My friend and colleague, Andy Wolfenbarger, ran the Marine Corps Marathon two weeks ago. Running 26.2 miles in a little over 5 hours is an incredible accomplishment. But here’s the really incredible part—Andy doesn’t like to run…at all. So how did he do it?
When you ask Andy why he ran the marathon, he has a number of reasons that would make sense , if it was a 5K or even a half-marathon. But, wanting to spend more time with your wife and doing something just to see if you can doesn’t fully explain why someone would train diligently for 4 months for a race that 30,000 people start and only 23,515 finish? What is it that made Andy so successful at something he doesn’t really like?
To me, Andy’s marathon is analogous to the work teachers ask students to do every day. When students enter our classrooms, we ask them to “do their best” on tests, papers, and projects. What we forget to consider is that most of the time, students don’t care about the work teachers ask them to do. In fact, nine times out of ten, it’s not important to them at all. While it’s true that some students plug away (like Andy did), many more never reach the finish line. How do we get all students to try hard, even when they don’t really want to?
A belief in Effective Effort maintains that you get better at something by working hard and using the right strategies (Dweck, 2007; Howard, 1995; Saphir, 2008). In this case, Andy got better at running, by working hard and using the right training strategies. Andy’s marathon is effective effort in action—you can accomplish anything, if you put forth true, effective effort.
It’s important to teach students how to apply effective effort in our classrooms. In fact, there are six effective-effort strategies to help students get to the finish line.
• Resourcefulness – did I ask for help?
• Time – did I put in sufficient time?
• Focus – did I work efficiently and without distraction?
• Feedback – did I use feedback to help me improve?
• Commitment – did I stick with it, even when it was really, really hard?
• Strategies – did I try different strategies?
When I look at this picture of Andy running, I like to think he’s on mile 14. While he ran, Andy used different strategies to get through each mile. One strategy was to run a specific mile for someone. Andy ran mile 14 for the Fredericksburg Cohort. What other mile would he run for the ten of us? After all, we started this doctoral marathon together; and we’ll finish together in 2014.