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Five Lessons from Football for Teachers
This is one of my favorite times of the year. It’s not the winter snow that has me excited; it’s football. Over the next two glorious weeks, football’s four best teams will battle it out on the gridiron to determine this season’s champion. It recently dawned upon me that there are some striking parallels between football and education. True, the salaries of a starting running back and a seventh grade math teacher aren’t exactly identical, or – ok, let’s be honest – anywhere near each other. However, I think we educators have much to learn from the game of football. Here are the five lessons that football teaches teachers:
- True Progress is Gradual – When was the last time you saw a team try to gain 99 yards on one play? The goal of every football team is to bring the ball into the end zone, but attempting to do so in one fell swoop is foolish and ultimately ineffective. Instead, the offense moves the balls in small increments. The immediate goal is: gain ten yards. After gradually achieving that goal, the team focuses on the next ten yards. Then the next. Before you know it, it’s 1st and Goal from the five yard line. The only way you score a touchdown is by setting small, realistic goals.
Teaching works in much the same way. We all have lofty goals for our students- as we should. But the only way we can accomplish these goals is by taking baby steps. No student turns in to a laureate poet overnight; no Albert Einstein’s are produced after one math lesson. But by focusing on one day at a time, a teacher really can help a student advance and grow.
- Preparation is Key – In football, the most successful teams are the ones that have invested the most preparation time during the offseason. Data is analyzed, strategies are devised, and by the time the regular season begins, the team is ready to execute all of the plans. The same is true on a weekly basis, as well. The more a team prepares for the big game on Sunday, the better they are able to perform.
In teaching, too, preparation is essential. Teachers that walk into the classroom without having considered their objectives and plans beforehand, tend not to be so effective. On the other hand, those teachers who have invested the time to figure out what they want to accomplish and how they intend to do so are the teachers who see the greatest success.
- Take Breaks – Every football game has three breaks built in: in between the first and second quarters, half time, and in between the third and fourth quarters. In addition to these, every team can call up to six time outs. Let’s not forget: these are some of the greatest athletes in the world. It doesn’t matter; everyone needs a break to regroup and to simply breathe.
Taking timeouts is also an absolute daily necessity for teachers. Whether it means going for a five minute walk outside, chatting with colleagues in the teacher’s room, or just enjoying a quite cup of coffee, every teacher deserves and needs that time. These short breaks are critical for self-preservation and for rejuvenation. In the larger sense, teachers should be sure to carve out time on the weekends to relax and to have fun; if they don’t, they risk returning to school without the requisite energy.
- Diversify Your Playbook – A team that always runs the ball or that always passes the ball will not score many touchdowns. In order to progress, the team needs to run a diversity of plays. Trying different formations and different plays keeps the defense on its toes and also allows different players to shine.
Teachers can’t afford to be predictable. By keeping lesson plans fresh and dynamic, students will be more likely to actively participate. Moreover, you owe it to the various students in the class to offer different opportunities for different skills and talents to excel. There are multiple intelligences and a wide variety of personalities in every classroom. Why not give each student the opportunity to contribute and to succeed?
- Have Fun! – The teams that are able to remain loose and relaxed, the teams that enjoy the competition, are usually the teams that do well. If football becomes too self-conscious, too methodical, and too serious, the players aren’t able to maximize their talents. The stress becomes stifling and restrictive. Having fun is a critical ingredient for success.
Teachers need to remember to have fun, too. Most teachers entered the profession because they enjoyed teaching. That sense of joy and excitement needs to be constantly reinforced. Teachers can perform their job more effectively when they are relaxed and enjoying themselves. Students can detect in a heartbeat whether a teacher is happy or embittered to be in the classroom. When teachers are having fun, the impact upon the room is palpable; students are engaged, and the enthusiasm is contagious.
What lessons do YOU think teachers can derive from football? Please feel free to add in the comments below any other parallels you see between football and education. Who knows? Maybe one day we can add salary to the list of similarities…