The Tortoise and the Hare-does speed matter?

I love to run, but not because I am fast. As a matter of fact, most of you reading this could beat me in a 100-yard dash, but similarly, I could probably beat most of you in a marathon. So who is a better runner, you or me?

I drive a  Nissan Sentra. It tops off at a maximum speed of about 90 m.p.h….don’t ask me how I know. Just down the street, one of my neighbors drives a Porsche 911 with an estimated top speed of about 150 m.p.h. My car gets close to 45 miles to the gallon for gas consumption. My neighbor’s car gets about 21 miles per gallon. His car is faster, but my car was cheaper to purchase and to operate. Does the speed of his car make it better?

Sometimes in life speed matters. If you get rushed into the emergency room, getting a quick assessment could save your life. If you are an Uber driver or a taxi operator, time is literally money. If you work on a construction site, the longer a job takes you to complete, the fewer jobs you get to start, so yes, speed does matter, but…does it always?

As a father of four kids, I have read dozens of fables and short stories to my children in an attempt to both instill a love of reading and to teach some of life’s truths. One of my all-time favorites is a story I am sure we are all familiar with, The Tortoise and the Hare. In this classic, we learn the valuable lesson that “slow and steady wins the race.” We use this story to remind our children not to rush, to take their time, to have persistence, and that it will eventually be rewarded.

As a father, I use this story as an illustration when encouraging my children not to give up on routine skills like learning to tie their shoes and learning to ride their bikes. Speed isn’t important. Sticking with it and eventually learning is. I use this illustration when asking my children to slow down at the dinner table and just enjoy their food. I use this illustration in the classroom when students attempt to just rush through their work in an attempt to just get done without focusing on excellence. I use this at home when my children attempt to just get their homework done as quickly as possible so they can go outside and play, without fully embracing the process of learning while doing their required assignments. I use this at practice when athletes attempt to plow through a drill or a stretch to just “get it over with” instead of paying close attention to their form and technique.

But then…I look at my pacing guide and realize I am behind where I am “supposed to be” so I pick up the pace, skipping over superfluous information.

Then I require my students to complete their weekly Friday quiz because, well, it’s the end of the week and they should all “get it” by now.

Then I start the timer for five minutes and tell my students to complete their timed fluency task because five minutes “should be enough”.

Then my juniors walk into the auditorium to begin taking the SAT. The time is set and students begin rushing through the assessment to answer as many questions as possible before they are forced to start filling in random guesses before the deadline hits them and the alarm warns them to put their pencils down.


Here’s the truth:

I am 42 years old and am just now learning what it means to be humble, to be kind, to be forgiving, and to be forgiven. Many others learned these skills in their youth. I am glad my time is not up.

My oldest child is now 14. He learned to tie his shoes only five years ago. His younger brother was six when he learned how. I am glad they were given the time they each needed.

My daughter learned to walk at 10 months old. Her youngest brother learned to walk when he was 14 months old. I am so glad they each had the time they needed.

I ran my first marathon in 3 hours and 53 minutes. After ten years of training, I finished my most recent marathon in 4 hrs 32 minutes. I am so glad I kept going even once my initial time goal elapsed.

Sometimes in life, speed matters, but when it comes to learning, slow and steady wins the race. One of the reasons we don’t see the needle moving in schools today is because we get so focused on covering it all in the time we have that we sacrifice the process for the moment. We emphasize the pace over the product. We worry about breadth over depth, and this is where we keep missing the mark.

Sure, time is not unlimited, but neither is learning. Just as time marches on, so does our understanding. Learning is not a “got it” “don’t got it” dichotomy.  Treating it as such only causes us to race even more. When we embrace the idea that learning is all about endurance, that understanding grows and develops eternally, then we can get ourselves more comfortable accepting that speed may not be all that it is cracked up to be. 

Read more on this topic at:

A master?

What the what?!

Focus on the focus

Stay tuned later this spring to read more in my upcoming book: Making Assessment Work: A guide for educators who hate data but love students.

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1 thought on “The Tortoise and the Hare-does speed matter?

  1. Love this one! Great post, friend.

    Sent from my iPhone



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