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Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Home Stretch

Prior to moving to Troy soon after accepting the post as superintendent of Green Island, my wife and I lived in the Saratoga area. The signs confronting those who enter Saratoga proudly identify the city as "Home of Health, Horses, and History." The reference to horses is no doubt a reference to the famed horse race track, the oldest of its kind in the country. Among the terms associated with horse racing is "the home stretch," that point in the race when the horses charge around the final corner and head fast for the finish line.

We are at that point in our "race" (and I don't men the Race To The Top!) this school year. The weather has finally become a bit warmer - even though it's been very wet - and the sun hangs in the sky a bit longer. The Junior Prom, another sign that the days are passing, is tomorrow evening. This is the time when people find themselves distracted with daydreams of the vacations, the beach, the pool, barbecues... It's not hard to lose focus and stray from the path that you set at the start of the school year.

Deviating from stated goals and commitments represent a pivotal leverage point that often separates success from failure, or at least distinguishes success from mediocrity. I have long enjoyed playing and watching soccer. I love the sport and my good fortune in soccer enabled me to parlay my experience into a scholarship to college. yet, it's a sport that frustrates people. Unlike basketball where baskets are scored every few seconds or so, or football and its celebrated touchdown dances, or even baseball, where scores are usually in the 6 - 4 range, soccer is a low scoring game. it's exciting, but low scoring - hence the extremely elongated scream from the broadcasters - goooooooooaaaallll.

One unusual statistic arises from soccer that can remind us of the power of focus and attention, preparation and readiness. Although there are two halves of 45 minutes in the 90 minute long game, and so relatively few goals scored (rarely are there more than 2 or 3 total goals per game) it was startling to find what a disproportionately high percentage of these goals are scored in the first and last 5 minutes of each half. That  is, although these four 5 minute periods represent a sum of 20 minutes out of the entire 90 minute game (or 22% of the length of the game) far more than 50% of all goals are scored in that short amount of time.

Why? The team that eventually meets with victory achieves the success because they begin both the game and the second half ready and focused. They do not lapse into complacency or decrease their effort as the halftime break nears or the end of the game approaches. In other words, successful teams maintain their momentum and their commitment throughout the entire course of the game whereas unsuccessful or mediocre teams begin the game before they are physically prepared and mentally ready. Similarly, lower performing teams look forward to the reprieve of halftime and may become distracted with anticipation and impatience. This lack of commitment leaves them vulnerable to opponents who demonstrate a constancy of purpose and a goal of winning.

Organizations such as a faculty, or learning team, in schools "compete" in a similar arena. School staff members must sustain their efforts at high levels of performance to really make a difference in the future of the learners they serve. We can't afford to let up because the appealing opportunities of summer vacation beckon us. We have to generate our best each and every day if we expect to cross the finish line first. If we don't consistently exhibit our commitment we can't expect our learners to contribute their best effort.

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