Two weeks ago, Nancy Flanagan wrote an interesting blog about the proclivity for men to employ sports metaphors while framing education debates. I was thrilled to see that my first K-12 Center blog had actually been referenced, and thus ran through the house yelling, "I'm somebody! I'm somebody!" like Steve Martin in the film, "The Jerk."
Martin's character was excited that he had been "published" in a California phone book. I, on the other hand, was celebrating the fact that somebody besides me had talked about me. However, after several near misses with stairs, my dog, and my own two feet, I stopped to catch my breath. Then, I got to thinking.
I considered my "Man Card,' that invisible but omnipresent tally of my collected indicators of manliness. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the concept, allow me to enlighten. A man gains or loses Man Card points during the course of each day based upon his actions, opinions, or favorite things. Liking raindrops on roses, or whiskers on kittens? Minus two, unless the kitten is a puma. Having taught a primary grade? Minus one. Knowing all four lines of the local hockey team? Plus four. Having taught intermediate grades? Plus one. Being able to recite the script for "Pee Wee's Big Adventure?" There's no ruling, yet, although there are strong opinions both ways.
Nancy's blog did help me to realize that I do trend towards sports analogies, with some regularity. However, following the introspection that she prompted, I think I know why. Much of what we do in education is based on data, pure and simple. In sports, even potential athletes are ranked by their "measurables." We understand what a .304 batting average means. We know that exceeding a 90% free-throw percentage will put you among the best, ever. We know that a 4.2 second, 40 yard dash is ridiculously fast.
Where else does your average male interact with so much data? You might mumble something about finances, however, judging by the recent collapse of the credit bubble, I would argue that perhaps men should stick to explaining slugging percentages. In short, men seem to be pretty good at relating to sports because they provide us with a schema that women don't necessarily need. Women have something called "common sense." But remember, real men do, in the words of Ron Burgundy, own "many leather bound books, and smell of rich mahogany." Talk about the best of both worlds.
(Add one point for the "Anchorman" reference.)
I then began to recall many of the other metaphors that I have invoked, relative to sports. And, seeing an opportunity to earn back some lost points for the careful coordination of my periwinkle shirt and appropriately coordinated tie last Tuesday, decided to share another personal favorite.
Years ago, I presented about grading and assessment to a crowd that included high school teachers. At the conclusion of my presentation, a man who identified himself as a coach and social studies teacher, privately questioned the "assess, teach, re-asses, re-teach" model of instruction as being "nonsense" and "fluffy." He had not bought what I had been selling and was clearly aggravated that I had wasted his paper-grading time. Searching for a way to help him understand the concept led me back to his first passion: coaching basketball.
"Think of it this way," I said. "You're the coach of a successful program. You teach your kids how to be successful during practice. Then, they play the game. You make observations about their performance and use them to shape personalized instruction during the next series of practices. Further, you even use video study to break down their game performances to the smallest detail. You share what was revealed in a differentiated manner and offer new ways of learning. More coaching. Then, you play another game, and 'rinse and repeat' the entire process."
He hadn't walked away or punched me yet, so I figured I might be on to something. Plus, I had just earned five points for understanding the coaching cycle, but had lost three points for the shampoo bottle instruction reference of "rinse and repeat."
I concluded that it was best to go double or nothing, and stepped back just beyond his arm's reach.
"Guided practice and homework or the same as your practices. The games are your assessments. The improvement you seek for the next game is student learning, thus, you re-teach or extend. For years, you've been following the model I just spent two hours describing."
His posture changed, instantly. As he walked away, he simply said, "Now that makes sense. You should have said that in the first place."
I had accidentally stumbled on something and I have used it, ever since. On top of believing that I had impacted instruction in a high school, I had also picked up cherished Man Card points. Very unusual, indeed.
As I triumphantly packed my presentation materials, I looked up at the coach and his pack of male colleagues who seemed to be discussing what I had just shared. My eyes met theirs for one brief, yet defining moment.
It was then that I realized that the third color in my tie matched both the pin stripes of my suit and the trim of my shoes.
I really wish there was some sort of an appeal process. But, I'm still banking on those Pee Wee points coming in, soon.