Thursday, October 1, 2009

Effort: A Mandatory Ingredient for Success

I'll start with a definition again. Merriam-Webster defines effort as,

a conscious exertion of power: hard work.

This is one of five definitions that appear in the dictionary. (These Honor Code words are popular, aren't they?!) We ask our students to put forth maximum effort in all they do. It is difficult to describe what we expect in terms of effort except to cite examples.

The person trying a marathon for the first time spending weeks training, or the basketball player who spends hours before and after practice taking shots, or the computer programmer who spends hours mastering code, or the pianist who spends every moment practicing a challenging piece of music - these are all common examples we can understand.

The goal of these hours is success. The goal for our students is success. In Malcolm Gladwell's book Outliers: The Story of Success, the author elaborates on the role of effort in the development of experts. Specifically, he discusses the 10,000 hour rule: in order for a person to be expert, they put 10,000 hours (or approximately 10 years) of practice into their chosen craft/sport/field. Bill Gates, Bill Joy, Mozart are all 10,000 hour experts.

As Joseph K. Hasenstab says in the Foreward of Tapping Student Effort: Increasing Student Achievement,

Effort is exerted in the classroom when there are successful skill and performance patterns defined ... which are modeled, practiced, and coached. Effort to learn skill and performance patterns will be exerted by students if we create “compelling whys” for them – give them reasons for learning.

Our job as teachers is to provide the environment for the "whys." My job as Dean of Students is to provide the "whys" for maximum effort as it pertains to character development. Case studies are an excellent way to do this. Again, it is easier for the students (and the adults, frankly) to grasp the meaning and worthiness of maximum effort when confronted with a situation where it is lacking or present.

Calvert believes we have a recipe for success and one of its integral ingredients is effort. Our mission statement reads, in part, "Calvert seeks to develop students of high academic achievement, intellectual curiosity, and strong moral character...." Our time-tested, yet innovative curriculum provides for the academic achievement, our excellent teachers and various academic programs provides for the intellectual curiosity, and our sports program and Honor Code provide for the strong moral character.

In order for the three aspects of the Calvert Graduate to "stick," maximum effort must be present to bind them together for a lifetime. It is one of the best lessons we can teach our students.

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