“The only journey is the journey within.”
-Rainer Maria Rilke

“Comparison is the death of joy.”
-Mark Twain


How does one measure success? How does one assess how they’re really doing? What metrics should we use?

These are questions I ask of myself both personally and professionally, almost every day. About six months ago, I set a personal goal to become healthier and more fit. To accomplish this goal, I began going on a run every second day. It wasn’t something that I necessarily enjoyed, but I did get satisfaction in being able to run a set distance with greater ease every time I tried. Four kilometres turned to five, then to six. Each time I would get to a plateau, a place where I would say, “This is comfortable and I think I can go further,” I push myself to see the next distance I can get to. About three weeks ago, a thought popped into my head. Or rather, a number popped in to my head…the number 10…as in 10 kilometres. On that day, I ran 10 kilometres for the first time ever and was I ever proud of myself. This achievement represented personal success, not because I perhaps ran further than other people that day, but that I improved on a personal best. So now, 10 kilometres is my regular distance – my personal benchmark and success will be measured in my gaining greater comfort at this distance, until a time I can go farther.

Picture 10

While I am an intensely competitive person, I have come to realize that, not only is success relative, but that my only competition is myself. On my outings I see many other people on their own runs. Some I realize I could outrun without trying, while others I realize could run circles around me. Comparison, therefore, doesn’t really help me get the feedback I need. Nor does comparison with others make me feel good about how I am doing. I gauge my own success by comparing current runs with previous efforts.

Of course this relates to the world of education as well. It’s once again report card time, and for many parents, it’s a time of letter grades and questions:

“Did my child get as many A’s as…?”
“Is my child doing as well as …”
“How is my child doing compared with everyone else in the class?”
“What do these letters and numbers mean anyway?”

This isn’t to blame parents, because they grew up in the same education system that I did: an education system that associates symbols and numbers with levels of success and compares students to one another. These practices didn’t improve student learning then, and still don’t today. As a parent of three children who are very different from each other, and as a teacher/administrator who has the privilege to work with hundreds of children, I realize how very unique each child is and how using symbols, numbers, and comparisons as our key metric of learning not only moves focus away from the actual learning, but also disregards a person’s uniqueness. I believe we need to focus on delivering timely, specific, detailed, and meaningful feedback learners can actually use. I also believe we need to focus less on teaching specific content and comparing students based on how much of this content they can retain and then share back to us, and more on skills and “key competencies like self-reliance, critical thinking, inquiry, creativity, problem solving, innovation, teamwork and collaboration, cross-cultural understanding, and technological literacy.” (BC Education Plan, pg. 4)

But most importantly, we need to view each person’s learning as a personal journey, and to question the metrics we have used in the past to judge success.

How do you judge personal success? In what ways are schools working towards personalizing learning for students? 


    • You’re welcome. In the end, the real competition is with ourselves! Thanks for the great feedback and support. BTW… Saw Tom the dog and trainer Roger on TV. It was wonderful to have them at our school!

  1. Hey buddy – well said. This one of my key issues with awards in schools. Any awards ceremony I have ever been a part of has been based solely on the premise of “being better than the rest”. There are no standards, benchmarks, or goals to attain – just be better than the rest of your class. I believe that most of us would agree with your post that education is a personal journey… so what role do awards ceremonies that compare personal journey’s have in our schools?

    Thanks for relating your story to such a key aspect of education. I look forward to your (and others’) thoughts.

    • Hey Chris. Sorry for the delay in responding to your comment. Your passion about individualized learning and your feelings about awards ceremonies have really made me think critically about such topics and how they related to my own learning community. It’s a shift that I would like to see happen where we celebrate learning based on personal success and achievement of personal goals rather than comparison of one student to another. Our journey continues. Thank you for helping me along…

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