Shooting for the Right Goals

Keeping students satisfied is not the same as helping them succeed
Written by: Jerry Pattengale

As I swished my long jump shot, the packed gym roared. Suddenly I was very alone. They were the wrong fans, and that was the wrong basket.

There was nowhere to hide.

In the celebrated Indiana state basketball tournament, I had earned legendary status in an instant, for all the wrong reasons. My team lost. I retired as a freshman.

Throughout my Buck Creek youth, I pretended to hit the winning shot — to reenact Rick Mount’s corner fade-away, buzzer-beater against Marquette. To dribble like Billy Keller, glide like Oscar Robinson, spin like Pistol Pete.

I hit the long jumper at the buzzer. I basked in the applause. For a few euphoric moments, I lived a dream.

For a lifetime, I’ve relived the nightmare.

With a few seconds left, the coach inserted two new players.

They immediately ran to the wrong basket and yelled, “We’re open!”

As the shooting guard, I shot. The only consolation, in retrospect, is that there was no three-point line.

The throbbing noise of laughing, foreign fans somehow became muted. An out-of-body experience ensued.

I wanted to pull my knee-high gold-striped tube socks over my shaggy head and disappear. All three of us — the majority of our team — had run to the wrong end. I had taken the shot.

I spent a decade on the court that day. It seemed never ending.

The consolation game was miserable. Throwing up was always an option.

Every defensive rebound brought chants of “Shoot!”

It’s a disheartening feeling to discover you’ve shot at the wrong goal.

While speaking at various national educational conferences, I discovered many well-meaning educators running in the wrong direction.

Unlike my rogue jump shot, their efforts are not all for naught — but with consequences.

In an effort to help students succeed — to graduate — many college programs are not focused on motivating students, but on moving them through the system.

I surveyed educators from over 400 institutions and discovered their programs focused on addressing student dissatisfaction. Many colleges survey students and determine what is most important to them, and in what areas they’re most satisfied or dissatisfied.

The co-developer of one of these surveys, the Student Satisfaction Inventory (SSI), was co-editor of my recent text — Visible Solutions for Invisible Students.

It’s helpful and necessary to have a pulse on student perceptions. The SSI’s theory seems logical: Determine what students deem as most important, ascertain which of those areas are the most dissatisfying, and then address those areas in an effort to retain students.

In other words, goes the theory, happy customers are more likely to stay — to graduate.

This approach may be helpful in determining student perceptions, but it’s inherently flawed in helping educators to help students succeed.

I’ve postulated in other writings that colleges have established an office of “Student Non-Dissatisfaction” instead of “Student Success.”

Fredrick Herzberg’s research shows that removing dissatisfaction does not mean that one is satisfied and that areas of dissatisfaction have little to do with true motivation.

The movie Stand and Deliver aptly illustrates true student success.

Jamie Escalante’s urban Hispanic students excelled amidst numerous dissatisfactions in an abysmal Los Angeles educational situation. They committed to a cause and were motivated to succeed. He addressed what educators call the student core.

He shot at the right basket while the majority of his colleagues screamed from the other end. Students are capable and deserving of learning noble causes and their underpinning values.

It’s usually easier to see the game from the bleachers, and it’s obvious when a bushy-haired high-socked shooter and his teammates are off course. But in the fast pace of the game, standing amidst the court’s rapid decisions, it can get confusing.

While having dinner at the Escalante’s Pasadena home, I was again reminded of his success at student success. Domino-like stacks of award plaques were in the garage and others in the living room corner. Few were mounted.

Jamie understood the applause. It wasn’t about him, but them, and pursuing the right goals.

While the majority of his colleagues yelled for him to get with the program, he stayed focused on a different goal — true student success and not student non-dissatisfaction.

Shooting for the Right Goals