It’s a Marathon
Imagine being in downtown Houston before sunrise, huddling up in the cold, and waiting for the crack of a gunshot. This is what our family has done for more than 20 years by volunteering to support the runners in the Houston marathon. We ride along in the “SAG wagons” which are the vans that pick up injured or exhausted runners when they cannot finish the race.
There is so much excitement just before the race begins. It really is entertaining to be a part of the anticipation while athletes are pinning on their bib numbers and stretching one more time before they gather into their assigned groups to wait for the start of the event. From our view on the side, we get to do some fun people watching as we root for everyone to have a good race.
Because there are so many runners, there are several different start times. The first athletes we cheer on are those in wheelchairs who show amazing strength of their bodies and their spirits as they go gliding past. They are quickly followed by the Olympic qualifying runners who travel at a brutal pace from start to finish. Then, there is the slow release of the remaining participants, all with different goals and different levels of preparation.
I’m not a runner myself, but I have a dear friend who has five marathons under her belt. When she set the goal to run 26.2 miles, she made a very specific plan. She joined a running group with a coach who gave feedback and provided guidance along with a practice schedule to help grow endurance over time. She carved out time during the week for shorter runs and longer runs on the weekends, always analyzing her average time per mile and listening to her body so she would know how often to stop for water or fruit. She ate every meal with running in mind, looking for healthy protein and the right combination of carbohydrates. It was not a surprise to anyone when she easily finished the Houston marathon and has steadily improved her performance with each new race she enters.
We’re quickly approaching the midpoint of this school year, and there are a lot of things we can learn from a dedicated runner. Here are just a few of the things we can keep in mind.
Think Long Term
Lesson plans usually reflect a week’s worth of work, but don’t forget to look at the big picture. What are the major topics covered for each grading period and how are students progressing? As the semester ends, have students reflect on their confidence level for the content they’ve learned since August and give them a sneak peek of the big topics left to be covered before the school year ends. Think like a runner who scopes out the course ahead of time, knowing where the best spots are to regroup.
It’s Not Too Late
There is a saying that the best time to plant a tree was 10 years ago, but the next best time is today. A runner would say that the best time to prepare for a race was months ago, but the next best time is today. And an educator knows that the best preparation starts in kindergarten, or at least on the first day of the school year. But even if there are gaps now, it’s not too late to dig in and make a big difference.
Provide Consistent Supports
Have you seen the specialized wheelchairs marathoners use in a race? They are sleek and low to the ground and sometimes maneuvered in a very different way than a traditional wheelchair. Those athletes practice with their wheelchairs consistently so they are confident and skilled on the day of the race. If you have students who use supports or accommodations, be sure you are having students use them consistently so they are also confident and skilled on the day of big tests.
Help Everyone to Improve
Some marathoners are working to qualify for a future race; some are looking to set a personal best; and others are just aiming to finish before the course closes. Everyone has a goal, and everyone is looking to improve. We should be working with all of our students to help them reach further than they ever have before. For some students that means making a perfect score while for others it might mean gaining 10 points.
Preparing for a marathon is no accident. There are proven practices that overwhelmingly increase the odds of a runner making a strong finish. Helping students master science content is no accident either. Check in with your students and encourage them to be a part of the process. Monitor progress, celebrate every success, and keep implementing the proven practices that increase the odds of our students finishing strong. The race isn’t easy, but the reward is so much greater than a medal.