Running and Testing

Jen Robinson Assessment, Current Affairs, Education, Elementary, Life in the Classroom, Uncategorized

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For the past several months I have been training for a half marathon. Myself and several other colleagues each had a different, unique training regiment leading up to the race. I needed to begin early and gradually increase the distance of my runs each week following a rigorous and prescribed schedule. Others began their training later and were more flexible with their runs. The first few weeks weren’t so bad because I had been running for some time, just not much over four or five miles. Then about a month in, it was time for seven miles, which seemed like a huge leap, when in reality it wasn’t at all. The same feeling of exhaustion and fatigue hit at each mile increase until finally in August and September my body was in sync with the gradual increase in mileage and what seemed like a challenge at the beginning was a norm. Five miles was my new three and eight was my new six and so on. You get it.

Then one morning in August it hit me, how was my training any different then our teachers preparing students for the state assessments? Teachers introduce and teach the standards, spiral back based on formative assessments and spent more time and energy breaking down lessons and concepts to help students’ access and apply new learning. They help students get in sync with shifts in thinking and give them tools to push on their thinking. There I was at 5:00 am thinking about training and testing and students and learning and then two dogs become tangled with the third and boom, I went down, head over heals, headphones flung through the air, knuckle lights flipped off landing in the middle of the street, elbow bruised, covered in gravel, knee scraped and bloodied. At that moment I had a choice. I decided to brush off the dirt, pick up my things and continue on for a few more miles trying to make up time.

And as I put the pain and embarrassment out of my head I started to think back to our kids, what obstacles do they have to overcome each and every day just to get to school? What do they need to access and then to apply the curriculum and standards? What happens when they fall down? Do they have the desire and motivation to get back up and continue? How do we as educators “train” them to be successful? Do we break down the curriculum into manageable pieces and give students the time they need to process, manipulate and relate to their new learning? Do we look at each individual child and create a plan for what they need? How do we respond when students get in their head and can’t see past their mistakes?

And then two weeks before the big run it happened, I lost my motivation. I just didn’t care. I was done training, tired of running and just wanted it to be over. Don’t our kids feel the same way? Think about the amount of testing our students are required to endure in April and May. And we ask them to try their best, what happens when they are just done? When they just don’t care and want it to be over? How do you motivate and keep your students “in the zone?”

Now days before the run I doubt my ability and question what was once a confident feeling. I wonder what on earth I was thinking and why I thought this was a good idea. Ironically I am experiencing the same feelings of exhaustion and fatigue our students have running through their heads during testing time. Except for me it’s just 13.1 miles in one morning, not repeated two times a day for several weeks. As educators we do an amazing job at motivating and creating space for learning, but the reality is there are things we have no control over and yet we are charged with taking the responsibility when state testing is involved. What happens when your students fall? How do they respond?


Jen Robinson

Maricopa, Arizona

Hello, my name is Jen Robinson. I have been in education for over 20 years. I began teaching in Buffalo, NY in 1992, as a pre-school special education teacher. My experience ranges from primary grades through high school. My husband and I moved to Arizona in 2001, where we were fortunate enough to teach at the same school. In 2004, I achieved National Board Certification and currently support candidates. In 2011 I completed my Ed.D. in Leadership and Innovation. My dissertation research focused on supporting National Board candidates through their certification process. During the 2012-2013 school year, I completed my National Board renewal process. It was humbling and very powerful to step back into a classroom. I am currently an elementary principal. I am excited and hopeful for the new school year. I also serve on the Arizona Teacher Solutions Team where we are solutions focused in an effort to transform and elevate the teaching profession.

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Comments 13

  1. Donnie Lee

    I giggled a bit as I imagined you falling into the street. I also sympathized with the embarrassment that you must have felt having fallen in front of a lot of people. Our students fall on a regular basis. We give them challenges and sometimes they rise up and meet them and other times they fall a bit short. I realize the embarrassment they feel is very similar to how you felt. It can be crushing to one’s confidence to not achieve a goal you set out for yourself. As teachers, it is our job to be that hand that picks them back up, dusts them off, bandage up their scrapes and bruises, and make them believe that they can finish those last 6 miles.

    1. Jennifer Robinson

      Thanks for your response, BTW I only run when it’s dark at 4:30 am so no one but the dogs see me fall :) But ironically that’s when it hit me literally – our kids face a lot of adversity and challenges each day and we expect them to go on as though learning is the only thing they have to do.

  2. Angelia

    The analogy you provide for what it can feel like to be a student (and an educator) during these high stakes periods can be daunting. When I think of what it feels like for me when I run out of drive or motivation in certain situations, I think about what usually brings me back, and more often than not it’s some down time or time spent in positive (stress-free) social situations. This gives me that re-charge that I need to get back at the task I’m trying to tackle. Do our students have the opportunities or environments that they need to “re-charge” at and away from school? Past experiences tell me probably not. I am thinking of the ways I could create environments conducive to re-charging and motivating students??????

  3. lisa Graeme

    Nice comparison. It also goes to show how important it is to taper off the runs to keep our momentum.Training to the end just wears you out. In education, that would mean backing off test prep and lightening the load 2 weeks before the big test.

  4. Angela Buzan

    I feel like I have been waiting for someone to write this post for a long time. Running is so much like teaching. The revelations gained on a long run are comparable to none. The loss of motivation to “train” is much more accurate than this idea of simply being burnt out. Teachers keep going and keep going no matter what, but that motivation is what makes all of the difference. Without drive and creativity we are nothing.

    The line about the tangling of the third leash: what a brilliant metaphor– one that is also analogous to education.

    Great post.

    1. Jen Robinson

      Thanks for your thoughts Angela. I hadn’t thought about teachers and their undeniable commitment to our kids until reading your comments. This topic does cross the lines in many areas. Thanks for giving me that insight.

  5. Jess Ledbetter

    This is so true and so well written. Kids and teachers run these marathons each year. The most insidious thing is that we label their efforts with words like “Falls Far Below” and “D School” when we know that these standardized tests are flawed and mostly just reflect the SES statuses of the communities where schools are located. I’d like our educational policies to start handing out ribbons to the kids and teachers who finish these learning races instead of dividing them up on bell curves that bloody their egos on the pavement. Time for reform and humanizing education.

    1. Jen Robinson

      Thanks for your comments Jess. I wonder how many runners would continue if they fell in the Falls Far Below or Minimally Proficient category… Love the idea of ribbons for finishing! Especially in education!

  6. Christine Porter Marsh

    I love the questions you pose in the penultimate paragraph! I wish we had easy answers for them; I wish there was a way to turn the switch back on, after students are “just done.”

    Nice post!

  7. Sandy Merz

    A favorite quote about running is that the hardest part of a workout is lacing up your shoes. That’s not too relevant to your post, but I thought you might like it. I wonder how few colleagues can remember the days before high stakes testing when it wasn’t that big a deal – just a few days in the spring and done. There wasn’t any explicit preparation, no Count-down to AIMS (AZ-Merit) posters in the hallways, and so forth. Believe it or not, I walk/run at 4 in the morning, too. I walk if I’m tired or not into it. I jog otherwise. I pace myself. I have no long term goals, but it’d be nice to run 2 miles without stopping. I’m not competitive with myself or anyone else. I get exactly out of it what I put into it – which is slow, steady progress, no burn out, no “zone.” I think that’s probably how I teach, mostly. Right now the kids are taking a summative assessment and those that blew of the formative work are hurting, but those who worked through the projects at an even pace are doing great.

    1. Jen Robinson

      Hi Sandy
      Thanks for sharing. I love you mentioned, “I get exactly out of it what I put into it – which is slow, steady progress, no burn out.” I am wondering how to capture that in teaching and supporting teachers.

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