March 17, 2016

By Lynn Esser, Former Educator and Administrator

A few years ago, one of my colleagues suggested we take advantage of the gym in the basement of our office building and bring in a trainer. While I’d always been active, I found group training intimidating. Somehow I always seemed to be going left when everyone was going right, or doing a curl when I was supposed to be doing a press. And the idea of working out with coworkers was daunting—especially when we had some serious athletes in the group!

Eventually, I determined this activity would give me the accountability I needed—and so, with trepidation, I agreed to participate.

My anxiety was quickly eased. The trainer was patient and knowledgeable. She took time to understand each of our gym experiences and our fitness goals. She understood we were all coming in at different fitness levels and made accommodations for each of us. Some of us began with 10 pound weights, others with 20 pound weights. Some were better at cardio, while others needed more encouragement. We were ALL challenged, but not frustrated. Exhausted and sweaty, yes. Frustrated, no.

Much to my surprise, I came to enjoy the two classes each week. I learned it wasn’t a competition with my colleagues; it was a competition with me. It was about practice.

  • I saw incremental growth.
  • I celebrated the small victories.
  • I basked in the camaraderie and conversations that took place in the gym.
  • I connected with my coworkers in a way that wouldn’t have happened without this shared experience.

Before you leave thinking you stumbled upon an amateur fitness blog, let me explain why I’m telling you about my gym experience. The same emotions I felt upon starting the group gym classes are the same things students often experience in the classroom. Anxiety and anticipation. Fear and friendship. Challenge and encouragement. Progress and growth.

Learning is not a competition. Learning is a mindset requiring deep and deliberate practice with feedback and coaching.  Fortunately, Renaissance Learning’s solutions are designed to work in the same way as my gym experience. It all starts with a short assessment to determine a starting point. From there, students receive personalized goals based on their individual levels. The teacher serves as a trainer—facilitating practice, providing feedback, making adjustments, offering encouragement, holding students accountable (and better yet, teaching students to hold themselves accountable!) and recognizing growth and improvement.

In the same way I found camaraderie in the gym, kids can find it in the classroom discussing a great book or coming together to solve a challenging math problem. In the same way I could see progress when using a heavier weight, students can see progress when they read their first chapter book or solve their first long division problem. Working toward a goal and seeing visible progress is immensely motivating and rewarding.

To best meet the needs of all students, we need to acknowledge the many different starting places of those in our classrooms.  Students come to school with different experiences and levels of motivation. Yet, when they are provided time for deep practice, when they have realistic and attainable goals, when they’re challenged without being frustrated, when they’re held accountable, and when they are provided meaningful feedback, each child will grow. They’ll grow at different rates, but they will grow. And that’s worth celebrating!

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to get to the gym—the place where deep practice, realistic goals, challenges, and accountability have led to my own incremental growth and improvement.

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