Saturday, April 9, 2016

This post is for a student

The guinea pig was missing, and they had to solve the crime.

The bloody guinea pig footprints were the most obvious evidence, but they they would have to analyze three more challenging clues: fingerprints, hair left at the scene, and blood spatter patterns.

It was all set up by one of our seniors. She's exactly the sort of student who thrives in this kind of school: independent, self-motivated, and focused on a passionate interest. In her case, that interest is forensic science.

The students, as you will see, loved it, but this senior has such high standards for herself that she could only see what went wrong.

This post is for her and all of my students who've had the wind in their faces for so long they have trouble seeing their successes and strengths.

This is for her, because the students did it. They took notes as she gave them instructions. They looked under microscopes at hair they collected from the scene and compared it to hair from suspects. They experimented with the fake blood, dropping it from different heights until it matched the drops on the floor of the bathroom. They collected fingerprints from suspects and compared the whorls and loops to those found on the bathroom sink.

With the microscopes and hair, they narrowed it down to me and one student. They came to my office with a warrant and dragged me into the Community Room to interrogate me. They asked me about the suspicious bandage on my chin--the one that matched the scenario they had come up with. They asked me about the fingerprints, and finally, they asked me about the search history that had been pulled from my computer which included searches for guinea pig recipes (they are surprisingly common, by the way).

To sum it up, they had fun, even those who said they didn't, and they did a bunch of things they'd never done before, hopefully learning some critical thinking along they way.

But it didn't get off to a good start. The fingerprint dusting technique didn't work, and this student leader was ready to give up. True, she could have been better prepared. For example, she definitely should have tried the fingerprinting technique out before hand. But we've all been there, under-prepared, and every failure is a lesson learned. Next time, I told her, she'll be prepared.

And of course, as every teacher and leader knows,  "No battle plan survives contact with the enemy." No matter how much we plan, we need to be ready for the unpredictable interactions of our plan with human beings and the rest of reality. Our plan is not always at fault--it's just the nature of the universe to throw us curve balls, keep us on our toes and keep us strong.

"Failure," as a Honda engineer says in my all-time favorite video, "is the by-product of pushing the envelope." That's one reason I love CrossFit--it makes me push up against that envelope at least 3 or 4 times per week. I fail at something every time I work out. Every WOD kicks my butt and humbles me. Every Olympic lifting movement I do is a messy mixture of correct and incorrect parts, mostly incorrect.

School and work are fitness for the mind. Push the envelope, and aim high enough that you can expect failure, because failure is fuel. It gives us information to improve, and if we persevere, that's why we'll succeed, as Michael Jordan so powerfully put it. SpaceX persevered through four catastrophic failures of their Falcon rocket's ocean landings, but on their fifth try, just yesterday, they hit it: success.

As Mazer Rackham said in Ender's Game, "No one but the enemy will ever teach you how to destroy and conquer. Only the enemy shows you where you are weak."

In one sense, failure is our enemy, but in another, our friend. It shows us where we can improve, so that we can.

So this is my message to you, my forensic-scientist-to-be senior, and all of my students who have met with frustration so often that they can't see their success--whose lives have been just one huge obstacle after another:

1. Be open to seeing your successes, like the fun our students had with your workshop, even if they're mixed with failure, because you really are capable and successful, and

2. Embrace failure, because it is just a by-product of growth. It doesn't mean you're a failure. It means just the opposite: It means you are improving.

3. Don't expect perfection. It's a myth. Expect improvement. Demand constant improvement from yourself. You deserve it, and you are capable of it.

4. And you are improving. You're already awesome, you've already passed through so much fire, and you're only getting better. I can see it.

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