this ‘uh-oh’ mindset because the difficulty of meeting the goal is where the payoff comes from. If you set a goal that you can reach easily, that you can possibly reach without having to put in some extra work, you aren’t growing. It feels good to meet a goal, but what’s our point in goal setting? Is it to be able to say that we accomplished our goals exactly as we set them? Or is it about being able to look back on the process of trying to meet the goal and reflect on the struggle you went through and the growth that happened?

When I made the decision to run a half-marathon, that was a huge jump for me. Prior to registering, I had never run anything longer than a 5K. Suddenly I was committed to run a race that was TEN MILES longer than my previous long. So, I did research. I talked to the people at my shoe store to help pick out a good pair of shoes. I looked at multiple training plans for a beginner running a half-marathon. I read up on training methods – should I run hills? Do interval training? Mix in some rest days (because that’s important too)? Then I read up on nutrition. If I was going to be running early morning miles, what should I have for breakfast? How long before the run? What should I have after I got home? What about gels or chews or some other energy-based snack while I was running? And what about hydration? Do I carry a water bottle? Over time I figured out a strategy that worked well for me, but it took lots of trial and error, and I still haven’t met my goal time that I set for my last half-marathon.

As you can see, setting a goal that pushes you to a place you aren’t quite sure you can go forces you to learn a ton! Ultimately, I was able to finish that first half-marathon in a time of just over 2 hours. And then, a couple days later I signed up for my next half-marathon with the goal of breaking the 2-hour mark. As of the writing of this, I have successfully run 7 half-marathons, six of them in a time of less than 2 hours, but still, I haven’t met that goal of 1:45.

With the beginning of this school year, think about the goals you have set for yourself. Are you at the point of thinking “I’m going to crush this” or are you feeling a bit more of that “uh-oh” in the pit of your stomach. I’d like to challenge you that most likely you’re going to learn more when trying to accomplish an “uh-oh” kind of goal. You might not hit your goal exactly as you set it, but that’s ok! You will definitely learn more than if you set a goal that you can achieve easily. Make sure you have a little bit of that uh-oh feeling when you set your next goal!

Stop talking about what you want to do and start doing what you want to do. If you don't, it's just not going to happen.

What are some of the goals you have set for yourself? Share your plans with us in the comments below! A goal has a lot more meaning when we make it public!



Observing other teachers

It’s hard for me to believe, but this school year marks my 8th year as an administrator. For the past 7 years I have had the privilege of observing thousands of hours of lessons taught by amazing teachers. One of the things that I have come to realize is that I would be a much better teacher today than I was when I was still in the classroom. 

Why do I feel that way? 

I have learned more about teaching by watching the amazing things teachers do on a daily basis. It seems like almost every time I walk into a classroom, something happens that makes me pause and reflect on why the teacher made that choice. What does that reflection lead to? Growth. 

When I was still a classroom teacher, I had my daily prep, just like everyone else. I used it for things that I felt were important; grading papers, working on lesson plans, or preparing for upcoming lessons (and sometimes for chatting with my teammates) among the hundreds of other things that would happen during my prep. One of the things that I never did though – observe the master teachers in my building.  

At the time, I probably felt like I didn’t have time to just sit and watch someone teach. After all, I could just talk to them before or after school to get some ideas and resources from them. But the reality is that just talking with someone doesn’t bring in all the nuance that can come from observing a full lesson. Not to mention all the things that teachers do during a lesson that have nothing to do with their content. Things like their use of proximity with a student, the tone of voice when asking or answering a question, or even the way they handle a transition from one part of an activity to another. There is so much that can be learned by sitting and being present. 

So often as teachers, we live in the little bubble of our classroom during the school day. We may know the topic that another teacher said they were covering, and we may share something about a lesson we’re excited about, but there’s no way to really know what’s happening in a classroom until you get a chance to sit inside and observe. We need to be brave enough to break down those barriers that exist and give a little time to observation. 

And I know there’s another side to this coin. What if you’re the one being observed? I think we all get a little bit nervous when there is another adult in the classroom. But here’s the reality, just as King Solomon said, “As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend.”  

As iron sharpens irons, so a friend sharpens a friend.

We all become our better selves through learning from one another. Think of the compliment that is being given to you if someone wants to come to your room to observe. They are giving up one of the most valuable commodities, time, to try to learn from you. We want to create an environment where teachers sharpen teachers. 

I have some ideas about how I may integrate this idea of observing others in my own building, but I’d love to hear your thoughts. Have you spent time observing other teachers? What have you learned from that experience? What are your ideas about how you might manage a system for observing one another? Share your thoughts in the comments below! 

Love what you do

Today was one of those days. I came home wondering what I had actually accomplished. I knew I had done a lot, but I didn’t feel like anything I did really helped in the goal of serving the students, teachers, and families of Riverside.

I think we all have days like that. We feel like we weren’t that successful. We start to doubt ourselves. At times we may even question if we are meant to be where we are.

Here’s the thing though – even on days like today, I love what I do. I love to see students accomplish amazing things in their classroom. I love to see teachers do the great things they do in their classrooms daily. I love the mission of helping kids be successful for anything that may come their way in the future!

I recently heard an interview of Kevin Systrom. If you don’t know who he is, he’s one of the co-founders of Instagram (I hope you all know what Instagram is!), that helps me on the days where I feel things didn’t go well.

A lot of people are like, you should love what you do. And I agree. But I think it's more you should love what you're shooting for. Cause work is hard. It can be miserable at times... It's a universal law that great

I think we all realize that education can be really hard. And the end of the school year is one of those times that can be extra difficult. There’s so much we’re trying to accomplish during those final few days. We’re trying to soak up every last moment with this group of students because no class will ever be exactly the same. Add to that students who may be counting down the days for summer break who have mentally checked out of class. I’ve had several conversations recently with teachers and students about the difficulties of this time of year.

As an educator, many of us have heard (or maybe even said) that you have to love what you do to be able to be good at it. If that is something that has been ingrained in us, having a bad day can be really difficult to take. That’s why I love Systrom’s take on loving what you do. This work is hard, and some days don’t go that well. But he reminds us that great things happen through hard work. If the job were easy all the time, anyone can do it. But I think all of us in education know that this is not a job that anyone can do. It takes a special personality, a special heart, to be able to serve your students and community in this role.

The next time you have a bad day, and are questioning your ability, take a moment to reflect on the long-term accomplishments. Maybe it’s the growth you’ve seen from one of your students. Maybe it takes thinking about a big project that has come to fruition. Or maybe it’s as simple as that moment where you could tell that something you did or said to a kid had a positive impact. It’s easy to get sucked in by the bad, and we go on this negative spiral. Always be looking for the good. It’s there. And when you find it, hold on to it, because that’s the reason you love what you do!

So to close the post for today, I wanted to share just a few pictures of the awesome things that have happened at Riverside – just this quarter! These pictures were posted to Twitter by various teachers and staff members in our building.


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Do you have any ways that help you focus on your love of what you’re shooting for when you have those days that don’t go so well? Share in the comments below!

What a no can mean

It’s a rainy Saturday morning. Because of the rain, we don’t have baseball or softball today. I already have been to the gym so that I could crush my #FitLeaders goal for the day. After getting home, my wife needed to run an errand. The kids are on the couch watching an episode of The Voice (sorry guys, not really my thing), so I decided to fire up Twitter and see what was going on. I was met with this tweet:

I love Todd Nesloney’s work. Kids Deserve It is one of my favorite books to help me set the course for why I do what I do. But I have to admit, seeing this had me a little worried because I have seen the power that the word no can have in a school. Now, don’t get me wrong here, I know that there’s a time and place where a no is necessary. But I want to share a couple of times, just in the past two weeks, where I could have said no because it would have been the easy decision to make, but I didn’t. And I think that by being deliberate in the decision-making process, we were able to do some things that had really positive impacts for our kids.

On the Thursday after spring break, I received an email from one of our fifth-grade teachers. She had been communicating with a parent who is also a teacher at a neighboring high school. His class was getting ready to do a weather balloon launch, and after some discussion with our teacher, she was going to be able to bring her students along to witness the event. The problem, it’s Thursday afternoon and the launch was the very next Tuesday. For any of you that have been responsible for planning a field trip, you might know what the potential snag would be – transportation! In our district, we are typically asked to give at least a 2 week notice for any field trips in order to allow our transportation to find drivers.

I knew that simply sharing the request with our transportation department would create added work for the person in charge of field trip assignments. This knowledge alone could have made it easy to say no. But then I thought about the potential learning opportunities that this trip would afford our students. So, I contacted our transportation department and made the request. Luckily, we work with an amazing transportation department that works very hard to help make these learning opportunities possible for our students. They were able to get our transportation set up. Two buses would be in front of our school around 9:00 am the morning of the launch.

While we were waiting though, I realized another snag. The trip would be happening on the morning we had scheduled as a 2-hour delay schedule so that all our students and teachers would be able to go through the required practice test for the upcoming ILEARN (our state accountability assessment). Again, it would have been easy to say that because of this, we couldn’t do the field trip. But… as I went back to our primary purpose here – learning and student experiences – it seemed like this was an opportunity that we couldn’t pass up. I talked it over with the teachers and we came up with an alternate plan for their ILEARN practice test. We created permission slips, informed parents of the possible trip, and and made it happen. Our kids had an awesome learning experience! Here are just a few pictures from that day:


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The second example revolves around out ILEARN testing schedule. During the week after spring break, I sat down with the leadership team in my building to look at the test requirements and build an ILEARN schedule that made sense to us and would be the best for our students. Due to the timing of the test, we knew we were going to have to break it up more than we have in the past. We built our initial schedule with our math and science/social studies tests in week 1, and out ELA tests in week 2. I shared the draft with staff and asked for feedback. I didn’t really expect to get much, but all the sudden, several math teachers asked if there was any way to flip-flop the 2 weeks. My gut reaction initially was to say no, but then I started thinking about the feedback I was getting and the reasoning that was being shared. So, I developed an alternative version of the schedule, put them out to the staff side-by-side, and asked for a vote of what the preferred schedule was. By an almost 2-1 margin, the alternative schedule that we developed was the most popular. While I felt that the alternative schedule would drag testing out too long because of some extra make-up days built into the middle, it was what teachers felt was best for students, so it’s the version we went with. It may not seem like something that super innovative, but it allowed the teachers in our building to feel heard, and I can’t tell you how many of our teachers, especially our math teachers, have said thank you for changing the schedule.

So… Back to Todd’s original tweet… I know that there are times that a no is absolutely necessary. That word can’t be avoided at all times. But I also know that there is great power that comes with the word no. If we are trying to lead innovative and transformative learning environments, we are going to have teachers approach us with ideas that feel way outside of the norms of our school. If we give a quick no to innovative ideas, what does it do to the innovative spirit of our teachers?

The problem is that when you say

I’m worried that the simplicity of Todd’s statement about no may give some leaders who are not as comfortable with innovative and transformative learning environments a “free pass” to say no, when maybe a little deeper thought is really what is needed. And in those situations where a no is necessary, make sure that you are deliberate in your thinking, and then take the time to explain the why behind the no. If those innovative teacher leaders understand the why behind the no, then they may be able iterate their idea enough to make it possible to say yes next time.

And I know that not everyone who reads this is a building leader. As a teacher though, you are the leader in your classroom, or you might be a leader in your team, department, hallway, etc. If we want to create learning environments that promote student voice, choice, and agency, we have to keep in mind that as the teacher leader, your no can be just as powerful for your students as any building leader saying no.

So what are your thoughts? Have you been told no about something you were excited/passionate for? How did it make you feel? What did it do to your spirit to try something the next time? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Relationships (and a few ideas to make them better)

It is redistricting time here in HSE, and for those of you who have been through that, you know what that means – not only do we have students who will be shuffling schools, we also have some teachers who will be shifting. As a school who will be growing as a result of the redistricting, we have 4 new positions to fill in my building. At the same time, there are multiple buildings around the district who will be losing positions. All of this goes to say that there is a LOT of change going on around our district.

As a result of those changes, I have had the opportunity to sit in on interviews with a TON of super talented, motivated, and innovative teachers from all over our district. As I reflect on those interviews, one of the things that was reaffirmed is the fact that ALL teachers that I talk to seem to value relationships with their students above all else. For several years now, one of the school improvement goals at our school has been developed around the idea of the importance of strong relationships with our students.

This year our district embarked on a new process to be able to gather data from multiple stakeholders to better understand the beliefs that students, families, and teachers have about our schools. This was done through a survey called Panorama. The survey allows us to learn about a multitude of aspects of what happens at our buildings. We even got data from that survey about the perceptions that we all have about those student to teacher relationships in our building.

What was fascinating to me is that the data shows that within three percentage points, our students, teachers, and families all scored the strength of the connections between teachers and students almost at the same level. I was a bit concerned to learn though, that almost 30% of our responses on these questions were not favorable. Now, many of you know me – I love data. Out of the 851 students who were able to respond to this survey, somewhere close to 250 of those students responded unfavorably on the questions that related to teacher-student relationships.

No significant learning

So that got me thinking – as teachers, we know that relationships are important, and we work hard to create them. Even with that effort, we’re still looking at a significant portion of our student body who did not respond favorably when self-reporting their beliefs about relationships between teachers and students.

You know, when we look at a percentage, saying that our results are a little over 70% favorable sound pretty good. But c’mon, 250 kids did not give a favorable response in this category. That’s an average of about 7 kids per homeroom! Yikes!

So that has me reflecting on 2 questions:

  1. What are the things that are burning our relationships with kids?
  2. What can we do to improve those relationships?

I’m sure we all have theories on why students might not have a favorable response to questions about those relationships, but ultimately we want to think about what things we can do to build relationships. One of the other awesome things about our Panorama survey data is that you also have access to a section called the Playbook. Here you can find ideas for activities that support certain topics. One of the topics on the playbook is Teacher-Student Relationships. Here are a few examples that I think would provide huge bang for your buck in terms of building relationships:

  • Proactive Community Circles – The benefits of circling up and talking about what matters to kids is huge! When we begin looking at data from the Panorama survey, the schools who have already integrated these circles into their daily schedule have higher outcomes in the teacher-student relationships section of the survey. Want to build better relationships with your kids? Start circling up to have a conversation a few times a week!
  • Game time – What if you randomly selected a student to pick a couple of friends and come play a game with you during non-class time? It could be at lunch, during prep, or after school, but think about the opportunity that creates for you to get to know your students in a new way, and for them to get to know you!
  • Contact parents with positive information – make it a point to pick one day a week that you call the parents of a handful of students to share something positive about them. Especially target a student that you might have been struggling with. See if you notice a difference moving forward!
  • Form book clubs with students – Personally I love to read, and I love to talk about reading. What if you picked a group of students to do a book club outside of normal instructional time? Let the students select the book, and find a time once a week or every couple of weeks to get together and chat.

It’s clear to me from the data that teachers value relationships with students, but for some reason there seems to be a disconnect between what we as educators understand and what our students perceive. Maybe some added intentionality in our relationship building will help achieve stronger connections!

What are some of your favorite ways to build relationships with your students? Share some ideas in the comments below!

Boundaries and Supports

Last week, we were lucky enough to have Kristina Hulvershorn from Peace Learning Center come visit our school to lead us in a Level 1 Training on Restorative Practices. I have attended this training before, but was excited to participate with the teachers in my building so that we could have a shared understanding of what Restorative Practices are, why we want to integrate this way of thinking into our classroom setting, and have some support on the role of proactive circles in developing a classroom community.

While there were many aspects of the training that were valuable, one of the things that really resonated with me this time was this chart:


As I have reflected on the training, this chart has come back to me several times and got me thinking about the person I have become, as well as how I got here. All of us have had people in our past who helped us to get to where we are now. As I think back on the mentors who helped shape me, many of them offered me support in the form of encouragement. But along with that support, there were definitely boundaries, that put limits on me and created guardrails that helped to keep me on the path. This combination of boundaries and supports are what I credit in leading me to where I am today and continue to push me to be on the growing edge where I feel a little bit uncomfortable. I’m ok with that feeling though, because I know I still have mentors and colleagues that will offer support as I travel my path. If you think back on what has molded you into the person you are, you’ll probably be able to identify examples of boundaries and supports that helped you grow.

Our students need the same thing to be able to learn and grow. Each child needs someone (or many people) who can offer them support so that if they fail, there is someone to help them. At the same time, there have to be boundaries too, expectations for all our students that push them to be their best self. In our training, Kristina used an analogy that really allowed me to think about this combination of boundaries and supports. I wanted to share it with you.

Imagine that it is a school morning, and you are running late. As you approach school, you see the flashing yellow lights to signify the school zone, but you’re running late. You keep right on at the speed you were going. As you crest the hill by school, you see a police officer. Let’s look at the four different quadrants of boundaries and supports and imagine an officer from each one:

Neglectful: This officer is in position, but he’s got better things to do. He sees you speeding but doesn’t bother to chase you down. No boundaries, but also no support! So, what happens if you’re running late tomorrow? No lesson learned, so you might as well speed again!

Permissive: This officer actually pulls you over, but when you share that you’re a teacher who’s running late, he puts his lights and sirens on, escorts you to school, and then calls your principal to let them know that it’s his fault you were late. This time you’ve got lots of support, but no boundaries. When you’re running late the next time, you’re hoping that he’s the officer on duty! Again, no lesson has been learned.

Punitive: This is the officer who pulls you over, asks for your license and registration, but doesn’t want to hear anything about why you were speeding. He doesn’t care you were running late, or anything about why. He’s writing a ticket, and all you feel is mad and unheard. When this guy lets you go, all you’re doing is fuming about what happened, and seeing the experience as his fault. There are strong boundaries, but no support. Since you’re so caught up in being mad at the officer, you aren’t going to learn anything about the experience. Tomorrow you will probably speed, and hope that he’s not the officer on duty.

Restorative: Like the punitive officer, he pulls you over, but this time the experience is completely different. He approaches the car and asks if you knew you were speeding. When you say yes, he asks why and listens compassionately to your story. This officer starts asking you questions like: What time did you get up? What time did you leave home? In the process of the conversation, the officer talks to you about setting your alarm earlier, and actually asks you to set a new alarm on your phone for 15 minutes earlier so that you don’t have to be in such a rush tomorrow. Finally, the officer talks to you about a family he knows that was impacted by someone speeding in a school zone. In the end, the officer still writes you a ticket, but unlike last time, you feel that you were heard, you have some strategies to avoid being late tomorrow, and you better understand why there are lower speed limits in school zones. There are definitely boundaries here, but you also have lots of support. After this experience, you make a commitment to be sure to be out the house earlier so that you don’t have to speed.

So, what might these quadrants look like in a classroom setting? Let’s take a look:

Neglectful: In this classroom, there are no boundaries, and no supports. If you were to walk into this classroom, it would probably appear to be in chaos. Students are doing what they want, but it’s probably not got anything to do with the content they are supposed to be learning. The teacher probably has the best of intentions but doesn’t understand how to provide more support or appropriate boundaries for their students. When problems arise, this teacher looks the other way, or simply ships the students causing the problem out to someone else to deal with. Chances are, everyone walks out feeling stressed at the end of the day, and very little learning has happened for anyone.

Permissive: You might hear this teacher say something like “My sweet babies just can’t handle anything more.” The students feel like they are supported. So much so, that they don’t really accomplish anything. They are never pushed out of their comfort zone, and as a result they don’t learn much either. In this classroom, the teacher does all the work. When you walk in, it may appear that students are engaged in learning, but the learning that is happening is simply surface level. And when problems arise, this teacher steps in the middle and works to solve the problems between students. The efforts may lead to short term solutions, but in no time at all the problems are occurring again. At the end of the day, students walk out of the room feeling mostly happy, while the teacher probably walks out feeling tired.

Punitive: I think any of us who have been in education have a memory of this type of teacher in their past. I’m not going to name anyone here, but some examples from my past: The teacher who took away the baseball cards that I brought to school because someone else took them out and was looking at them. They were never returned. Or the teacher who would throw chalk at anyone who did not appear to be paying attention. One time I was writing notes about the class in my notebook, but he threw chalk at me because he thought I was drawing. These are the classrooms where students are living on the edge of fear. The only kids that are successful in this classroom are the ones who “play school” well. Kids may appear to be well behaved and on task, but really, they are living on the edge, waiting for the next moment that the teacher will yell. When problems happen in this classroom, they are handled quickly by the teacher with severe consequences. Students may not understand the why behind what went wrong, which means that the problem may occur again. Learning may happen, but again it is probably surface level because students are more concerned about not upsetting the teacher than focusing on learning the skills in the class. At the end of the day, the teacher probably feels pretty good about things, but the students probably are still in fear of what might happen tomorrow.

Restorative: In this classroom, there is a different feel in the air. When you walk into the class, you can feel a sense of community. Problems are rare, but when they arise students are able to try to work it out with their own conflict managements strategies. When these don’t work, they may get help from peers or the teacher. Students trust their peers and teacher because of the community they have created. When a major problem happens, the class is able to circle up and talk about it. It may sound like this is time consuming, but the time invested in early community building saves so much time later in the year. This teacher intentionally chose to not begin content work until the second full week of school, devoting all the earlier time to community and team building strategies. Since students have learned to solve their own problems, things that happen at recess or during unstructured time are less likely to take time away from classroom because the teacher can allow students to hash it out on their own or with the help of a peer mediator. At the end of the day, people walk out of the room feeling happy about their experience. Learning has happened, and the community has continued to be strengthened.

So, take a moment to think about where you fall as a teacher. Which quadrant are you in? As with any continuum, you could fall in lots of different locations, and it may be that you feel pretty comfortable with where you are and what you are doing. But remember what it was that helped you become the successful person you are. It took boundaries and supports to be successful. Keep looking for ways to make those boundaries and supports clear to your students. Everyone will benefit from it!

What are your thoughts? Have you thought about integrating Restorative Practices into your classroom? What do you see as the benefits? What are the potential hurdles? Share your ideas in the comments below!

What’s luck got to do with it?

Recently I was listening to an episode of the TED Radio Hour. If you’ve never heard it before, this show takes a theme, then pulls clips from a few existing TED Talks that tie in to that theme. The host, Guy Raz, interviews the speakers about how their talk ties in with the theme. One of the recent episodes was titled Luck, Fortune, and Chance, and one of the segments in particular got me thinking about the work we have been doing around Equity in my school district. You can listen to just the segment of the show here:

Mark Sutcliffe, a talk show host from Canada who is also an entrepreneur and runner gave a recent TEDx Talk on the role that hard work and luck play in our stories of success. Our society has traditionally put an emphasis on the idea that hard work can lead to success. The reality is though, that this is not true for all.

Hard work is an element of success in life, but it’s not the essential element… The secret sauce is luck.

Sutcliffe shares that he won the genetic lottery the day he was born. Because of the makeup of his family, their experiences, education level, socio-economic status, and so much more, Mark had an excellent starting point on the day he was born. Not everyone has those same chances. As a runner, Mark makes the analogy between our starting point in life, and the starting point in a marathon.

If you’ve ever run an organized marathon, half-marathon, or possibly even 5k, you’ve started the race with a timing chip attached to you in some way. When the starter at the front of the race says go, the timer starts for everyone that is right at the start line. But if you’re anything like me, you probably aren’t at the front of the pack. In the last half marathon I ran, it was almost 20 minutes between the time the starter said go and the time I crossed the official start line. Thanks to the help of that timing chip, my time didn’t officially start until I crossed that start line.

Sutcliffe shares that life isn’t quite like that. There is no computer chip that levels the playing field. As he points out, if you’re born as a visible minority, a member of a lower socio-economic class, with a physical disability, with a mental illness, or of a different sex, then you start your life further back. And, as Sutcliffe goes on to point out, “You carry that disadvantage your whole life.”

I was raised as the child of a middle class, college educated, white family. I remember conversations about the key to being successful was through my effort. I remember sitting at the kitchen table and being told that if I worked hard in life, I would be more likely to be successful. And when I think about the life that I have led, I know that I have worked hard to get to where I am. But as I come to grips with what I am learning in my work with equity, I’m beginning to realize that not every one of my students starts at the same point. Merit does not drive all success in life, and what Sutcliffe is trying to get at is that when you start your life in one of those lucky situations, chances are pretty good that we will continue to be lucky throughout our life.

In the actual TED Talk the Sutcliffe gave (linked at the end of this post), he shares his plan to run his next marathon starting 3 hours after the official start time. His reason: he wants to remember that anyone who starts life at the back of the pack is likely to get a lot less help and support. He knows that he will most likely be running alone when he runs this marathon.

Some of our students are the ones who are starting the race a little farther back. As the people in their life who make it our goal to help them learn and grow, we have to keep remembering that some of our students may have started their life a little further back in the pack. As a result of that starting point, they may need a little more support in order to be successful.

And some of you may be thinking of someone who likely started further back in the pack and led a truly successful life. Sutcliffe shares that “When the winner comes from the back, it’s an exception, not a rule.” Hard work simply doesn’t do it all.

This past weekend, as the ideas for this post were bouncing around in my mind, the following tweet showed up in my timeline:

Before my work with equity, I probably would have said something very similar. I would have believed that everyone started on an equal playing field. The reality is though, and I think Sutcliffe’s talk does an excellent job of putting it into words, is that not all of us start at the same point. As one of the “lucky ones” who got to start near the front of the pack, I now make it a point to take Sutcliffe’s suggestion of what to do with our luck: be humble; kind; and generous. I can help those who may have started a little further back than me. I do it because it’s fair, it’s smart (there’s a cost of others not having the same opportunities that I do), and it makes me happy.

What are your thoughts? As you reflect on your starting point, where were you in relation to the start line? Do you believe that you have led a lucky life, or is your position in life based solely on hard work and effort? What steps to you take to help level the playing field? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

If you’d like to listen to the entire episode of TED Radio Hour that the idea of this post came from, you can find it here:

And if you’d like to see Mark’s full TED Talk, check it out here: