It is interesting that people say the favourite question in interviews is, “What is your greatest achievement?” More interestingly perhaps, the super-model Elle MacPherson is quoted as saying, “Having children is my greatest achievement. It was my saviour.
by Tim Middleton
It switched my focus from the outside to the inside. My children are gifts, they remind me of what’s important.” Some may wonder what is so great about having children though others would be quick to respond “try it!” Schools though place a great deal of emphasis on achievement, be it of the school or of individuals, with trophies and awards being handed out for achievement, while school reports either say what a pupil has achieved (good or bad) or what a pupil must do. Education, for many, is all about achievement.
When we think of achievement ,we are talking about what we have done — it is what goes on our CV with pride.
However, achievement is limited, finished, done — it is past. When we think of achievement, we think we have made it and think that we are now someone big or important, leading to the dreadful question, “Do you know who I am?” Achievement is driven by reputation and it is based on comparison to others. It is the end goal, the dream, the sign and symbol of success.
But that is not what education is about; it is in fact about empowerment. Empowerment is about what you can do, what you are still going to do. It is limitless, ongoing, unfinished. It is about the future and the present, not the past. Empowerment helps you to realise there is so much that can be done; it is to have a great opportunity. It is not driven by reputation but by repetition. It is enabling someone to go on and on and on, like the battery bunny that does not stop.
Empowerment has been described as “giving employees skills, resources, authority, opportunity, motivation”, but it is also about giving them confidence, belief and assurance. It is allowing pupils to fail rather than requiring them to achieve — achievement (winning, succeeding) is only half the curriculum and we would be horrified to be told our children are only covering half the curriculum!
Empowerment is not about gaining permission; as Ayn Rand the novelist says: “The question is not who’s going to let me; it’s who is going to stop me.” Empowerment is about opening up possibilities, not shutting down probabilities; it is about giving freedom for potential (a favourite word of teachers) to be developed. To empower a child does not mean we make her strong but rather we release and then harness power, energy, ability, so that she does not rely simply on her own strength or ability, which is only measured by achievement.
The Land Rover AC45 T2 yacht competing in the current America’s Cup (the international sailing competition) has been hailed as an extraordinary achievement, being described as a “Fighter jet on water”.
It is phenomenally expensive with all the latest amazing technology put into it, including “innovative wing sail designs and hydrofoils” similar to those used to make an aeroplane fly. In fact, this yacht does not sail in the water but above it, preventing resistance. Yet all of this technology, this great achievement, is useless if it is not operated wisely but more importantly, if it does not harness the power of the wind and the waves. The power comes from beyond the vessel.
Sandra Rossi is the “brain-trainer” with River Plate football club, one of the biggest clubs in South America, and the first female assistant coach in that continent. Her job is “not just to unlock” the brain but to help players “manage certain situations and deal with their psychological wellbeing.” She is empowered to empower the players. She is quoted as saying: “The moments where I feel a great deal of satisfaction, without a doubt, are when players express their infinite affection and confidence . . .That’s my biggest achievement, the biggest one of all.” Empowerment is her biggest achievement; it is more significant and important than achievement.
Having children may indeed be one’s greatest achievement only because it is starting the process of empowering those children; education’s greatest achievement is not to focus on achievement but on empowerment. Nita Ambani, the founder of Reliance Foundation, said that “Education is not a tool for development … It is the foundation for our future. It is empowerment to make choices and emboldens the youth to chase their dreams.” All power to our young people, interviews or not!
l Tim Middleton is the executive director of the Association of Trust Schools and author of the book on “failure” called Failing to Win.