Yesterday we had our monthly administrative cabinet meeting which involves all of the administrators at each level of our school corporation. During the meeting we were discussing ways in which we could define our win that go beyond state mandated testing. During this discussion, one of the items discussed was student attendance. This is a complicated topic for me, because I spend a lot of time calling parents, speaking to students, and yet it also something that I feel is vital to the success of our students. It along with tardiness are my pet peeves, and also my most frustrating issue, because the remedies often mean that students who do not change their ways end up missing many days of school, and my remedies give them permission to do so, which is often what they want. The frustrations of this reality are material for another post, psychological counseling, and hopefully some helpful hints from others. It is also bizarre because our attendance rate, while not perfect, is consistently at or slightly above 95%, but I digress.
It seems this week that many of my students are channeling Allen Iverson, except that they are not "talking about practice" but rather "talking about school". I many of the conversations, it seems as if they are merely replacing his use of the word "practice" with the word "school". A typical conversation goes like this:
"Billy (all people examples in my life have always been Billy and Suzie, so these are not real student names) you have been tardy to your first hour class 19 times this year, out of 32 days."
"But Mr. Olson, it is only like 30 seconds each time. Are you really telling me that I have to stay after school for 2 hours for being 30 seconds late, that is ridiculous!"
"I agree that it is ridiculous that you can't manage to be in class on time. If this were a job, you would be fired by now."
"But it isn't a job Mr. Olson, it is ONLY SCHOOL. If this were a job I would be here everyday because I would be gettin PAID!"
Here is where the practice line comes in. See in the minds of my students, and maybe yours as well, school is merely practice, a job is the big game and when it is time for the big game, I will show up ready to win, even without practice. Problem is, this more often than not isn't the case.
When I was a swim coach, we consistently told our swimmers that you play how you practice. We won a lot of races and meets not because we were the most talented team in the pool, although we had great talent, we won because we played the way we practiced and we emphasized doing the all important little things correctly every day, and if we were not doing those things we started over. The mundane of swimming, turns and finishes, are often the least practiced parts, but often win the biggest races. We practiced these daily, not by doing special sets to practice them, but by insisting that our swimmers do them at race pace and as if in a race every set. Sloppy turns where they would breathe in and out of walls were not tolerated, slow turns did not happen, and finishing a swim with any style of finish that did not jam your outstretched fingers into the wall was unacceptable.
In swimming, as in life, it is often the littlest things that propel us to greatness or keep us from the prize. We play like we practice, because if we can not sustain excellence in practice, we will fall short when it counts. For proof, ask Milorad Cavic if he wishes he had finished hard all the time.