When our two kids were younger, they participated in the Kids of Steel triathlon each year. It seems like a crazy idea, little six year olds swimming and biking and running! And it kind of is, when you consider there is even a 5-and-under category (although they don’t do the swim.) We never forced them to do it. They were just outdoorsy kids and spent a lot of time biking and running, so those two sections were an easy fit. Our daughter was always a competitor and just loved to participate. Our son, two years younger, did it for the little bag of gummy candies that they got at the finish line…and that worked as motivation for more years than it legitimately should have lol.
We encouraged our kids to try their best, to swim hard, bike fast, and run! But one lesson was always clear: it’s not about first, it’s about finishing.
It might be a shrunken down version of a triathlon, but it is NOT easy. The eight year olds swim 100m, bike for 5km, and then finish with a 1.5km run. I would suspect that a good portion of the adult population might even struggle at those distances! I always forgot to take pictures before the event, which was unfortunate since the ones afterwards always had exhausted and (frequently) tear-stained faces. But there was a sense of accomplishment amongst the physical pain. They never placed first, but not once in seven years did either of our kids give up and not cross the finish line.
I’m thinking of triathlon today because my legs hurt. Like the I-can’t-bend-down-to-put-my-shoes-on hurt. I have gone to a few crossfit sessions at a fantastic new gym in town, and it’s totally my own fault that I am out of shape and have sore muscles. (The rowing machine was a killer.) We work through stations as hard as we can, as quickly as we can. The best word that comes to mind is RIGOROUS.
It’s a funny word, rigorous. I googled it. Merriam Webster’s top definitions are ‘a harsh inflexibility…unyielding…strictness…severity…cruelty...a condition that makes life difficult, challenging, or uncomfortable.’ Yeah, it’s got a negative connotation to it, FOR SURE. Rigorous training. Rigorous obstacles. Rigorous landscapes. So why does rigour keep showing up in things I read about education? Why would we want learning to be harsh, unyielding, or severe?
That’s a good question, and a more complex answer than one post to do it justice. But more unfortunate is that when we try to make things more rigorous, it usually just means adding more questions to the assignment, making the test longer, extending the word count on that essay. I admit it. I’ve done those things, thinking that it was making it more challenging for students. But if the level of thinking isn’t increasing, and all those questions never get past the most basic regurgitation of facts, it’s simply more repetitive, not more rigorous.
I saw this on Twitter recently, and it really stuck. “Most people think of rigor as simply meaning harder. It’s not harder; it’s deeper thinking.” Dr. Bill Daggett
This week, we were given a goal-setting task at our staff meeting. I was challenged to push my own thinking past getting the easy answers. I can tell you, I didn’t like it. Not one bit. And my administrator can attest to the fact that I was likely a bit pouty about it. It was frustrating and it was difficult, and when I was ready to quit the response was, “You’re not allowed. You said that it was important, so you have to challenge yourself to stick with it.” Dammit. Rigour.
I’m pretty sure my kids felt the same way many times in those triathlons. As a parent, when they were struggling, I cheered a lot. I ran beside them when needed. I reminded them that they just had to finish. As teachers and administrators, we do those same things in our schools too. Our students need us to, especially when things get tough, when their thought processes are challenged, when the easy answer isn't allowed. For me, getting those goals written so that they were both significant and meaningful was a rigorous process, and a deeper one, and it was one that I appreciated when it was done, just like the pride of crossing the finish line.
p.s. There were no tears, I swear, but Mr. Kirk, I’ll be looking for my bag of gummy candies on Monday morning!
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