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Showing Up, Showing Effort

I always think that if the zombie apocalypse did come, there's nowhere I'd rather be than in a karate dojo on lesson day. Boy, those kids are fierce, and they know how to wield a bow.

celebrate successimage credit: David Vega

Learning karate is great for more than just the potential danger of flesh-eating monsters taking over the world. Karate is one of those sports that also teaches respect, self-control, and the value of effort. Those tangible awards of higher belts of various colors are something students can see wrapped around the waists of other kids. Those belts are something to strive for, something that can only be obtained through hard work and commitment—showing up and showing effort.

My eight-year-old has learned a lot about showing up and showing effort, and he's learned how it feels to watch other kids your own age and younger advance faster. He's learned that it's not enough to go through the motions in class, that you also have to practice at home. There are days when the drive home from the dojo is marked with tears of frustration, and days when the sheer force of his enthusiasm and pride could power the minivan with no need for gasoline.

It gets me thinking—are there mechanisms for this kind of reward system in academic settings? I'm not talking about the extrinsic rewards of sticker charts, reading log prizes, and even praise. I'm talking about the kind of expression I see on karate students' faces when their Sensei ties a new belt around their waists. Their faces say, “This was hard, and I did this.”

The answer is yes, there are lots of moments of success and celebration in the classroom, but maybe it's more subtle. After all, in the dojo, you can turn a cartwheel and as long as it's not at the wrong time, no one's going to complain. But it's a little harder to turn a cartwheel in a classroom.

I think part of our job as educators is to allow space, both physical, temporal, and mental, to honor these celebrations, even if that celebration consists of a quick fist pump in the air. I know at work, when I've completed a particularly tough task, I do my own version of a cartwheel, except usually it looks like I'm getting an extra cup of coffee. But it counts. I showed up, I worked hard, and I'm going to give myself a moment or two to feel great about that.

And then, I go back to work.

Because that's a key thing about success, whether it happens at the karate dojo or in the classroom: There's always more acheivement to be had. The yellow belt leads to the orange belt leads to the blue belt and all the way to black. Mastering division leads to mastering fractions leads to mastering percentages leads to using physics to discover new planets. 

In a previous blog we talked about the importance of failure, but it's healthy to realize that it's a multi-sided coin: failure, success, days of discontent, hours of potential. For a kid, it can be hard to see the long view. Heck, it's even hard for adults! Be confident that when the zombie apocalypse arrives, the kids will be prepared, armed with an excellent roundhouse kick and enough knowledge to reestablish democracy, agriculture, the arts, and some kind of space program.




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