process or result?

In the world of professional sports results are everything: you either win or you lose, you are number one or you are not. No wonder then that athletes face greater pressure today than ever before to be competitive, to score, to rack up statistics, and to produce wins.

But what may be understandable, even reasonable, for professionals may not be so much for amateurs, and yet organizations, teams, coaches, and even parents often value quantified results, numbers, and stats as much as, if not more than, player growth and development.

Now, what happens when this misguided thinking in the sports world is mirrored in the world of education? More and more we find that parents, students, and some educators mistakenly assume that test scores and even grades are also indicators of growth, development, and mastery.

Naturally, results are important, in education as in many other aspects of life. The problem arises when we put the emphasis in the wrong place: education is not about passing tests, education is about learning. Test scores and grades do not accurately reflect a learner’s success or failure -even if parents and students spend enormous amounts of time, energy, and money chasing them.

In the classroom, focusing on the process can yield several benefits for students, including fostering a growth mindset, creating a student-centered environment, and reducing stress for students. How to do that? Some ideas adapted from Tom Murcko:

  • Don’t emphasize passing tests or getting good grades, trust that those results will come as the result of emphasizing learning.
  • Stop worrying about what others will think of your performance.
  • View each attempt as merely practice for the next attempt.
  • Choose how to rate your performance: rate yourself based on the progress, not the score.
  • Bring awareness to your performance, either during or immediately after it, so you can learn to identify when bad results follow good processes, and vice-versa.

But, as stated before, too many people these days will pay more attention to test scores than to actual, real learning. So be prepared to swim against the tide if you are ready to focus on the process rather than on the result: that takes courage, energy and determination -the kind that usually defines leaders. But if you are, these guidelines might prove very useful:

  • Don’t go it alone: make sure that all those affected (parents, students, administrators) have a deep understanding of what’s intended and needed, so they will be more invested in its success.
  • Involve people as early as possible in order to create a “critical mass” of support while continuing to moving forward.
  • Be patient: going slow at the beginning will help you go faster and smoother later.
  • As you proceed, pay attention to how, not just what, you are doing.
  • Trust the people you work with: have the courage to ask, listen, and let go of control. You are likely to end up with better results.

In any case, remember that finding the right balance is important: process (as in actual, real learning) is crucial, but results (as in test scores) are relevant since they determine the promotion (and ultimately social recognition) of your students. Work to find the sweet spot that will let your students achieve both and where you will feel comfortable with your work.

Swimming against the tide is hard, but the view is fantastic when you finally reach your destination. Trust me on that one.

Additional reading: Ask Yourself If You’re Motivated by Results, or the Process, to Be More Productive