“This is so embarrassing.” It was his second ever CrossFit class, and he struggled to perform 24 kg kettlebell swings. “Are you kidding me?” He showed up, he tested his limits, and when I got him using the 16 kg kettlebell, his swings looked great. Did he fail? Yes. Did he succeed? Indeed. Will he eventually be able to swing a 24 kg kettlebell like a boss? Absolutely.
“I’m going to be so embarrassed.” It was her first ever CrossFit trial class, and she hadn’t even walked through the door. “Are you kidding me?” Everyone waiting for this class to start felt exactly the same as she did. A bit timid, and unsure of what was about to happen. I doubt any of them had ever done a deadlift before, or a box jump, or much of anything they did in that hour. Was her deadlift perfect at the beginning? No. Was it perfect at the end? No, but she had a straight back, kept her shins vertical, her focus was impeccable. Will her deadlift improve? Will she get stronger? Absolutely, if she comes back and keeps working on it.
We talk about lifelong learning a lot in education. Nothing has taught me what this means the way CrossFit has. No matter where you are, there is always some place up. A skill to perfect, a technique to master, a new PR to achieve. And along the way failure. Glorious failure. I remember struggling to do a clean, later I remember when I first cleaned 35 kg, and as I slowly inched my way up from there, over months of work, that amazing feeling when I managed to bring 50 kg from the floor to my chest. I have never achieved that since, but do I keep trying? Absolutely. The worst that happens is the bar drops. Never once have I seen anyone laughed at for failing to lift, for failing at double-unders, for failing to get that pull-up. Instead the community encourages every attempt and cheers every success.
This is what learning should be: opportunities to try, to fail, and ultimately to succeed in a supportive and encouraging environment.
In The Innovator’s Mindset, George Couros says “You’ll never arrive”. John Spencer and A.J. Juliani talk about “failing forward” in their recent release of Launch. Tricia Friedman writes about being a “curious cat ninja” and “relaxing into your mistakes” in this blogpost.
As a coach, I know I have so far to go. I know how to help the beginners reach an intermediate stage and how to help the intermediates progress, but am constantly watching my coaches to help me improve my technical knowledge. I can’t do all the things I’m supposed to coach: double-unders and muscle-ups elude me. My six-month old wrist injury means that I can’t demonstrate skills properly. Timing my classes may always be an issue. I openly admit to these issues, and celebrate our continuing journey toward success and use this to help build empathy in our little CrossFit community.
As a teacher, I’m just getting started. After 20 years of doing this, yes, I can admit that there are things I’m good at. But as I start to re-imagine my classroom and my practice, start to think about having my students make and launch products, begin to dream up more inquiry-based lessons and units, I’ll admit I’m afraid. Afraid to let go of control, afraid that it won’t always work, afraid that there won’t be enough time, afraid I’ll be embarrassed. This is where my CrossFit mentality must come in. Yes, all of these things will happen, but I believe that with time, with diligence, with passion, and with empathy, I’ll become a better teacher.
I hope to bring this same passion to my math classroom for my students. I will try to provide them challenges that they want to overcome. I will try to give lessons purpose and meaning. I will opportunities for them to figure it out for themselves. I will help them see that every failure is one more baby-step toward success. We’re going to learn from each other, blog together, make together, plan together. We’re going to create a space where trying is the norm and empathy is the guiding principle.
I’m not exactly sure how to achieve this, but I know it starts with attitude. A CrossFit attitude.
Thank you to Flicker for the lovely images.
Cover image: Falling down by mao_lini.