Like most people, I’m a sucker for an inspirational sports story. Whether it’s the classic underdog victory or a moment of sheer perseverance, these stories have a way of filling us with pride at the indomitable nature of the human spirit. One of my personal favorites involves a diving tournament that occurred some years ago. The event, if I recall correctly, was some sort of pre-qualifier-for-the-pre-qualifier of the Olympic games. So, as you might expect, the competition was fierce.

Most of the early attention was showered on veteran divers, familiar faces who were almost guaranteed a spot on the podium. As the contest continued however, people began to take note of a young diver who had joined the tournament at the last minute. Though inexperienced, the kid had spirit, and he soon became an instant favorite. In the final round, the young diver managed to propel himself into first place…only to be dethroned by two senior divers at the last minute.

Then something extraordinary happened. As the newscaster turned to console the boy on his loss, he instead found the young diver ecstatic with joy. He was jumping up and down excitedly yelling, “I got third place!” His euphoria even carried into the medal ceremony. While the first two athletes accepted their medals stoically, the third-place winner was practically dancing on his podium. The last thing viewers saw before the competition ended was this young diver leaping happily with all his friends.

Learning to Recognize Success

There’s an important lesson to be learned from this young diver. Too often we equate personal success with the idea of “being the best”, particularly when it comes to education. Students become dominated by a 100-point grading system and an Honor Roll hierarchy. Their triumphs measured by straight A’s instead of visible growth. With such a narrow view of victory, our schools might as well be Ground Zero for ‘Be the Best’ indoctrination.

As educators, we must stay vigilant and not deprive our students of their hard-won success. Consider that one student who has always failed at math, but after weeks of study and perseverance, manages to score a C+ on their exam. Or think of the pupil who could never remember Shakespeare but was able to recite Hamlet’s soliloquy with only a few stumbles. Remind them that just because they didn’t score that perfect, rosy “A” it doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be proud of their accomplishment. They’re growing, improving, learning.

Encouragement and Accomplishment

It’s these educational moments that are hard-fought and well-deserved which ignite a true love of learning within students. When we show them how success is not confined to “the best”, that they can be proud of accomplishments made through hard-work and dedication, their entire perception changes. Suddenly their education includes how far they’ve come, not just how far they need to go. So, don’t be afraid to celebrate those bronze medals. Not all our triumphs appear in gold!

What about you? How do you help students celebrate their growth in your classroom? Let us know in the comments or share your tips over social media!
*Content for this blog was inspired by the writing of Terra Tarango.