Notes from the 50 Yard Line…

Because I live in Georgia and stand shoulder to shoulder among some of the most die hard University of Georgia fans, Tuesday, for some, was a sad day. In fact, for SOME? This has been a sad week. I’m still seeing social media posts about “the game”—the National Collegiate Athletic Association Football Championship. (Note: I wasn’t on the 50 yard line, but I did watch, completely invested in “the game” for every reason that most people were not!)

I say “the game” because for me? It was, just that…a game. A competition. But I know for some it is well beyond that. So, it got me thinking…

I’m impartial as a fan, but I can’t deny that Saban’s gutsy call to bench his quarterback and bring to the line a true freshman says a lot about him as a coach and a lot about the University of Alabama organization.

Considering Saban alone, he taught us all some things with that call that we can translate into our classroom.

  1. Be brave
  2. Take risks
  3. Believe in someone.
  4. Have a backup plan.
  5. The element of surprise is exciting!
  6. Teach from failure.
  7. Insist on resilience.
  8. Look at the big picture!

The outcome could have been completely different, and imagine—imagine the flack he would have received if Alabama would have lost. Yet, the lessons would have still been the same.

Image result for nick saban

We need to remember Nick Saban when it comes to teaching.

We don’t have to be right, but we have to be BRAVE. We have to make the brave decision at the right time for the right reason.
We have to TAKE RISKS. It’s easy to be comfortable. It’s the risks that build champions.

We have to BELIEVE IN SOMEONE. Saban saw something in that young quarterback and boy did he let him see that. Can you imagine the conversation in the locker room, that young boy being told, “Son, you’re going in as quarterback!” Oh to be a fly on the wall… We have the opportunity to believe in someONES every day. Every single learner that comes over the threshold of our classroom deserves that we simply believe in him. That is such an uplifting feeling and it is so important to convey this to our learners; especially those that struggle.

Have a BACKUP PLAN. Pundits say Saban knew all along what he was doing. I don’t know coaching, but he doesn’t seem like a kneejerk sort of person to me. His decisions seem measured, and his backup plan was likely always there in his mind. Had Saban put Tua in before the end of the first half, the opponents would have figured out the game play. So, he waited and knew when to execute. Kinda like teaching. Often we either don’t have a backup plan or we wait too long to execute it. We don’t often want to say, “This isn’t working let me try something new.”

I was surprised with the change. If you listen to varied announcers seeing this decision play out, they were surprised, too. Wasn’t it exciting? It wasn’t expected—so, everyone involved probably had at least a little confusion, a little shade, a little—whatever it was you experienced because of the element of surprise. In our classrooms, when we SURPRISE our learners with the unexpected, it brings out new learning and new connections and new ideas and just this buzz of an attitude!

I’m sure there are some lessons for Hurts, the benched University of Alabama quarterback, about FAILING (because come on, he only had two losses in two years). While Hurts was benched, he was smiling, he was encouraging—and he could have handled that assignment so many other ways. To those around him he was gracious and realized the big picture. His reaction was that of resilience and pride and so many other things that even stepping out as a University of Alabama football player certainly instills in young athletes. We have seen many athletes react differently on the sidelines when things don’t go their way. I’m sure part of Saban’s program grooms these young athletes to carry themselves in a particular way, no matter what. Remember WHO you are and WHOSE you are is a common mantra I share with my Littles. We have to be able to fail gracefully and remember it’s not the failure, but how you pick yourself back up. That’s the RESILIENCE that is necessary in learning and in life. I can’t imagine the thoughts running through Hurts’ head, but what he showed was positive and humble and encouraging to those around him.

The entire game from start to finish illustrates the need to see the BIG PICTURE. It showed that we need to understand small parts and how they are connected. It’s easy to forget the big picture in teaching. We hyper focus on the small things and forget that we are building humans. Period. No matter the content, the standards, the building, the administration—we are big picture building humans.

This game also showed us even the best preparation does not mean we are ready for everything. It seemed to me that both teams had studied each other so well that there was little room for something extraordinary—until Tua Tagovailoa entered the game. That was likened to a teachable moment. We can plan and prepare and in eleven minutes (which is really the average amount of action during a football game!) things can unravel fairly quickly.

So, while I remain an impartial fan, I still feel empathetic toward my Georgia Bulldog friends—I learned a lot more during this game, and I think if we look beyond the score—we can, too.

P.S. After sharing my thoughts, someone addressed the notion of “benching” a child and suggested that my words here, condoned this. Unfortunately, and SADLY, teachers do “bench” children in words and action, often. However, this post was not an applause of Saban’s decision (I said it was gutsy–and we can’t argue that, right?) Nor is it a nudge to strike a child out because of his academic performance or lack thereof.  But moreover, I was looking at the analogous relationship to the process and to our classrooms. My points, I feel, are global enough that could be applied to many situations in our teaching and own professional learning. If I were Saban? I’m not sure what I would have done; but his team wasn’t winning–and for anyone in athletics–winning is the measure. I am a collegiate coach’s wife and while I marvel at the many positive things he instills in his young athletes, I also watch him make some heart wrenching decisions based solely on performance. Had Saban not benched Jalen, that still would, at least to some armchair quarterbacks (and to me), been BRAVE. Had the Crimson Tide lost the championship? They would have learned from FAILURE. Etcetera, etcetera. The process of decision making is the same–whether it is sport or academics or many other contexts, while the criteria may change the resulting decision.

Author: Dr. Valerie King

Quirky thinker. Joyful teacher. Perpetual learner. For the Kids.

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