Let's huddle and get this ball moving


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  "I want to share a perspective with you about elimination of that "loser" feeling."


rom the archives relating to bilingual instructional methods comes the truism that we were not all raised the same. While some of us were being imbued with a competitive spirit in our youth, other mothers and fathers were putting the kibosh on competitive activities, choosing to emphasize cooperation skills.

Educators who work with students from a variety of ethnic backgrounds are admonished to take this phenomenon into account in their lesson plans. And so I did.

I took my activities, many of which were my homemade speech and language learning games in which winners and losers emerge in the end, and I changed the rules. For example, instead of having students compete to move markers on a game board as reinforcement for speech practice, the students all share the mutual goal of having a single marker reach the target by the end of the activity.

The winner is defined as the person who practices talking it's speech class after all and enjoys the game, not the person who receives the most points. Thus we can all emerge winners. There are no losers as long as all participate and enjoy the companionship, the shared work and the joy of getting to a goal.

Let's see. Why am I telling you this? Because I think you're interested. And because I aim to write about decision making in the schools. I want to share a perspective with you about elimination of that "loser" feeling.

Let's define "loser" as the one who doesn't attempt to make his or her dreams a reality. For in the world of winners — all those that play the game — there are always setbacks. There are instances in which one has to take a few steps backward before advancing. There are occasions in which one is confronted with overpowering odds. There are times during which your vision is met with resounding disapproval.

In the schools, the agony of defeat can sometimes be overwhelming. The plug is pulled on the program you believe was making it possible for your students to be shining stars. Your best friend gets the ax or takes a job elsewhere for better pay. Your great boss retires and in his place an unknown commodity emerges, much to your dismay.

These are some of the many lumps we have to take. I take 'em; you take 'em, they take 'em! At least there's a lot of good company in the boat! Misery loves company.

But in the morning, our students are still there. Their bright faces or their scowls, their homework ready or shredded or forgotten, their plans for after school awesome or worrisome.

Quickly, in the throes of the on-going lessons and the myriad small catastrophes taking place, the setback of yesterday is forgotten, be it ever so temporarily. Our attention becomes fully riveted on the kids. Teaching demands and commands our total attention. The students interrupt our downward attitude spiral caused by our tribulations.

The facts of life are such. We can not hope to have everything fall into place, just the way we believe it should every time. But we can expect to have the opportunity to pursue our dream.

The search for a new superintendent generated enormous interest throughout the educational community as well as in the neighborhoods. Rumors and innuendoes have been in abundant supply. Input was contributed, heard and taken very seriously. And now that a decision has been made, we wait.

While we wait, she packs. Dr. Mary Anne Mays is coming.

Having had the pleasure of meeting her, I look forward to her arrival with happy anticipation.

Let's roll out the red carpet for her. Let's make room at the table. Let's welcome to our community a new educational leader, our new superintendent, Dr. Mary Anne Mays.

Sandra Nichols is a Speech and Language Specialist with Santa Cruz City Schools in Santa Cruz, California and sits on the Governing Board of the Pajaro Valley Unified School District in Santa Cruz and Monterey Counties. This essay was first published in the Watsonville Register-Pajaronian, Sept. 22, 2002. The opinions expressed are those of Sandra Nichols and do not necessarily represent those of any school district, print publication or web site.

© Sandra Nichols 2002