Getting Better at Getting Better

"High performance isn’t, ultimately, about running faster, throwing harder, or leaping farther. It’s about something much simpler: getting better at getting better."
-James Surowiecki
The New Yorker
November 10, 2014

Athletes are always looking for an edge— more time in the weight room, improved diets, obsessive film study, and even virtual reality— and the greatest athletes will stop at nothing to get better. In the weeks leading up to the Super Bowl, we heard over and over about how competitive and driven Tom Brady is, and since his first Super Bowl victory in 2001, Tom Brady has been obsessed with getting better at getting better. What drives him is an inner desire for excellence.

Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

People across all walks of life— not just athletes— could learn from competitors like Tom Brady. For someone to be a high performer in the courtroom, at the conference table, or in the classroom, it takes a willingness to identify areas of improvement and a relentless dedication to excellence, and some experts would say that takes 10,000 hours.

In standardized math tests, Japanese children consistently score higher than their American counterparts. While some assume that a natural proclivity toward mathematics is the primary difference, researchers have discovered that it may have more to do with effort than ability. In one study involving first graders, students were given a difficult puzzle to solve. The researchers weren’t interested in whether or not the children could solve the puzzle; they simply wanted to see how long they would try before giving up. The American children lasted, on average, 9.47 minutes. The Japanese children lasted 13.93 minutes. In other words, the Japanese children tried about 40 percent longer. Is it any wonder that they score higher on math exams? Researchers concluded that the difference in math scores might have less to do with intelligence quotient and more to do with persistence quotient. The Japanese first graders simply tried harder.

That study not only explains the difference in standardized math scores; the implications are true no matter where you turn. It doesn’t matter whether it’s athletics or academics, music or math. There are no shortcuts. There are no substitutes. Success is a derivative of persistence.

More than a decade ago, Anders Ericsson and his colleagues at Berlin’s elite Academy of Music did a study with musicians. With the help of professors, they divided violinists into three groups: world-class soloists, good violinists, and those who were unlikely to play professionally. All of them started playing at roughly the same age and practiced about the same amount of time until the age of eight. That is when their practice habits diverged. The researchers found that by the age of twenty, the average players had logged about four thousand hours of practice time; the good violinists totaled about eight thousand hours; the elite performers set the standard with ten thousand hours. While there is no denying that innate ability dictates some of your upside potential, your potential is only tapped via persistent effort. Persistence is the magic bullet, and the magic number seems to be ten thousand.

Neurologist Daniel Levitin notes, "The emerging picture from such studies is that ten thousand hours of practice is required to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert — in anything. In study after study, of composers, basketball players, fiction writers, ice skaters, concert pianists, chess players, master criminals, and what have you, this number comes up again and again … No one has yet found a case in which true world-class expertise was accomplished in less time. It seems that it takes the brain this long to assimilate all that it needs to know to achieve true mastery."

Batterson, Mark. The Circle Maker: Praying Circles Around Your Biggest Dreams and Greatest Fears (pp. 85-86). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

As educators, we must be committed to getting better at getting better, and we need to challenge our students to do the same. True mastery happens over time when, day in and day out, we strive to get better at getting better.

  • The 6th graders had a great time at the Innovation Hub on Wednesday. A big thanks goes to Kassandra Allison for leading the trip, to Jimmy Teigen and Tamara Hodges for helping lead, and to Blake McNair for driving the bus.

  • Congratulations are in order for Coach Jan Penrod! Yesterday, the boys and girls bowling teams competed in the district tournament in Conway, and both teams qualified for state next Thursday!

  • This has been a hard week with teachers being out for various reasons, and Shelby Lillard has done an outstanding job getting all of our classes covered! That is not an easy task, but Mrs. Lillard has done a great job!

  • On Tuesday, our school sent a card to a young man named Louis and so did Ian Thomas’ classes. A few days later, Project Zero shared about all the cards Louie has received and you can follow his story on their Facebook page.

Upcoming Events
  • Today
    • Honor Society Induction Practice (following chapel)
    • 7th & 8th Grade 4th Period— Week B
  • Saturday, February 9
    • ACT Testing
  • Sunday, February 10
    • Honor Society Induction Ceremony— 2:00 PM; Auditorium
  • Monday, February 11
    • Family Chapel
    • No School for Students
    • Teacher Workday (half day; 7:30-11:30)
    • Winterfest Weekend
    • No School (Presidents Day)

Anything missing? If so, please let me know.

Responsibilities for the Week of February 11-15
Week A
  • Cafeteria AM— E. Schramm
  • Cafeteria PM— I. Thomas
  • Parking Lot AM— Admin
  • Parking Lot PM— T. Hodges
  • Lunches— Coaches
  • D-Hall— T. Shoemaker
  • Chapel
    • Monday— A. Diles
    • Tuesday— A. Diles
    • Wednesday— Worshipful Wednesday (C. Tappe)
    • Thursday— Family Chapel
    • Friday— No School (Teacher 1/2-Day Workday)

Remember, it is your responsibility to find a replacement if you are unable to cover your assigned duty. Check the cheat sheet for the full duty schedule.

Resources Worth Checking Out For Personal and Professional Growth

Book Recommendation (New Release)

4 Values (in rank order)
  1. Model Christ
  2. Safety & Security
  3. School First
  4. Quality Instruction

Important School Links

Click here for Friday Thoughts archive.