How the Ball Bounces: Eight Elite Lessons for Educators

resizeBy Peggy Wuenstel – I know UW and MU are rivals on the basketball court, but I suspect most Golden Eagle fans were pulling for the Badgers during March Madness.

I know I am dating myself here, but my freshman year at Marquette was the NCAA championship year. I wasn’t on campus for the 1977 championship game, but I felt the joy as I was one of the students spilling onto Wisconsin Avenue. I remember the campout for basketball tickets, games at the Milwaukee Arena, students walking downtown to watch the annual battle with archrival Notre Dame.

I work with several UW alumni who were justifiably morose on the Tuesday following the Badger’s defeat. But, we were all proud of what had been accomplished, if frustrated by how painfully close the team had come to taking it all. I began to ponder what Wisconsin’s NCAA loss can teach us as educators. My musings about this team started long before the fateful Monday night. Here is my “Elite Eight” of things the basketball Badgers can teach educators.

Interim Goals are Important

The bracket phenomenon has done a great thing beyond engaging the country in predicting the outcome of tournament games. It focuses us on the fact that getting to the tourney, advancing through the eights, the semis, and making it to the finals are all reasons for celebration. Perhaps the Badger’s elimination of Kentucky was the biggest accomplishment of the tourney. Teachers also need to celebrate the intermediate steps, the positives achieved along the way. This is even more crucial in our obsession with summative tests and high stakes scores.

Teamwork Matters

It takes many members beyond the five players on the court to make for a winning team. The skill and stamina of individual players is a key element, but so is the chemistry, training, and personal connection that allows them to work together. While schools tend to measure and focus on individual performance because it is more easily quantified, the soft skills that allow students to succeed are also key components of high-performing schools and classrooms. We have to make time and room to nurture these competencies in our students.

Doing Things Right, Not Making Mistakes or Turnovers Will Lead One to Success

Commentators during the NCAA tournament frequently referred to the Badger’s ability to avoid turnovers, penalties, and to keep their opponents off the free throw line as a piece of their success puzzle. As teachers, our ability to focus our students, to use our time wisely in the completion of assignments, and the mastery of skills can be greatly enhanced by setting the right expectations and emphasizing the paths that make things efficient, effective, and error-free.

On a Team, Joys are Multiplied, Sorrows Shared

Sharing the elation of wins is magnified with teammates or classmates to share it with. It is easier to face disappointment, fear, or defeat with supportive people around you. It is also essential to keep things in perspective. The riots in Kentucky following their tournament defeat were a stark contrast to the consolations on State Street following the Wisconsin loss. Having an intensity rheostat to meter appropriately pitched responses to both wins and losses are key tools that students need to develop.

What Endears You to Others is Not Your Ability to Perform for Them, But the Way You Reach Out to Them

Nigel Hayes’ Word of the Day to the stenographer, including soliloquy, quandary, zephyr, xylophone, added a light tone to press conferences. It also demonstrated how he reached out to those support personnel who make the tournament the event that it has become. Schools similarly rely on a supporting cast, paraprofessionals, clerical and maintenance professionals, lunch servers, and health workers. Our willingness to see them as teammates and our acknowledgment of their contributions are necessary for our school season success.

The Mike Might Be Live

Mr. Hayes provided another nugget in his adorable embarrassment over a kind compliment to an attractive woman during one of these press conferences. What a contrast to the racial slur used by an opponent when referring to a Badger teammate. Moms everywhere hoped to find a young man for their daughters, whose attitude about extolling a woman’s charms and his unwillingness to embarrass her, exemplified the poise of the UW team. For those of us in front of the classroom instead of the press corps: What we say, even in confidence, may come back in unexpected ways. Gossip about the families of our students, complaints about co-workers or administrators, and intensely held political views are all things we are entitled to– just not in the school environment. Curiosity is natural. Discretion is one of those tools we learn as professional educators.

Who We Are is Not Only Where We Finish

There is a stereotype of the student that becomes the “Teacher’s Pet.” What is more surprising is how often the student who we find most special is not the one who tops the list, but the one who needs us the most.  It is how we climb, who we bring along, and what this says about us. We don’t only love the champions, the gold medal winners, the blue ribbon performers. As Duke found out, people love to root for the underdogs, the Cinderellas, the dark horses. These are the folks teachers have always bet on and been invested in.

Where We Will Rise is Not Always Easily Observed at the Beginning

Frank the Tank was overlooked in the recruitment class. His journey to UW was well-documented.  Under the tutelage of skilled coaches, with encouragement and team support, and ongoing support from family, Mr. Kaminsky became the national player of the year. In this outstanding accomplishment, he reminds teachers to watch for the late bloomer, nurture the untapped potential. We may not see the results until long after they leave the classroom, but that doesn’t make the blossom any less beautiful.

1 Response to “How the Ball Bounces: Eight Elite Lessons for Educators”

  1. 1 Carol Nievinski April 28, 2015 at 9:21 am

    Another great article by this very special person.


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