13.1: Strides for my Students

I figured I could do it. I played sports growing up. I’m still somewhat athletic.

But 13.1 miles is a different kind of animal.


Late last summer, in somewhat of a eureka moment, I had an idea. After diving into my own personal development, learning a lot, and specifically reading the book Mindset by Carol Dweck, I wanted to introduce a new tactic as a teacher. I wanted to model the growth mindset for my students.

Here’s a quick and dirty synopsis of Mindset for some background:

Dweck showcases two mindsets within the book: the fixed and the growth mindset.

Growth Mindset: Someone who has a growth mindset…

  • Believes that talent is grown not a natural born gift
  • Perseveres in the face of adversity
  • Focuses on the process, not the prize
  • Sees setbacks as opportunities to learn

Fixed Mindset: Someone who has a fixed mindset…

  • Believes that talent and skills are unchanging and naturally given
  • Shuts down when adversity strikes.
  • Focuses on the prize, not the process. They get no joy from the work they put in, just the reward the receive
  • Sees setbacks as an attack on their identity. It feels like evidence of their insufficiencies.

As a math teacher, I encounter my fair share of students (and parents) that have a fixed mindset about their math skills.

“I’m just not a math person.”

Alright, wonderful. Your mind’s already made up. 

So this school year I wanted to find a way to infuse my classroom with a model of the growth mindset. I knew from past experience that just saying something like “Just keep working at it, you’ll get it” wasn’t exactly encouraging. It didn’t warm my kids up to the idea of enjoying the process and persevering through the tough concepts they were working on.

How could I model the growth mindset, though? As the resident math expert in the room, I couldn’t exactly show them how I push through difficult math problems. I couldn’t showcase that perseverance with Algebra or Geometry because math is my expertise.

Then it hit me: the only way to show my students what the growth mindset looked like in real time was to pick something I wasn’t good at, then keep them in the loop as I work to progress at it.

My choice? Long distance running.

I was an athlete growing up, but I never played anything that required much endurance. In baseball, it was 90-foot sprints with some rest in between. In hockey, it was 45-second shifts, followed by a spot on the bench and some water to recover. Running more than a few miles would be a challenge for sure. I settled on a half-marathon, 13.1 miles non-stop, and got to work.

I began training in September, knowing I’d need all the time I could get before the half-marathon I planned to run in the spring. I followed a program, changed my workout schedule, and made progress from week to week. First, it was a grueling introductory 3-mile run. After a few weeks, 3 miles didn’t seem so bad as I scaled up to 7, 8, then 9 miles at a time. I was doing great, and I loved showing my students what hard work could do for your progress.

Then the winter came.

All of the snow and freezing temperatures kept me relegated to the treadmill for a while, but I kept at it on the human hamster wheel. By the time the winter thawed and I could get back outside, I was essentially starting from scratch. I couldn’t stand running for more than a half hour on the treadmill, so my endurance scaled back immensely.

I hit the pavement when I could, eventually getting within shouting distance of a respectable pace for the half-marathon. Then the day of the race came this past Sunday. The most I had been able to run was about 12 miles to that point, so I knew that if I were to finish, the last mile or so would be a whole new beast for me.

A beast it was. Just around the 12-mile marker, the rain came down like buckets of water on my head. At a distance that was further than I’d ran in my entire life, I was splashing around in soaked sneakers that felt 3 pounds heavier with every stride.

I crossed the finish line with my wife, parents (who I didn’t know would be there), and mother-in-law going crazy.

There was a moment of disbelief. “That ACTUALLY just happened,” I thought. I did it. In 40 degrees and monsoon-like weather, I ran 13.1 miles without stopping.

The next day I was able to come to work (walking a little slower than usual) and share my experience with my students. Whether it be pride or excitement, they were all happy to see that I finished and wore our school’s “One Warrior Week” t-shirt while running in tribute to them. My medal and race bib hang in my classroom as a reminder to them of the hard work I put in to earn it.

All I can hope for is that my words of encouragement to them come with a little more credibility and that my actions have shown them that little is impossible if you decide to put the work in.

I was NOT a runner before this whole thing started. In modeling the growth mindset, I’ve broken this fixed outlook and discovered that I’m capable of much more than I thought.

 

-Nick

 

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