Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Race to Educate

Running an endurance race for the first time is quite exhilarating. The anticipation mounts with the gathering of the runners.  The anxiety builds and finally the race begins. As the runner takes off, he finds it hard to gauge his initial progress. Is the pace too fast? Is he running too slow? The runner's brain pulses with every runner passing him by. There is little else that can describe the first mile of a race. Everyone is jockeying for position, trying to gain the edge.

As I synthesize the start of a race, I can't help but think how teachers in isolated systems feel. Without a team to collaborate with or a set of values to give them guidance or a vision to serve as a beacon of light, what emotions will run through their mind at the start of the race? In this race to educate every child, some will start off too fast and fall apart before they get halfway through it. Some will take off too slow and the race will end before they do. Some will finish the race, but they will have no one to share the sense of accomplishment with.

So what does every teacher need this Christmas to make it through the most important race in educational history?


In order to be the best runner, you need the best gear, training and coaching to compete.  In education, it's no different.  Educators need access to all of the resources, but more importantly, the training on how to effectively use the resources.  Many schools provide adequate or even superb resources, but no training about them.  This leads me to the most important resource that teachers need and that is TIME!!!  Without proper time to plan, ineffective lessons and poor use of resources occur.  This will lead to teacher fatigue and in time falling out of the race all together.  Coaches and leaders must be present to help, listen and guide educators so they, themselves, can be a valuable resource to the educator.


Affirmation is confirming that something is true.  To me, we all need to know that the path we are on is true or at least headed in the right direction.  This is where feedback is critical.  The more frequent the feedback we receive, the more we are fed intellectually.  All educators need feedback from their supervisors, from members on their team and from those that they lead.  Not all feedback must be positive to be helpful, but it must be TRUE.  If a runner's pace is too slow, the runner must be affirmed that what they are doing is not enough.  Feedback or affirmation is the nourishment that you need to continue running.


Just like every runner sees more improvement by working with a team, teachers benefit more by working regularly with a team of teachers focused on the same aspects of educating children. Teams that collaborate together, stay together, and they do so, because the focus is not on individual improvement but collective improvement. The purpose of a team is to get everyone across the finish line, and that occurs when all members are committed to making everyone successful.  Collaboration builds the stamina that every runner needs to finish the race successfully.


We all perform better when others cheer for us. Encouragement and celebration along the way help educators stay mentally focused on the importance of finishing the race.  Encouragement is different than affirmation because affirmation requires the runner to acknowledge his current reality.  Encouragement is what every runner needs after they accept their current reality.  Whether you are behind or ahead, every educator must feel appreciation from supervisors, teammates, students and parents.  The leader's job is to make sure that everyone comes out and cheers the teachers on to the finish line throughout the race.  Encouragement is the 2nd wind every runner needs to run even faster.

Half Way Point

It's almost Christmas and teachers across the country have finished their first mile or two in this race to educate every child. As their coach, we must ascertain where they are in the race. At this point they need support from their leader of the good job that they are doing. They have reached the water station and they need to quench their thirst. This month, I challenge you to join me in being the best Resource you can be to Affirm, build Collaboration and Encourage your fellow educators.  They are running their tails off to educate every child.


  1. As a new Teaching & Learning coach (and the first TLC in my building), I have been reflecting on my position, my role, and my responsibilities and brainstorming ideas for second semester.

    Your blog post came along at just the right time and a colleague and I have decided that our new "mission" is to CARE for teachers as they run the RACE. Thanks for the insight and for jumpstarting conversation about ways to collaborate, affirm, resource, and encourage the teachers with whom we work!

    Jamie Neibling

    1. Jamie,
      So glad that this post was helpful. I like the CARE acronym to go with the RACE. We have to support one another on our journey and you can't do that without caring for one another. Best of luck to you and your team.