Podium

The number one reason I’m thrilled that the Olympics are being held now is that it’s the perfect distraction from writing about whether or not we should mandate masks in August. (And of course provides an easy opportunity to chat about winning and losing).

I’m a sucker for the highlights of the ecstatic athletes like the Filipino weightlifter, winning the first gold medal in her country’s history. Her emotional outburst on this individual achievement was such a pleasure to watch (as opposed to the expectation that comes with many nations that anything less than the highest elevation at the podium is a failure).

I love sports because they bring a ruthless simplicity to life. You win or you lose. There are boundaries and nets, the rules are clear and there aren’t excuses. I will sidestep the irony of how this juxtaposes with the Olympic spirit, but my point is that this simplicity is very different from my day job. It would be relatively easy if all we had to do was achieve, to get a number that indicated we did a great job. But I’m not convinced that’s why I get up in the morning.

Which brings me to the release of IB scores in July, the podium moment for many international schools. Like many of my colleagues, I take a reprieve from the summer break to analyze the fateful IB scores, connect with families on their options, and reflect on how we can improve to expand opportunities for our students. As a practice, my school doesn’t post its achievement on social media. Of course I am happy for the collective achievement of international students, but for some reason it doesn’t sit well with me. For every 45, there’s a 22, for every university acceptance, there are dozens of fails. Yes, I get the celebratory aspect, especially in a pandemic, but aren’t international schools supposed to achieve at the highest levels?

I’m a sucker for a great story. I expect the achievers to achieve, just like the American, Chinese and ROC athletes. I don’t get excited about the medal count.

But give me the Italian high jumper tying arguably the greatest high jumper in history and I can’t stop thinking about it all day.

In our business, we talk a lot about growth as being our indicator of success. We want to move the needle on everyone, but the power of education to get someone where they didn’t expect to be (on the podium) is extraordinary. The girl from Syria, sent on scholarship by her family out of a refugee camp. The boy from Mali, displaced by conflict and accessing an international curriculum for the first time in his life. The Senior whose parents divorced and left him in a country far from home. Those are the moments, the indicators of our success, so much more than a number that, frankly, we are supposed to earn. We are, as privileged institutions, expected to be on the podium.

So, until the summer transitions to yet another pandemic opening, I will continue to watch my badminton, pole vault, gymnastics, and diving, looking for the opportunity to make a difference to that learner that might not expect to be on that podium, and to scream in adulation and excitement when they do.

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