Saturday, August 16, 2008

Winning is Not Just for the Olympians

Well, Michael Phelps just won his 8th gold medal. What I like to see after the athletes win big, especially if they are not a medal favorite, is the look on their loved ones' faces. Phelps's mother looks so happy. The mother (?) of the Tunisian who won a swimming medal was priceless. You wonder what's going on in their mind. Are they just full of pride for their child/spouse/sibling? Or is there some envy? Is there a little voice saying, "why him and not me? Why did he get the opportunities and not me? Is his DNA that much superior to mine?" I'm not sure how I would feel; no one in my family has ever competed in the olympics.

But Olympians aren't the only ones who win. I have students in my 7th grade science classes who win just a little bit each day as they struggle to overcome disabilities. For some people, it's not a matter of being the best swimmer in the world, but remembering to hand in your assignment. Then there are the students whose smile when I tell them they earned a C for the quarter matches any gold medalist's. While the world is focused on the elite for a few weeks this year, we can't forget to focus our interest and attention on the people who really need it during the remaining 200 (or so) weeks.

So I enjoy the olympic winners, I rejoice in my students' victories, yet I struggle with my own. Allowing myself to feel pride in my accomplishments is hard, and I don't think that is unique to me. We all have daily successes that we need to celebrate, and we need to allow ourselves to feel pride. Yet we don't take the time to reflect on our accomplishments and we don't take the time to allow ourselves to relish the feeling of pride. I feel embarassed when my victories are made public, yet is there something wrong with winning? Perhaps I've always been so busy rooting for the underdog that I feel as though I'm being selfish by accepting accolades.

Darn it, I've worked hard at teaching and I've worked hard with my art. Is winning an award at a show or enabling a student to reach their goals so embarassing? Is it wrong to take a few seconds and reflect on what I've done and feel pride in my victories? I think that if we were to reflect and rejoice, our self esteem would improve, and as a result, so would our performance. If educational research shows that intrinsic motivation is the strongest, then we need to nurture it in ourselves, not just in others. After all, that's what intrinsic means, right?

So take a moment to jot down what you've done today. Don't look at the list you made this morning and agonize over all the items that haven't yet been crossed off. Look at everything you did do today. Pretty amazing, huh? Congratulations! Go ahead, smile, look yourself in the mirror and tell yourself you're pretty cool.


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