Just Getting Through the Content: A Non-Loss for the Team

I just finished up a great season watching my two girls play high school varsity basketball. But I came away with an unintended outcome during a playoff game. Have you ever thought about that what happens in a classroom can mirror what happens on the court?

Photography by user: MrX
Photography by user: MrX


Let the Playoffs Begin

Some weeks ago my girls’ team was playing in the playoffs in the regional finals. We were the underdog and surprised the other team with a strong first half and only down by five points. To start the second half, the opposing team began to stall to run time off the clock. And they stalled, and stalled, and stalled. For five minutes of the third quarter and four minutes of the fourth there was very little true basketball.

Playing Not to Lose

The opposing team ended up winning as the strategy of the second half clearly threw our girls out of any possible rhythm. The coach of the winning team stated that he did not expect such a tough battle and just tried to run the clock down so that our team could not get the ball. This team ended up losing in the state semifinals.

I began to reflect on the game and the coach’s strategy. And though I did have two daughters on the losing team, I will try to remain objective in my analysis (and step out of my proverbial arm-chair quarterback role). And hopefully any coaches reading this will forgive any of my critiques of the strategy of basketball.

In my humble opinion, stalling in the third quarter is playing not to lose as opposed to attacking to gain the victory. True, there was triumph at the end, but it just did not feel right as a basketball purist. It was not an intentional win but more of a timid non-loss. So what does this have to do with a teaching situation?

More Than Just the Content

There are days in teaching where I look back and feel like I did after that basketball game: a bit hollow. Days arise where the material is a bit daunting or the concept feels complex in how to connect it to meaningful thought for the students. I am just not sure how to have a convincing win in the classroom and I end up stalling in creative energy. Yes, I may have taught the material and even gained a “victory” because I accomplished what I set out to do by completing the lesson. But instead of putting intentional thought into creating a unique and vibrant learning experience, I let the “getting through the lesson” override a potentially authentic and meaningful victory for my students.

An Intentional Gameplan

To stay current in our field means having strategies that fit the learning to the student and not the student to the learning. If stalling can happen in a basketball game, I would suggest that it can occur in the classroom when just getting done with a lesson becomes the goal. The journey is critically important to learning and not just the destination. This mindset can become equivalent to stalling for most of the second half of a game to keep from losing. The victory might still be there in just covering the content, but it was not intentional and strategic…and can feel a bit hollow; it was simply a non-loss. Engaging and meaningful learning always wins the day for our students.

Community Input: What can you do as an educator to get out of the mindset of just “playing not to lose”?

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4 thoughts on “Just Getting Through the Content: A Non-Loss for the Team

  1. I’m so sorry your girls lost! Getting to the playoffs is, of course, very exciting! Losing stings.
    So I was wondering — Dean Smith, UNC, and the Four Corners — a winning strategy, or a playing not to lose strategy? 🙂

    • Good point 🙂 My feeling came more from the fact they started 4 corners in the 3rd quarter. Seemed a BIT early for stalling. High school bball needs a shot clock! Have a great week, Keemo!

  2. I think your use of the word “intentional” is incredibly key. Perhaps a lot of teachers/educators go through non-loss after non-loss because they don’t discipline themselves to be intentional. It is easy to look at your class schedule as blocks of time and selfishly hoard all the blocks around your classes for yourself at the expense of thorough preparation. I struggle with procrastination sometimes, so I know what I’m talking about, sadly. What eventually happens is a deadline approaches, and now you have to rush to the finish line – you may have finished, but your students won’t really care. You may even look over your shoulder and find they were never ever running with you.

    We ask our students to study outside of class. Do we?

    Taking time to think through your objectives and carefully plan each step of the process by which you will engage your learners is incredibly important. This will lead you to being more effective and more efficient. You will probably find yourself releasing some of that content pressure, because you will be accomplishing the maximum learning in your class time.

    • Good thoughts Johnathan – one thing I have done this year revolves around the 3-part series I posted on Backward Design. We are driven TOO MUCH by our textbooks when we should be driven by “what needs to happen with and to my students to make this a WOW situation?” Really knowing your content merely makes you a content expert…it does not imply amazing teaching. Stalling in our thinking as I discussed is not really a win, regardless of what content is taught. Thanks for your reply.

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