Watching the PGA Championship I started thinking about how we expect every student to be the best at everything. If they aren’t making “straight A’s” then we, as parents and teachers, have let them down. But what about golfers? Do they get straight A’s in every facet of their game? Let’s just look at the “Top 10” in the world – Luke Donald, Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Lee Westwood, Webb Simpson, Bubba Watson, Adam Scott, Jason Dufner, Matt Kuchar, and Justin Rose.
Where do they stand in the rankings of 4 categories: Driving Distance, Driving Accuracy, Greens In Regulation, and Putting? In other words teeing off, getting to the green, and then getting it into the cup. Kind of like our students at school. They may be great in their Spanish class but where do they sit in Math, English, Science, and Social Studies?
In Driving Distance Bubba Watson is first but Tiger is 37th and Matt Kucher 107th! Of course hitting it long doesn’t help if you aren’t in the fairway; let’s look at Driving Accuracy. Well Luke Donald is 18th, Justin Rose is 30th, and Bubba Watson is 127th. Bubba can hit it a ton but he doesn’t always get it in the fairway.
OK, so you don’t hit it long or you may not hit the fairway when you do hit it long. The important thing is that you get to the green in as few swings as possible so that you can still get a par. They assume 2 putts on every green so that means getting to the green in 2 shots less than the par for that hole and we call it Greens in Regulation. Since there are 18 holes on a course the best you can do is get to all 18 holes in regulation. Let’s see how our stars do.
As expected our guys do pretty well with this stat. Bubba is #1 and Justin Rose is #2. Poor Adam Scott is 43rd best at this statistic though. So if he doesn’t get to the green as well as the others he must be one heck of a putter. Wrong. Adam is 166th in total putting. Yet, overall, he is 7th in the world.
What if you had a student who was a whiz at math (top 10!) but was 73rd best of all of your English students? Would he stand out as an incredible student? Or would you assume “he doesn’t try” or you just can’t “reach him.” And what if he were 25th in Science and 43rd in History? Where would that have him in relation to his peers? If there were less than 300 in his class then he might be outside of the top 10%. That’s because we rank our students much differently than we do our golfers.
Golf rankings, usually, go by earnings. Win a tournament with a big purse and you can do worse in a tournament with a small purse. Then just add up all of that money, cumulatively, and see where you sit amongst your peers. But in education we average their scores. What would this do to our golfers if we had to take the four categories I chose and we averaged their rankings?
Our new rankings, in order: Tiger (27th), Jason (48th), Matt & Justin (52nd), Luke (68th), Webb (72nd), Bubba & Lee (75th), Rory (77th), and Adam (91st). So looking at their grades for these “key” statistics we find that they really are just middle of the pack kind of golfers. What makes them so great then? Well, on one or two weekends each year these guys can put it all together and beat everybody else at the game of golf.
Are we willing to let our students have one or two great test grades during the school year and then let them just be average? What if we took the time to recognize students who outdid their “average” grade each week? What if we took the time to recognize students who are pretty darn good writers or artists or loved the unit on amoebas? Would that take away from what we already do or could it spark a drive in one of our students to be the best at some aspect of “their game?”
Take the time to get to know your students. Be mindful of how they are doing academically and take the time to let them know when you notice they have done well in another class. Ask the artistic ones to help you set up or decorate your room. Ask that whiz in math to help you analyze your class statistics (without the names next to the grades of course). Let them be the “best” at the part of school they are good at and they might just start working on the rest of their game. And everything just might come together for that student on your Academic Championship (state standardized test) and they might just win.
Great post. Very thought provoking and well thought out. Love the idea of recognizing a student for their specialty which requires getting to know the student. We as teachers need to strive to get know each and every student on a personal level. Relationships are not made on scores and performances but on honest person to person interest.
Thank you, Coach Norm, for the nice comment. My new Principal has given us these guiding questions: (1) What is the most important things we want our students to learn? (2) How will we know if they have learned it? (3) What will we do to ensure every student learns it? (4) What will we do for the students who already know it or learn it quickly? Embedded in there is the challenge to get to know each of our students and do whatever it takes to ensure their success.
Wonderful article, Chris. You managed to successfully compare golf and education – that along deserves high praise! More importantly, the points that you've made here are so incredibly true and wonderfully articulated. As we focus more and more on a learner-centric model for educating our students, getting to know the strengths (and weaknesses) of each individual has never been more important. Your article illustrates this perfectly. Thanks for the read!
Thank you for the comment Josh. It really is so easily stated. The real task is putting these thoughts into action. I will continue to pursue striving for perfection on that front.
I love golf and teaching so this is like a birdie post for me. We need to find what each student is good at, just like your example of driving distance. They are all unique and good at something. This is especially imp with students who don't do well. We need to spend time building relationships so we can have students worthy of playing on the tour even if they don't hit is as far as the rest. They may be better at putting or with the wedges. Fun analogy and great for start of school
Thanks Jared. My 19yo daughter decided she wanted to learn to play and I have a new principal who wants to play and then there's a new teacher who had a husband playing in a tournament this past weekend. Lots of golf talk. Meanwhile we were exploring how we can make connections with every student at our school. It just fell in place.