Gold Medal Learners: The Olympics – Powerful Athletes, Powerful Learners

by Ryan Krohn, Director

With the Winter Olympics just around the corner, the world will tune in to witness amazing performances and get to know the athletes with in depth interviews and profiles. And while a number of gold medal hopefuls, such as snowboarding’s Shaun White, alpine’s Lindsey Vonn, and figure skating’s Gracie Gold (yes GOLD!) each hope to display a powerful performance, there is no doubt that each Olympian put themselves in this position based on their years of training and the fact that they are powerful learners.

Both as a parent, and in my role as the director of the Institute, I come across many examples, articles, and stories about “what works.”  As a coach and someone who loves sports and competition, when I saw the headline: “7 Reasons Athletes Make the Best Employees,” it was an article I had to investigate. After reading the article I would say they are onto something, but it is not an athlete’s ability to run, jump, catch or kick that struck me, but rather that sports (among other experiences) nurture powerful learners.

The article explored the link between sports and life, and started off by saying that big data and market analysis point to the idea that management should look to hire “athleticism.”  The author shared 7 reasons why kids who play sports do better in life:

  1. They persevere
  2. They excel at time management
  3. They learn from failure
  4. They are accountable
  5. They put the team first
  6. They are students of the game
  7. They can handle criticism

Now don’t get me wrong, I value each and every one of these 7 reasons.  However, we need to take this article beyond athleticism as it is not about doing a flip, throwing, hitting, running, shooting, catching, or being a powerful athlete. It is really about becoming a powerful learner!  Below is my reflection of those reasons as they relate to powerful learners:

They persevere:
Powerful learners use feedback to inform their next course of action. Rather than accepting the feedback as a indicator of who they are, they use it to guide their next efforts as they push to improve and reach their goals.

They excel at time management:
When powerful learners take on a number of challenges or courses, they must prioritize what, when, and how they will learn. As they balance rigorous deadlines, schedules, classes and homework, they become time management pros, able to maximize what they can learn and demonstrate.

They learn from failure:
Nobody likes to get poor feedback, but powerful learners are familiar and comfortable with feedback and use it to understand where to improve. Learners use feedback to fuel future performance – they know that “failure is the best teacher.”

They are accountable:
Powerful learners play a critical role inside the school community and know that what each learner brings to the experience helps the entire community. At the same time, powerful learners know they must take responsibility for their own learning. They see themselves as a resource to others as well as themselves. In the end, powerful learners know they need to be able to show evidence of learning.

They put the team first:
Powerful learners understand the importance of community. A school is a rich network of learning and while everyone has their own role, the entire community develops when a collaborative environment is created. Powerful learners know that by contributing ideas, by working in collaboration, and by being open to other opinions, they will have a richer and more diverse learning experience.

They are students of the game:
Powerful learners own their learning and they take pride in being able to show their efforts and talent. They willingly spend nights studying. They read books, attend study sessions, and pursue any knowledge that may help them improve what they are learning. In the end, they are confident in their ability to create a collection of evidence to show what they have learned.

They can handle criticism/feedback:
You won’t get very far in any endeavor without being open to feedback. Powerful learners are used to direct feedback, they actively seek it out and are skilled at self-assessment. They can handle critical questions, and do not let it deflate them or impact their attitude. They don’t overthink a misstep – they know that it helps them to get closer to their goal.

The Olympics are a great time to see athletes and teams from across the world who took an active role to LEARN how to perform those skills at a high level in pursuit of a goal. I also believe we have to continue to shape schools to maximize these types of collaborative learning experiences to not only create proficient students, but nurture powerful learners!

Share your thoughts, examples, and ideas below!

© Can Stock Photo / dennisvdwater