“Do not judge me by my successes; judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.” Nelson Mandela – Resiliency
How should I be judged by other people?
We all know the feeling of being judged. Many times others look to our accomplishments to judge whether or not we are living a worthwhile life. Our accomplishments are supposed to signify our success and happiness and worthiness for praise, but that often leaves us with an empty feeling, because it sidesteps an appreciation for the hardships we had to endure to achieve success. We want people to know how many times we failed and never gave up. That makes us feel truly understood.
Join Steve and Dan Fouts – founders of Teach Different and twin brothers with over 50 years of teaching experience – along with United States educator Dale Lasky, to discuss the power of resiliency, enriched by the Teach Different Method.
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Dan Fouts 00:01
Hello, Steve and Dan Fouts here from Teach Different. We’re veteran teachers from the United States, bringing educators together from around the world to learn a simple conversation method, which we model on this podcast for you. If you’re a teacher, administrator, homeschooler, or parent who wants to use the power of conversations to build stronger relationships and fight polarization, stay tuned to hear the impact our method can have on your discussions. Join our community of educators at teachdifferent.com for additional resources, and to participate in lively conversations among teachers and faculty, free for 30 days.
Dan Fouts 00:44
Hello, everybody, welcome to the Teach Different podcast. It’s great to be back with everybody. We have a really cool quote today from Nelson Mandela, anti-apartheid activist who served as the first president of South Africa from 1994 to 1999 and was imprisoned for multiple years. He was quite an inspiring historical figure, and he has an amazing quote on resiliency, which we’re going to get to in a moment. Our guest, Dale Lasky, will introduce himself in a moment. He teaches in my school district. I’m at Maine West High School, and he’s at Maine East. It’s good to have him on the show.
Dan Fouts 01:30
For those unfamiliar, we’re going to walk through our teach different protocol. We’ll start with a quote, and discuss the claim of the quote. What does the quote mean? What is Mandela communicating about resiliency. Then, we’re going to push against Nelson Mandela’s quote, and work with a counterclaim, a different way to look at the world that is equally valuable. We use claims and counterclaims to help the students think critically. They share their own personal stories to justify their positions on either the claim or the counterclaim. That’s where the magic of this happens. We’ll be thinking of questions during the conversation that we can share at the end. So, that’s an introduction to our protocol. Now, I’ll read the quote twice, and then we’re going to have Dale weigh in on it after he gives his introduction. Here we go. “Do not judge me by my successes; judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.” “Do not judge me by my successes; judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.” Dale, welcome to the show. Great to have you here.
Dale Lasky 02:56
Hi, how are you, Steve and Dan? It is a pleasure to be here. I’m super excited, because I think Teach Different is an amazing strategy to help our students, and honestly to help ourselves figure out what’s happening in the world. I love this quote about resiliency. My teaching is all about getting better and learning and growing and becoming more productive in life. A little bit about myself. I teach at Maine East High School, like you mentioned, Dan. I teach Financial Literacy and Intro to Business at my school in Park Ridge, IL. Dan, your school is in DesPlaines, so we’re really close. This is my 24th year at Maine East. In the past, I’ve taught accounting and several other business classes. I’m also the sponsor of a business club called the Foundation’s Club, which is extracurricular. That’s where students compete in various business competitions through Northern Illinois University. It’s a tremendous opportunity for the students to go above and beyond to extend their learning into different realms, in order to authentically get where they want to go with more business content and business knowledge. I also sponsor the chess club, which is really fun. I’ve been married to my beautiful wife for about 23 years now. We live in Park Ridge, so I live pretty close to the school, which is nice. I have three great kids. My oldest graduated from Maine East, and my twins are seniors at Maine East. I absolutely love having my kids go to Maine East. I feel blessed to have such a great family who is supportive and caring. I’m glad to be here talking about this great quote and Teach Different.
Dan Fouts 04:59
Awesome. That’s great. Thank you so much, Dale. What do you think Mandela is saying here, Dale? How would you articulate the claim?
Dale Lasky 05:08 – Claim
Well, for me, I try to relate this to our students, and it’s all about no one being perfect. We all have problems. We all have issues. It’s not about failing or having a problem. It’s about how you respond to that? How do you deal with those issues, and make it better next time? Like I mentioned, learning, growing, and getting better each and every day. Your successes are great, but that’s not final. It’s a path. It’s a journey. For me, it’s all about getting up and doing better, and getting better every time. every day. What do you guys think?
Steve Fouts 05:53
I like it. I’m looking at this word, judge. That’s what’s interesting to me about it. He’s telling us that when you look at his life, and you’re forming your opinions about who Nelson Mandela was, was he a great person? Did he accomplish a lot? He’s basically just telling us to look at how many things happened to him that didn’t work out, but he’s still here. Dale, like you were saying, it’s getting over the bad, overcoming things. It’s never giving up. That’s what’s important. Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, that’s it.
Dale Lasky 06:46
Yeah, I mean, we could judge Mandela by saying, yeah, he was president of a great nation in South Africa, but he wouldn’t have gotten there, if he just gave up. He had to come back. He probably had an amazing mindset from the beginning where the priority is to learn and grow and get better each and every time something happens. We all know that a lot of bad things happened to him in his life. He was able to overcome all of those problems. I think this is relevant to me and my students, because we all have problems, we all have things going on. I think teenagers often don’t know how to handle problems. They don’t know what resiliency is. They don’t know about the resources they have in our district. We’re very fortunate to have a ton of resources for the kids to get help. A lot of people out there, and a lot of teenagers, especially after the pandemic, have problems. I think this quote is brilliant, because it’s not the end result. It’s about how you get there, the process.
Dan Fouts 08:12
In terms of student’s personal experiences, this quote is one where I think you could just ask the kids, when have you fallen down, and had to get back up again, even when you didn’t want to? I think they would say things like I did poorly on a test or I did poorly at a sport. You said you were the chess club sponsor, right, Dale? I didn’t do very well in chess. I got beaten easily when I first started the game. Everybody could weigh in on something that they did not succeed at, and had to get up and try again.
Dale Lasky 09:07
Yeah, that’s right. I’ve always been, in my mind, an athlete. I’ve played sports my whole life. I still do a little bit and I do a lot of training and exercise. I’m never going to be Michael Jordan. It’s just not who I am, but that process of having a bad day playing softball, and asking myself, what am I going to do? How is my mindset going to change and what am I going to do to get better? I think this applies to many things. It could be that you did poorly in the chess match. You had a breakup with your boyfriend/girlfriend – relationships. It’s key to me to know who you are and what drives you, that self awareness piece. Having social awareness about what’s going on in the world and around you. It might be good, or it might be bad. What can you do to make it better?
This is why I love doing these kinds of quotes. In my classroom, I share a quote every day. I’m starting to learn to adapt the Teach Different strategy to use it in a more academic way, but right now, I use quotes as an icebreaker at the beginning of class. Kind of a conversation starter, to get the kids thinking about themselves, what’s happening in the world, what’s happening in their relationships with people inside the school, in different classes, in their life, with their family, with their friends. These quotes are, I think, really valuable. In fact, last year, I did a research project. I had two different accounting classes last year where I did some questioning. I asked the kids, about halfway through the school year, we’ve been doing these quotes and these social emotional learning exercises, and how has it helped you? Has it been beneficial for you in the class? Has it been beneficial for you with other students? Has it been beneficial for your friends outside of the class? Has it worked for you with your family and other relationships? The resounding answer was yes. I’m not looking at my data right now, but well over 90% of the kids said, Yeah, this is really beneficial. This is really helpful. So, that’s kind of my strategy.
If I could take it to the next level, and I really believe Teach Different is that next level, it could be tremendous for everybody. I think the teacher learns a lot by doing this stuff, too. Teach Different is really amazing. When Dan and I first talked about it, I was like, wow, we are definitely on the same page. I definitely appreciate all that you guys have done to make this practice for a lot of different teachers. If you’re just learning how to do this, it applies to anything throughout your life. If you’re in education, great. If not, that’s okay. Just find a quote and make it apply. It’s a good conversation starter, too. I imagine I’m at a party or at a social event, and it’s kind of like, how’s the weather? Well, you know, that’s fine. You can talk about that. It’s probably not a good idea to talk politics when you’re first meeting people. But, you can just simply say, Hey, I found this great quote,
Steve Fouts 12:45
They are good for that.
Dale Lasky 12:46
Yeah. My wife has a couple of holiday parties coming up in a couple of weeks, so here’s some fodder for that.
Steve Fouts 12:58
Good, you can drop some quotes. You should use this one.
Dale Lasky 13:02
I’ll be a quote dropper.
Steve Fouts 13:05 – Counterclaim
Dale, you used the phrase, the next level, and you associated that with Teach Different. That’s kind of interesting to think about. Let me throw this out, because it may be a description of what the next level is. It’s the counterclaim, which we’re going to get into right now. Here’s what I’ve noticed about quotes. They’re inspirational. They’re good conversation starters. But, you can get into that groupthink dynamic, where everyone’s kind of saying the same thing. The quote might not be that interesting to some, so they’re waiting for the next quote, or the next day. But, if you get intentional, and say, I see what Nelson is saying, but what is a counterclaim to this? I think this is what creates that tension, right?
Steve Fouts 14:03
Read it again, Steve.
Steve Fouts 14:04
Sure. Here it is. “Don’t judge me by my success; judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.” Dan, you jump in if you’ve got something on your mind. I was thinking when you succeed at something, you have this new accountability. You become something great, and now people are targeting you. Now you have problems that you didn’t have when you were stumbling, when no one thought you were anything, and you just had your inner self to make yourself better. But, I think staying on top, I guess is a way to say it, staying on top is also a really impressive feat.
Dan Fouts 15:06
I see that. Definitely. That it’s a different challenge. So, what you’re suggesting then Steve, if I’m hearing you correctly, is that we should judge people by how they function once they succeed. That says more about their character than them overcoming barriers on the way to success. Is that what you’re saying?
Steve Fouts 15:32
I guess. Yeah. I’ll keep that perspective here. It’s when you can stay on top. It’s almost like you prove to yourself that you didn’t get here by luck. You’re proving that every day. You didn’t succeed sometimes, but you also had the right things in place to deserve success. I don’t know. Dale, do you want you to jump in here to see if this is making sense? I’m just trying to think of the counterclaim.
Dale Lasky 16:11
Yeah, for me, it’s all about complacency. If you get to the top, and you’re a champion, a CEO, a school principal, or on top of your game and you become complacent, you lose that drive… I had a problem, what am I going to do about it? If you start playing the blame game, thinking it’s someone else’s problem, and you did poorly because that person did something wrong, then that’s when we start judging. If there’s any form of complacency, or hey, here I am, I’m at the top, that’s when we can start judging and saying, wait a minute they got that success. How did they get that? Were they able to sustain that and make that part of their character? Character is the perfect word for it, Steve. Once you’re there, what do you do, and how do you prove that you actually belong there, and that it wasn’t just good fortune that got you to the top.
Dan Fouts 17:15
That is so right. We would judge them accordingly, that they were there for the right reasons. I’m also thinking on the ground here, if I put this quote in front of my students, “Do not judge me by my successes; judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.” Yeah, I would push the conversation by doing a little thought experiment like this. If you really, really want to get an A in this class, and you are trying and trying and trying, on every exam, every assessment, every project, and you’re still getting a B, do you want to be judged just by the fact that you kept in the game and got that B, or do you want to be judged by getting that A, showing that excellence.
Steve Fouts 17:15
Is the effort enough?
Dan Fouts 17:19
There are so many students in my classes who believe that if you don’t get an A, to put it bluntly, then you should be judged as not excelling in this class where you should have.
Dale Lasky 18:33
That’s a great point, Dan. I’d love to have a student who wants to go to class and learn, but honestly it’s few and far between who are really there to learn. They’re there, a lot of the kids are there, to get an A. That’s fine. Hopefully, they’re learning in the process. As an educator, I’d love to see the kid be okay with getting a B. I tried, and maybe I wasn’t as successful as I wanted to be, but I learned. Maybe that learning is chapter 12 in the textbook, it’s a metaphor, or maybe it’s just learning about life, learning about how to succeed, about the problems and issues and how to handle them. That learning takes lots of shapes and forms. Unfortunately, I think a lot of teachers are judged on their successes based on quantitative information – how many A’s, B’s, and test scores. It’s much more involved than that, but I think using quotes like this, and the counters is brilliant, is a great way to do it. We’re learning and it’s a process. Yeah, everybody, never stop learning. Never stop learning.
Steve Fouts 19:59
It’s the process, even if you don’t get that A at the end. Here’s a question to ask the students. Have you ever worked really hard to accomplish something, and didn’t succeed, but realized that you’re glad you did it? You learned some things that you didn’t even know you were wanting to learn. Now, you’re going to take that learning with you and that made it all worth it.
Dan Fouts 20:32
Through the struggle.
Steve Fouts 20:33
Through the struggle. Yeah, ask them if they’ve ever experienced that.
Dale Lasky 20:38
Yeah, that’s a great point. You know, a lot of students don’t even realize that this is an opportunity. Whatever the problem or issue, it’s an opportunity to learn and grow and get better. They’re not stuck in that problem. Here’s another counter for you. Often, people think that they’ve already spent so much time and effort there. I got to stick with it, but they’re not able to separate themselves and say, maybe I’ve spent so much time and it’s just not right. It’s the sunk cost fallacy.
Steve Fouts 21:29
I was going to say the sunk cost, Dale, because you’re a business teacher.
Dale Lasky 21:33
Yeah. Sunk costs means that you’ve already spent this much money, and have been working on this for years, and this is just something that you’ve got to do. Based on this quote, don’t judge me because it failed, judge me because I’m smart enough, I’m self aware enough, to move on. I want to contribute, but the way I’m doing it right now is not contributing in the way I want, in a way that’s most beneficial for me and for my students. To have that awareness could be really important. So judge me, not by my successes, not by my failures, but by my ability to be willing to move forward and learn and grow from my past experience.
Steve Fouts 22:32
Wow, that’s great. That sounds like a Winston Churchill quote we have. Did you see it, Dale? It’s something to the effect of…Dan, is it coming to you?
Dan Fouts 22:44
“Success is never final, failure is never fatal, it’s the courage to continue that counts.”
Steve Fouts 22:51
Yeah, it’s that process.
Dale Lasky 22:53
Okay. I love Churchill quotes. I have several of those that I use. I love Mandela, obviously. A couple of my other favorites are from Maya Angelou, who is a poet and an author. I love using quotes in a lot of different ways. After having this conversation with you guys, I think I’m going to start using quotes more often. Our classes are 80 minutes long, so maybe I’ll start one at the beginning of class and one in the middle of the class. I like to get my kids standing up and walking around to get some blood flowing and get some energy. This could be a great avenue for that, also.
Steve Fouts 23:38
That’s good. These conversations can soak up a period. Especially when the kids start talking about their experiences. There’s no limit to the amount of counters to something. This word judge is really interesting to me. I don’t know if either of you have a question that’s kind of started to emerge to summarize the conversation. What’s the essential aspect of this quote that could further this conversation? A big question. I don’t have anything yet.
Dan Fouts 24:21
I have one. Dale, do you have one? We defer to guests, first.
Dale Lasky 24:26
Well, thank you. Mine isn’t really a question. It’s more of a comment. Teachers are observed at least four times a year and are judged. That’s fine, but I like to think of it as a chance to get a little bit better for my students. Not really a question, but that’s how I take it.
Dan Fouts 24:54 – Essential Question
I like that. The question I had plays on this word, judge. Steve, that got your attention. How should we judge the character of others?
Steve Fouts 25:09
I had one that’s similar. How should I want to be judged by others?
Dan Fouts 25:16
Steve Fouts 25:19
Now, I’m curious about that.
Dale Lasky 25:22
Well, I have taken that. Here’s a little background on my life and my story. In 2003, I got a call in the middle of the night that my mom passed away. She was 57 years old at the time. It was devastating. I did a lot of retro inspection. It was a wake up call. I thought, how do I want to be judged? When someone’s doing my eulogy, what are they going to say? What is my legacy? How are people going to remember me? I try to think of that on a daily basis. Every day, I think about what I am doing to make an impact, to make a difference, in this world? As an educator, I think I have a great way to do that. But, oftentimes, I think I’m doing chapter 12 in the textbook. That’s important. I teach financial literacy, which is a critical skill, essential for our kids to know how to do their budgets, to know about taxes, and insurance. That’s so important, but to me to have the ability to help people in whatever capacity, that’s how I want to be remembered. That’s how I want to be judged. Not that I was a great practitioner, and a technical teacher who does cooperative learning. The differentiation, that’s important. But, there are more important things than that. How am I going to be judged? That’s important to me. I think about that all the time.
Steve Fouts 27:09
That’s your version of success. What is success for Dale? He helped people. That’s what everybody remembers about him. It’s not how many times Dale failed and got up. That’s good. It’s not easy to be positive, and want to help people. You have to take care of your business and make sure that you’re not giving up on things, but you wouldn’t think of that first as what the ultimate judgment would be. Now, I’m thinking about the word success as well. That’s great.
Steve Fouts 27:48
That’s character development.
Dan Fouts 27:48
I think if you ask, how do they want to be judged? How do I want to be judged? I think most of the kids would go to the character issue, as you did. They won’t say, please put all of the awards and accomplishments on my tombstone. It’s more about what kind of person was I? What impact did I have? What influence did I have? To have that awareness to pursue that question, and to really think about the meaning they want to ascribe to their life can be a life changing conversation for kids at this age.
Dale Lasky 27:50
Absolutely. One of the things I do to help make that happen is by showing trust in my students. When they’re playing on their phone or doing something they shouldn’t be doing, which we see all the time, especially nowadays, I trust that you can make the right decision. I tell them you’re doing everything right. You can do this. You can make it happen. Here are some strategies we can use to help you achieve what you really want to do and what you really need to do. After I have those interactions with the students, and they walk away from high school, I hope they’re going to look back and say, that was really important, what Mr. Lasky said to me. Hopefully those students are interpreting and remembering that and taking that into the future.
Steve Fouts 29:37
Dale, I have a question for you. If you look at teachers in your building between the ages of 25 and 40, or maybe 45. I don’t want to know your age, but maybe a little bit underneath you. You just shared what lingers in your mind as your motivation, what you want to be remembered by and how that’s become actionable to some extent in your life and the choices you make and the perspectives you keep. Would you dare put yourself out there and give an opinion about what motivates most teachers? I gave you that segment of 25 to 45. Do you think that is a sentiment that is shared by other teachers, or is it an individual thing? Is it all over the map? I just would love your opinion, because we’re trying to really get at the heart of that at Teach Different. What is it that we’re helping teachers become by doing this?
Dale Lasky 31:00
Well, I definitely think you are helping teachers become better teachers and better for their students. Honestly, I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t believe that. To answer your question, I’d have to say that there are a lot of educators, whether administrators or teachers, who believe a lot of the stuff that I just told you, but they don’t act on it. The younger teachers are going to be thinking that chapter 12 is the most important thing, so let’s make that happen at whatever cost. That’s fine. That is important. For me, there are other things that are equally, or even more important. That’s just a perspective that I have. My personal story, about when my mom died, got me thinking about life in a different way. I’ve had some medical issues myself, and I approached my life as if it’s important, and I’ve got a lot to give. I try to stay healthy. I eat well, exercise, maintain my sleep patterns, and my stress levels. I do all that extra work every day, so that I can contribute and make a difference in this world for a longer period of time. I really believe I can contribute in a lot of different ways for a lot of different people, and honestly, I’m proud of that.
Dan Fouts 32:49
That’s great. That’s inspiring. You already are. Many teachers share that same sentiment. We’re always asking for our students’ stories, but we have our own stories. The more we are willing to share those with students, the more human we become in their eyes, and that can only help us. That can help them and it can help us. Dale…
Steve Fouts 33:15
Not chapter 12.
Dan Fouts 33:17
Dale Lasky 33:17
Not chapter 12. Here’s something…
Dan Fouts 33:19
The chapter of life.
Dale Lasky 33:22
I always thought that preparing my students for the future was the primary goal, and that leads to chapter 12. Is that really the most important thing, or is it being able to communicate and solve problems and think in a critical way? We want to prepare our students for success in college, the military, trade school, or just in life in general. I really believe that chapter 12 is important, but is it really the most important if we want to prepare our students for the future?
Steve Fouts 34:02
It’s a priority thing. It’s not an either or…
Dan Fouts 34:05
I would enter into that and say, chapter 12 is very important. The way to achieve in chapter 12 is to develop these other skills. We’re talking about them like they’re in parallel universes. Once you have the SEL, if we want to generalize it that way, and you learn to think critically, and to understand different perspectives, it’s going to help your academic world. It has to be both, which is what this Teach Different method tries to blend.
Steve Fouts 34:06
Let’s bring this back to the younger teachers, Dale. They might be focused on other things right now. The way that it needs to be marketed to them, using the business term, is they need to see it as an easier way to do something they already know they have to do. Chapter 12, but with more engagement, more memory, more asking Mr. Lasky what’s our next quote about? What are we going to learn next? Think of them more as part of the same thing.
Dale Lasky 35:23
It’s true. It’s 1A and 1B. They’re both important. They’re two different things on a parallel track. I approach it like they are both really important. Yeah, that’s it.
Steve Fouts 35:51
That’s a good summary there.
Dan Fouts 35:52
Yeah. Well, excellent. We went over some really great topics. I love how the Mandela quote about resiliency, has led us in this direction talking about what we really value as educators? How do we want to be judged? What brings us joy in our profession. This is the nice part about conversations, you never know where they’re going to go. I think the more experience we have as teachers, the more we let them go, because that’s where a lot of unexpected, serendipitous learning occurs. Dale, this has been wonderful. I appreciate you coming on as a guest. We just wanted to say thank you so much for being here, and hope you had a meaningful experience with us.
Dale Lasky 36:43
Well, thank you, Dan and Steve. This has been an awesome opportunity for me. It’s always great to have a conversation with other educators who really get it. I can’t emphasize enough how much I appreciate you guys and the Teach Different approach is just awesome. With that being said, thank you very much.
Steve Fouts 37:07
Dale Lasky 37:08
We hope to talk to you guys soon.
Steve Fouts 37:09
Dan Fouts 37:11
Thanks, everybody. We hope you’re walking away feeling energized by some great ideas, and have a sense of confidence that you too can master the art and science of conversations to make a lasting impact. We at Teach Different are dedicated to supporting you along that journey. Please visit teachdifferent.com to join the community of educators for additional resources and engaging discussion among fellow teachers and administrators free for 30 days. We’ll see you there and next time on the Teach Different podcasts. Take care.