“If you’re not growing you are dying” embodies the American spirit of constantly bettering one’s self (Marrs, 2017). There are many wonderful benefits that stem from a proactive attitude. But, is this ever taken too far? Is it possible to live comfortably without growing?
At my school we set goals of growth. Students should be increasing their reading word count. They should be able to score higher than they did on the last assessment. If your students are not getting better and better scores, you must be a bad teacher; Right?
I’ve contemplated giving students less than perfect scores on their report cards, just so that I can give them a higher score on the next report. Many parents question the report card score that did not rise from one marking period to the next. God forbid they go down a number or letter!
Where does this end? What is the ideal? Should students be able to glance at a text, instantly take in every word on the page with a photographic memory, and remember every detail perfectly? Is it a reasonable goal to expect students to understand every single concept, know the most robust vocabulary words, identify every intricate, deep literary element, and flawlessly figure out every bit of figurative language? Would we be happy then?
Is there ever a point where it becomes inappropriate to grow more? The weight lifter wants to be able to exercise with heavier and heavier sets. They want to gain more muscle mass. Will they ever be satisfied? How big is big enough? How strong is strong enough?
There are people who make so much money that they won’t be able to spend it all within several lifetimes. When will the numbers be right? When will they have enough money to be satisfied?
Many years ago, I worked for a guy who was obsessed with getting his business to grow in size. Even more than money, he wanted bodies. He constantly measured the success of his business by comparing it to others like his. At first the attitude was exciting; even infectious. Eventually, it lead to unhealthy competition, and low quality products. The employees’ needs were ignored for want of more employees. The business owner didn’t care about how his workers felt, how they lived their lives, or what would happen to them. He just wanted more of them. If he took care of any of them, it was only to prep them to entice more employees to join the business. The workplace turned into a cult. Luckily, I escaped!
Are our schools cults of progress? This misuse of goals is described in “Goals Gone Wild: The Systematic Side Effects of Over-Prescribing Goal Setting” (Ordonez et al., 2009). The authors point out pitfalls of goal-setting. A trap my business-owner friend fell into was having too narrow a goal. As Ordonez et al. (2009) suggest will happen, he was blinded to the needs of his employees, because all he focused on was a desire for more. He should have taken care of the ones he had, first.
The other day I went for a run. As I began, I thought to myself, What do I want to get out of this run? What’s my goal? I always use an app on my phone to measure my miles, minutes, and more. What should I aim for today? More miles; Should I try to run farther than before? How about less minutes; Quickening my pace? Every 5 minutes my phone gives me a summary of my run. What should I listen for?
These would be considered “Stretch Goals,” according to Professor Max Bazerman, one of the authors of “Goals Gone Wild: The Systematic Side Effects of Over-Prescribing Goal Setting” (Silverthorne, 2009). During an interview, Bazerman explained to Silverthorne that stretch goals can be harmful, even toxic to an organization. Would I seize up and die if I set a goal of running a little farther each day? Maybe not, but how attainable is that goal, really? With each additional mile, I would be spending more time running. This would take time away from other activities, responsibilities, and people. If I didn’t die, something would. I’d have to give up doing other things to make time for my… what could very well turn into an addiction.
Rather than leaping into an arbitrary goal, which was tempting, since I was already running, and I wanted to have something to aim at, I looked within myself and evaluated what I wanted to get out of my run. Why do I run? I began this habit of cardio when I learned that good health could help fight Covid19. My goal was to get in shape. When will I have achieved this, and when I do, do I quit?
How does one measure health? If you have an Apple watch, you could monitor your heartbeat (BPM). Rather than getting all technical, I decided that I wanted to “feel comfortable on my runs.” This is going to be my goal. I’d like to run fast and far, but more than that, I want to breathe comfortably, avoid tremendous pain, and feel like I could go even farther, faster, if only I had more time. Instead of exercise being a chore, I want it to be a hobby.
I began contemplating this goal as I pounded the pavement. It got me thinking about goals in other areas of life. It wasn’t long before the idea of assessing reading came to mind. My school and district, along with the entire nation are constantly setting goals for their teachers. We have meetings to discuss data, comparing it with scores from other assessments throughout the year, students from other classrooms and around the country, and making projections for future growth.
Are there any educators who have the goal of helping their students “feel comfortable” reading? Why study vocabulary? Is it to score well on the SATs, or is it so that you can more easily understand advanced texts? I don’t run hills in order to win a race. I do them so that my body is ready for the next hill. Eventually, I hope to jog up inclines, instead of hobbling.
My aim is for my students, the Polite Pirates, to feel confident and comfortable in their reading skills. I hope they wish that they had even more time to read, and it wasn’t a chore. It’s my wish that they would crave more opportunities to learn and engage with texts, rather than viewing each as an embarrassing obstacle course.
Additionally, and in conclusion, I hope that this blog has inspired someone else to cozy up to the idea of having a goal of “comfort” over unending, stressful, depressing, seemingly unattainable goals. Perhaps the key is to feel comfortable while growing.
Marrs, P. (2017, February 10). If You’re Not Growing You’re Dying. Pierce Marrs. https://piercemarrs.com/2016/08/if-youre-not-growing-youre-dying/
Ordonez, Lisa D. and Schweitzer, Maurice E. and Galinsky, Adam D. and Bazerman, Max H., Goals Gone Wild: The Systematic Side Effects of Over-Prescribing Goal Setting (January 23, 2009). Harvard Business School NOM Unit Working Paper No. 09-083, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1332071 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1332071
Silverthorne. (2009, March 2). When Goal Setting Goes Bad. HBS Working Knowledge. Retrieved January 26, 2023, from http://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/when-goal-setting-goes-bad
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