Fumbles Happen; Great Teachers Stick to the Game Plan

ImageI have almost completely kicked the habit of listening to sports talk radio. The incessant banter about steroids, Tim Tebow, the scandal of the week, and all the woeful Cleveland teams had worn on me to the point where I just could not listen any more. Sports talk radio is a bastion of negativity, and I simply had enough.

But I listened to some sports talk yesterday as I was driving home from visiting my son at Syracuse University. It was a football preview show in which the hosts were discussing what each NFL team needed to do to win that day.

After about fifteen minutes of listening, I came to this revelation: you could completely ignore the names of the teams they were talking about and nothing would change. The show offered cliché after cliché: the BLANKS need to run the ball today; the WHOEVERS need to create turnovers; the INSERT TEAM HERE needs to protect the ball; the WHATCHAMACALLITS need to play defense.

You could say any of those things about any football team, at any level, playing anywhere in the world, and you would be right. To be a successful football team, you need to run the ball, protect the ball, play good defense and force turnovers. They are clichés for a reason, and that reason is because they work. They are the universal game plan for winning football.

Like football, great teaching also has a universal game plan. That is, you can say certain things would be successful in any classroom in the world, in any grade level, for any ability level of student, and you would be right.

I offer these:

  • Build positive relationships with kids.
  • Set expectations that cause students to stretch but are within their reach.
  • Ensure students understand the objective of the lesson.
  • Assess what you teach; teach what you assess.
  • Use assessments to inform instruction.
  • Create lessons that engage students.
  • Ask great questions.
  • Follow the Essential Elements for Effective Instruction

Nothing in that list is earth shattering. We educators have been told to do each of those a thousand times. I’m sure you can add more items to the list. If every teacher did those things in every class every day, we would be doing pretty well.

Easier said than done? Absolutely.

Every football team knows they have to protect the ball, but fumbles happen. Trust me; I’m a die-hard Cleveland Browns fan. I have nightmares of Earnest Byner in the 1987 AFC Championship game against Denver.

Fumbles happen.

Fumbles happen in the classroom, too. We let a sarcastic comment hurt a relationship with a student. We ask questions that too frequently are on the bottom of Bloom’s taxonomy. Our students do poorly on an assessment and we choose not re-teach to mastery. Fumbles happen.

When fumbles happen on the football field, great teams don’t quit. They send out their defense and keep fighting to get the ball back.

When fumbles happen in the classroom, great teachers don’t quit. They keep following the game plan, implementing proven strategies, and reflecting on adjustments to make for tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow. Like football teams that watch post-game film, educators too need to be reflective of our practices and never stop working to improve until every student reaches mastery.

Or until the Browns win the Super Bowl.

Whichever comes first.


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