In sports, we know that it takes a variety of skills to win, and a variety of players to make a team. So why do we measure the success of every student by comparing their scores on the same few tests, all of them cognitive?
We know intuitively that success, whether in school or life, depends on many factors -- intelligence, academic skills, personality, and relationships. Paul Tough calls this oversimplification of skills the cognitive hypothesis. It can cause us to ignore anything but math and reading scores in our push to close the achievement gap or create a work force for the 21st century.
Research increasingly shows factors such as grit, self-control, the ability to work with others, and sense of self-efficacy are critical for success of many types (see for example the National Research Council's report Education for Work and Life. Yet we continue to seek to oversimplify what it takes to succeed.
Team sports are all around us. Even people who do not like sports hear about it. We need a frame that intuitively fits and is easily understand by many different people.
I think the metaphor of team sports is useful for framing the many ways that young people can learn and succeed:
- It takes a team of skills -- Both winning and learning require a number of characteristics that work together. The balance of these strengths can vary from one player to another. Some have are good at reading, others can work very hard. A young person's overall success depends on the team of skills and attitudes they bring to life and learning.
- It takes a team of players -- The parents, teachers, neighbors, and youth workers who help them practice success, expect it of them, and support them over the long haul act as a young learner's support team.
- It takes a season -- In sports, one good game does not make a wining season. For youth, it is not about success on one test that matters most, but success in a variety of activities and challenges.
- It takes a league -- a set of fans, rules and sponsors who help things come together so the games can go on. It is not left just to owners (school districts) or to the players unions (youth). Rather it is important enough that we work together to create mutually reinforcing efforts to make it happen -- much like cradle to career collective impact efforts try to do in communities.
If we thought more about success as a team sport we would make more progress. A team sport where we develop strong individual players who bring a team of their own skills and attitudes to the game, A team sport where we help players work together to achieve success. A team sport that has measures of success that are not dominated by only one perspective but add up across the season. A team sport that has the necessary coordination and integration to keep the enterprise of learning thriving in our communities.
In a few weeks I will have the great pleasure of becoming the Howland Endowed Chair for Youth Development Leadership here at the University of Minnesota. As I begin this year as endowed chair, I believe we will find ways to improve the chance for success for individuals and for the team.
What works or does not work for you about this analogy? Do you use a different metaphor for what it takes to support young people's success?