Friday, September 5, 2014

What does success look like?

Recently I visited my hometown.  In preparation for the visit I emailed a classmate who still lives in the area and invited them to dinner while I was in town.  At that point I learned that several classmates would be in town and were all going to dinner -- an impromptu partial class reunion it was.

Amateur photography by someone's spouse.

At one point during the night we all took a few moments to tell about our families and what we've been doing.  The stories I heard have me wondering what success really looks like.

According to success is:

  1. The favorable or prosperous termination of attempts or endeavors; the accomplishment of one's goals.
  2. The attainment of wealth, position, honors, or the like.
  3. A performance or achievement that is marked by success, as by the attainment of honors.
  4. A person or thing that has had success, as measured by attainment of goals, wealth, etc.
As I listened to their stories it is clear that some have been successful according to one or more of these definitions.  Yet most of us have read some version of these quotes defining success a bit differently.

    Success is a journey, not a destination. -- Ben Sweetland 

    Success is a journey, not a destination. The doing is often more important than the          
    outcome. -- Arthur Robert Ashe, Jr.

After a bit of reflection I've come to think that the standard way we look at success is flawed.  The stay-at-home mom among the group that is not only rearing her own kids, but also the kids of her deceased twin brother is a success in my book.  So is the guy that has jumped from job to job over the course of his life but now has steady employment that allows him to spend time engaging in his hobbies.  Success is not a single measure.

This reunion of sorts took place the day after Missouri released test and annual performance report (APR) scores for school districts.  The internal workings and calculations of the APR can be complicated, but the APR is one number in the end -- a percentage of points a district or school earned out of the total.

These results have been published in local news media across the state.  Those with increasing APR scores are applauded for their work, while those who slipped backwards are being asked why it happened.  In many cases the reason rests with a new, volatile system that defines success as one number -- the higher the better.

As in life, success for schools can't be defined as a single measure.  Teachers are more than their students' test scores.  Schools are more than attendance and test scores.  Districts are more than a single number.  Each day schools across the country welcome a diverse student body, feed them breakfast, feed them lunch, provide a safe learning environment, and offer after-school activities to keep them engaged.  We serve a noble purpose.  That, in itself, should be success.