Barry Cronin: Disappointment 101

Editor’s note: This week Poway resident Barry Cronin joins us as a monthly political columnist.

Cronin was raised in the Boston area and retired as a colonel after 30 years in the Marine Corps. He has a long background in law enforcement and now works as the deputy police chief at MCAS Miramar. He earned a master’s degree from National University. He is a past commander of Poway VFW Post 7907. His hobbies include “visiting my daughters, buying stuff at Home Depot, walking the dogs, going to Padres games, playing my bagpipes, and doing exactly what my wife tells me to do.”

By Barry Cronin

Perhaps school systems should consider including disappointment as a mandatory subject within their respective core curriculum. For the sake of this discussion, let us refer to it simply as “Disappointment 101.”

Barry Cronin

A few weeks back, some of the mainstream media carried a brief story about a middle school principal back East who canceled the annual honors awards ceremony because he believed it excluded otherwise hardworking students who just could not quite meet the standard. In his own words, “the honors night, which can be a great sense of pride for the recipients’ families, can also be devastating to a child who has worked extremely hard in a difficult class but who, despite growth, has not been able to maintain a high grade point average.”

The event took place in Ipswich, a quaint little, picture postcard New England seaside village on the beautiful Massachusetts north shore. Having grown up not too far from there, I was naturally intrigued by the story and decided to check into it further, reading the local version of events via the “Wicked Local” news section of the Ipswich Chronicle newspaper. (Interesting note, “wicked” is one of those magical Boston words, applicable in all situations, and I was pleased to see they still use it.)

Not surprisingly, there has been both positive and negative reaction to the principal’s decision. I was somewhat hesitant myself to summarily criticize Principal Fabrizio’s decision, as some have done. I hold educators in high regard and rightfully so, and the man obviously possesses the academic credentials, experience, and talent to rise to the important position of school principal. I do think, however, that his decision, while noble in intention, did perhaps erase an opportunity to teach another one of life’s very important lessons, that being how to handle disappointment.

It is a simple fact that we all encounter many disappointments in life, some grander than others. Not everyone is going to make the honor roll. Not everyone will make the varsity team. Those are the facts. But neither is it the end of the world. Not to sound cavalier, but the sooner and more often one learns that lesson, the better off in life one will be. Instead, perhaps the true measure of success, the passing grade if you will, is how well people respond to that disappointment, even these young middle school kids.

An old Irish proverb comes to mind. Translated, it says “God never closes one door without opening another.” The principle applies, whether one is a person of faith or not.

We read about people all the time who cannot seem to cope with disappointment. Some lash out with anger and violence. Others seek escape through drugs, addiction, and other self-destructive behaviors. Some simply withdraw, quit trying, and accept mediocrity. Failing grades all, in both school and in life.

The good student of life simply tries harder, again and again, doing the best he can. And if all those efforts still do not meet the mark, the student must accept that it was not meant to be and seek out that other open door, satisfied that at least he gave it his very best effort.

Ironically, in his effort to spare the feelings of all the other students, probably the only ones hurt by the principal’s decision were those students who did make the honor roll in the first place. I would wager that they are all “wicked” disappointed in that.

Reader comments, both online and through letters to the editor, are encouraged.

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Posted by Staff on Apr 25 2013. Filed under Columnists. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

10 Comments for “Barry Cronin: Disappointment 101”

  1. Terry Daniels

    Recognition is one of the strongest motivational tools used in schools, businesses and organizations everywhere. The education and rearing of children must include the introduction and use of incentive, recognition and award / reward as a motivation. At pre-school and elementary school age, good teachers and parents find ways to constantly recognize and praise each child’s efforts. Middle school aged children should be introduced to selected distinction (awards), praise and recognition for both achievement and effort. Most often, after that age, in high school and beyond, awards and recognition are given primarily only for achievement. However, awards for effort like “Most Improved”, “Most dedicated”, “Most industrious”, “Student of the Month”, “Employee of the Month/Year”, etc. should be granted in all organizations regardless of the age.

    The Principal should not have eliminated the honors (achievement) awards. Instead, he should have added some awards to recognize some of the “otherwise hardworking” students for their effort. He missed a prime opportunity to teach and reinforce recognition and award as a motivation for effort. Supplying motivation both to learn and to try to learn as much as possible by any and all appropriate means is the primary function of a teacher and leader in a school. Teaching must include how to properly handle both failure and disappointment as well as success and recognition.

    • Barry Cronin

      Terry, Thank you. Always good to read your comments and I'm glad to see that I'm not "out in left field" on this one. Hopefully, this kind of thing is an exception to the rule. I hope so, anyway. Take care.

  2. Amy Roost

    Well put Barry. Reminds me of a Winston Churchill quote: "Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm." Failure (in this case to achieve honors status) is merely feedback. Feedback is what landed us on the moon (The Apollo was of course 90+% of the time). Feedback is good whether it's positive or negative because it let's us know if we need to try harder, go to the tutoring center or back to the drawing board, change majors/careers, or perhaps just rest on our laurels ;) Without feedback we're blind and blithe.

  3. Barry Cronin

    Amy, Thanks much. I appreciate your endorsement. Great Churchhill quote, also! Thanks for sharing. I'm definitely going to have remember that one and use it at work when the occasion presents itself. You will of course get full credit! Ciao

  4. Guest

    Good article. I read "the rest of the story" regarding Principal Fabrizio. These students were going to be honored during an evening function. Principal Fabrizio instead decided to honor the students at the end of the school year in front of all of the students at an assembly. Principal Fabrizio didn't want the "non-honors" students to feel bad, but the original celebration was an event exclusive to the honors students.

  5. Nikki C

    Hello Barry: Great article! I couldn't agree with you more. I work for a food bank. One of my jobs is coordinating volunteers; between 500 and 600 people per month. I have met many of the kids that were "protected" from disappoint and have also met them as adults. I'm not very sure how they are or do make it through life sometimes. It's actually very sad to witness.

    • Barry Cronin

      Thanks Nikki! Interestingly, one very supportive comment I received on Facebook was from an old college classmate who is currently a school Pincipal back in NH. From his many years of experience as an educator, he was in complete agreement with the premise. He said hard work is a good start for harder work.

  6. Amy Roost

    Interesting book on a related topic was just released. The Goldmine Effect, is written by a former professional soccer player turned motivational speaker. He travels around the world looking for the secrets of developing top talent, in the world of sports, music and business. He makes the case that "not pushing your kids is irresponsible". He says the one thing 99% of successful people have in common is that their parents pushed them.

  7. Barry Cronin

    Thanks Amy. That does sound ike an interesting book. If I didn't have so many other ones already stacked up in my "waiting to read" pile, I'd go buy it. Interestingly, comments both here and on Facebook have been unanimous in agreement. Looking forward to the day I write something that everybody hates!

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