Clairelise Rodriguez is a past member of the 50CAN team. 

The 2012 Olympics kick off with the Opening Ceremonies today, and to celebrate we want to tip our hats to five inspiring athletes from each one of our states and share some lessons ed reformers should learn from them:

Michael Phelps, Baltimore, Maryland: It pays to believe in kids

When you look at Michael Phelps’ record – 16 Olympic medals and six World Swimmer of the Year Awards – it’s hard to imagine anyone not believing in him. But as a child, he had quite a few doubters. Many of his teachers complained that he was “restless” and “immature.” One even told his mother that he would “never be able to focus on anything.” 

Luckily there was someone who did believe in him: his coach, Bob Bowman. When Phelps was 11, Bowman confidently told Phelps’ mother that not only would he be go to the Olympics, but that he would set world records. And he was right.  

At 50CAN we believe that any child can learn, regardless of where they live, where they come from or how much money their family makes. And we believe that because we believe in the Bob Bowmans of the world: the educators who know how to find and unlock potential in children most people would write off as unteachable. Great teachers change everything – including one kid’s journey from restless child to swimming legend. 

Sue Bird, Syosset, New York: To be great, innovate

Though she’s now a two-time Olympic gold medalist, Sue Bird’s road to the gold has had its fair share of setbacks and diversions. But instead of becoming discouraged, Bird found ways to learn from each obstacle, a life lesson she teaches today in four classrooms across the United States through her work as a Classroom Champion.

In her latest webcast shout-out to the students she mentors, she stressed that the only way to discover your best is to try new things. The truth is, “you might get lucky, or you might not.” But the real value is in trying and learning from every success and mistake.  This advice is great not only for elementary schoolers, but for ed reformers, school districts, administrators and teachers alike. If you want to go for the gold, don’t be afraid of trying a new strategy or tactic. Even if it flops, you’re still one step closer to finding something that does work.  

Giddeon Massie, Zionhill, Pennsylvania: Even world-class athletes have to do their homework

At 50CAN we have a saying: we will not rest until every child has access to a great public school. That’s because we know a great education is vital to anyone’s success, whether you’re an Olympic track cyclist, a clarinet player, or a part-time model (or in Giddeon Massie’s case, all three). Great schools change everything. Massie’s parents recognized that, and now it’s time for us as a nation to do the same. 

Elizabeth Beisel, Saunderstown, Rhode Island: The power of state pride

Out of the 530 Team USA athletes touching down in London to represent the red, white and blue in this summer’s Olympics, swimmer Elizabeth Beisel is the lone representative from the Ocean State – and proud of it. Driven by her Rhody pride, Beisel hopes to bring home the gold in the 200m backstroke and the 400m individual medley.

The same goes for chasing excellence in education. Every one of our states has a strong sense of state pride. And our CANs are working to channel that energy to build the best possible education system for all of our kids.

Lindsay Whalen, Hutchinson, Minnesota: Good is not good enough

For world-class athletes like Lindsay Whalen, simply being good doesn’t cut it. Part of being a top athlete is constant pushing yourself to the edge, always improving and always finding ways to be just a bit better.

Our top school systems would do well to follow this same regimen. Even though Minnesota has a good school system by many measures, Team MinnCAN knows that good just isn’t good enough. Right now, Minnesota’s “good” system isn’t serving our children of color, low-income children, or English language learners. So let’s never try to just be good, but always strive to be better.


Recent Posts

More posts from Ed Reform

See All Posts