I watched football this past weekend with the intent of writing my weekly SJI column on the lessons the NFL divisional playoffs can give us about improving public education. Fortunately, I was up close and personal for the historic victory at “The Stick,” watching the 49ers beat the Saints on Saturday with my son, Zack, as a gift for his 30th birthday.
Here are some lessons educators and leaders can learn from this past NFL weekend:
• Winning is easier when professional athletes have coaches and large groups of the community believing in their abilities.
• The chances for achievement increase exponentially when students have teachers and a school that believe in their ability to learn with high expectations.
On Mentor-Pupil Relationships
• Coach Jim Harbaugh truly believed in quarterback Alex Smith’s overall ability from their first encounter. The coach gave him renewed confidence to believe he can win. After several years of contempt from fans, Smith has shown that anything is possible with excellent coaching and demonstrated confidence—maybe even winning the Super Bowl.
• A great teacher must inspire his students. He must demonstrate confidence in his students’ ability to achieve at the highest of levels. Students should never have mediocre teachers, especially in successive years. (This is, of course, up to management, or principals.) If teachers believe in each of their students’ ability to learn at the highest of levels, learning goals are accomplished and test scores increase. Think “Stand and Deliver” and Jaime Escalante.
On Management-Mentor Relationships
• Successful coaches must have support from their general managers and owners.
• Successful teachers must have the support of their principals to make things happen. Jamie Escalante’s principal, Henry Gradillas, supported his efforts.
On Hard Work and Planning
• Bringing an ethic of hard work and planning to the playing field each and every day increases the likelihood of good to great results. The Super Bowl for the Niners and Baltimore Ravens is within reach. Both teams have Harbaughs as coaches. Is that a coincidence?
• Schools, teachers and parents must preach that hard work pays dividends. Planning and accomplishing personal goals is a ticket to increased success in grades and overall achievement. Is it a coincidence that some schools consistently outperform others?
On Incentive Packages
• Alex Smith earned a $2.5 million dollar incentive package after Saturday’s win. There’s no way to know for sure if the incentive package was a motivator for him to do the extraordinary in the last four minutes of Saturday’s game, but I don’t think it hurt his effort.
• Even though the research might not correlate that merit or performance-pay for teachers increases student performance, I would say teacher incentive packages could have a desirable effect on student learning, if not solely related to increasing test scores.
On Evidence-Based Decision Making
• The 49ers’ front office and coaching staff took enormous steps this past offseason toward clarity and not ambiguity. They used the evidence of the last several years to determine changes in play calling on offense and defense. It appears that paying close attention to some key factors like turnover-to-takeaway ratio, penalties, special teams performance, blocking schemes, and playcalling make a huge difference if done with architectural intent.
• Public education, schools, and districts must pay close attention to the key factors that effect overall student performance. Examples include teacher quality, leadership, data analysis, using that analysis to drive instructional strategies, curriculum mapping, discipline, and school culture/climate. If done with clarity of purpose, like erecting a monumental edifice, then high degrees of success will become the norm.
On Feb. 5, the Super Bowl will receive enormous national and international attention; unfortunately, far more attention than we pay public education in America. I hope the 2012 presidential race will turn its attention to public education as the top national security issue for America. So far, it is barely mentioned by the Republican candidates. Irrespective of this, I will be rooting for the Niners to go all the way and Alex Smith to be the Super Bowl MVP, if for no other reason than they have a plan.