I’ve been knee deep in college basketball viewing even though my bracket looks like the remnants of … well, I was going to compare it to some horrific disaster, but there’s pretty much no way to do that without offending large segments of the population. Anyway, it’s not good.
As I watched the fast-paced action, I couldn’t help but find parallels between the game and teaching. Both require constant decision-making. There are moments of thrilling triumph followed quickly by disappointing failure on both the court and in the classroom. In-game adjustments are necessary and have to be made without a lot of time to consider the very best strategy. Choosing one tactic means not choosing a host of others. Like a coach, a teacher can be a master technician and an inspiring motivator and still lose if the players don’t execute. And some days, you just can’t make a shot no matter how hard you’re trying.
While the games played across my TV this weekend, I worked on three chapters in my latest book, Happy Teacher. One of the chapters is titled, “Forgive,” and it’s about–you guessed it–forgiving students who mess up.
Most student screw-ups are similar to unforced errors on the basketball court. Players travel. Students blurt out. Players commit stupid fouls. Students say stupid things. Players run the wrong play because they weren’t listening to the coach. Students do the wrong thing because they weren’t listening to the teacher. Players don’t perform with enough focus or energy. Students don’t perform with enough focus or energy.
Coaches can often be seen shouting at their offending players and they might sit them on the bench for awhile to drive their point home. Similarly, frustrated teachers might scold a student for her transgressions and give the kid a warning or send her to time-out. But eventually, both coach and teacher must move on. They must forgive, because there’s a lot more game left.
One of my favorite phrases for reminding myself to forgive and move on is “next play.” Former Duke basketball player and ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas wrote about “next play” in his book Toughness.
Bilas played for legendary coach Mike Krzyzewski, who knows that tough teams win. Tough players have the ability to focus on the play at hand and not the one that just happened. We’ve all seen basketball players thump their own chest and fail to get back on defense, just as we’ve seen players sulk after a mistake and lose focus for the next couple of plays. In a game as fast moving as basketball, you can’t have players that aren’t focused on the moment. “Next play” was a mantra on Coach K’s teams.
“Next play” is a reminder to concentrate on the task at hand. It’s an attitude check. It fights against complacency. It cuts away the drama associated with failure. It’s a fresh start.
And it’s just as valuable a philosophy in the classroom as it is on the hardwood.
Teach your ass off, just like the coaches in this year’s tournament. Have high expectations for your students. Hold them accountable when they mess up. Sit them on the bench for a spell so they can refocus if you need to.
Then tell yourself, “Next play,” and forget about what just happened. It’s over. There’s nothing that can be done about it now. Forgive your students. Get them back in the game, because the clock is ticking and there’s a lot on the line.