Margin of error – Know your story, tell your story

This is the third installment of a series of posts on storytelling – Know your story, tell your story. My hope is to share a few anecdotes that have shaped me as a person and as an educator in order to connect and grow.

Growing up, I was a gymnast. I was one of those kids (aren’t we all?) that bounced off the walls and had so much energy I didn’t know what to do with it, nor did my parents. I treated every space as a new challenge – is there room for a handstand? I saw grocery aisles as hallways for cartwheels, parking curbs as balance beams…you get the picture. The sport grew from something that kept me from breaking everything in our house to a serious endeavor that by high school consumed most of my time outside of school.

Over the years I fell, crashed, struggled, cried, and wanted to give up so many times I can’t even count. At times I was injured and had to figure out how to overcome. By the end of my career (always funny to say it that way with gymnasts, I was 17) I was 5’4″. For anyone who is not familiar with the sport, I was very tall for a gymnast. I had to work harder than my teammates who were much shorter to achieve the same results. The work was demanding, but it was worth it. I found success. I enjoyed the challenge, and loved to express myself through the artistry of the sport. My favorite event was balance beam, the event that most female gymnasts dread. I liked the mental toughness required to stick a beam routine in competition.

Here’s the catch – I never thought of gymnastics as a learning experience, I only associated learning with school. I knew I was going to have to work though a lot of struggle and failure to acquire new skills to improve my gymnastics, but didn’t make the connection that this was just as important to experience in school. In school I felt I had to be perfect. Perfect from the beginning of the year until the end. Perfect on every assessment, assignment, and piece of homework. There was no room for failure in that building, however when I stepped in the gym everything changed. Why? Everything I did in school ‘counted’. My classmates and I were under a microscope being assigned grades for everything we did no matter whether it was academic or behavioral. Failure and setbacks were not framed in a positive light – there was no time for those.

Reflecting now, it’s no surprise that these two worlds didn’t make a better connection for me until I was older. It’s funny that the margin of error seems very small when thinking of gymnastics, yet I felt the margin was narrower in the classroom. As an educator, I make it a point to use sports analogies frequently when talking about the learning experience. Kids and adults connect with the comparison, and it becomes easier to see how classrooms and schools can best support learning. When students see that learning is not confined to the walls of the school, they come to a couple of understandings I wish I would have realized earlier. Learning happens everywhere. Learning is full of setbacks, discovery, failure, and success. Learning is just what we do.