Olympic lessons for education

Great holiday timing and superb coverage by the Canadian media has allowed me to watch the Summer Olympics on an almost daily basis. Although I’m more familiar with some sports than others, I enjoy watching all of the different competitions. Much to the chagrin of my wife, I try and watch all of them simultaneously, as I flip back and forth from channel to channel. There’s something special about the Olympics, held every four years and attracting thousands of athletes and millions of fans from around the world.

As I’ve watched the Olympics, I have realized that they provide some excellent lessons for education. Here are a few that come to mind for me:

  1. Olympic Motto- “Citius, Altius, Fortius,” which is Latin for “Faster, Higher, Stronger” My first impression is that the motto is not “Fastest, Highest, Strongest! There is an element of improvement. There is no upper limit. In any event there is only one gold medal just like we only have one valedictorian, one leading man or lady and one soloist. But ultimately, the motto doesn’t refer to being the best, it refers to being your best.  With only one gold medal presented, it is impossible for everyone to be the best but everybody can be their best. In education, we’ve fallen into the trap of trying to be the best instead of doing our best. We typically reward our best students and minimize the improvements of all others. And we seldom acknowledge effort. We consistently hear about athletes who fail to make the finals yet have realized their personal best. That is something to celebrate in athletics and it needs to be celebrated in our educational systems.
  2. The journey is more important than the destination. There is no doubt that participating in the Olympics is very special. The lead up however, the four years of training prior to has to be of great importance. The “blood, sweat and tears” to get to that point again has to be recognized and celebrated. Quite honestly, without the journey, there would be no destination. From an educational standpoint, we must remind ourselves and our students that the learning, which is the journey is the most important. Moving from elementary to junior high and then high school are all destinations in schooling with the ultimate in K-12 being graduation. Yet, it is the journey of learning through those years that has to count! If we put all of our focus on the destination, on the final exam then what significance is our learning journey throughout school?
  3. Effort always counts! There are many gifted athletes who never achieve their greatness because of a lack of effort.  Talent will take you to a certain level but without grit, determination, dedication and honest effort it will never allow you to get to or remain at that next level. This point has been highlighted throughout the Olympics and well documented in programs like “The Difference Makers with Rick Hansen”. Furthermore, the work of Carol Dweck in her book Mindset, reminds us about the importance of teaching effort in schools.  So often our accountability systems and outside institutes measure only the end result without any mention of the work put forth by the indvidual student, school or system.  We need to celebrate and acknowledge the true efforts of our students, our staff, our parents and our systems.

The Olympics will finish on Sunday and it will be another four years before we witness this summer event again. Four years provides a great opportunity for athletes to prepare and schools and systems should do the same. During these next four years, let’s ensure that:

  • Personal bests are celebrated and improvements are acknowledged for all students.
  • The learning journey is highlighted and enjoyed by students.
  • Effort is encouraged and finally,
  • We are proud of our students…always!!!


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