It isn’t always the team with the fastest, strongest players that wins the big game. 

It isn’t the team with the fanciest stadium or the deepest pockets.

It is, however, (almost) always the team that does the most work — who trains hard, studies its weaknesses and develops strategies to overcome them. 

We saw that this past Sunday with Super Bowl LIV, Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs leading this team to three consecutive touchdown drives and a 4th quarter comeback win. Mahomes is now the youngest quarterback to be named Super Bowl MVP and primed to lead his team to more championships in years to come.

Yet, those touchdowns and accolades wouldn’t have been possible without hours of coaching, film study, and feedback.    

The practice of watching film and consistent feedback are elements from my own experience playing football, as a kid and then later, in high school and college. After every practice and game, we’d watch a film. Play by play, step by step, good plays and bad ones. Though, it seemed like the bad ones always had more to teach us than the good ones. 

It wasn’t criticism, it was a critique. Our team was committed to a common goal – winning. In order to win each week, we knew that film and the coaching that came with it was necessary to get better. It was an honest assessment of where we were each play and every week so that we could improve individually and as a team.

Why am I talking so much about football? Because I believe the lessons in developing a winning team translate to our work in education. 

Yes, it would help if educational institutions and organizations had more money to spend on new programs and more resources. Yes, it would help if those resources were more equitably distributed across children from all neighborhoods and socioeconomic backgrounds. But those elements alone are not going to transform education for the better. 

I’ll tell you what is: a system built on a commitment to constant learning and improvement. 

When I graduated from college and my football career ended, I joined Teach For America and became a high school science teacher within three months of college graduation and an Urban Studies major. Suddenly, I was in front of a classroom, doing something entirely new — with no film to watch at the end of the day. There was no coach picking apart my every move. That could have been a relief; instead, it was unnerving. 

I was playing a new game, one much more serious than football,  and I didn’t know what I was doing.

I’m not suggesting we build school cultures around constant criticism and nitpicking. That’s not what the concept of watching film is all about. What I needed back then — and what so many other industries and professions could benefit from — was a system that offered me consistent opportunities to learn and develop as a teacher. I could have served my students better, and studies consistently show that people thrive in environments where they’re regularly challenged to grow. 

In its 2019 Workforce Learning Report, LinkedIn found that 94% of employees said they would stay at a company longer if it invested in helping them learn. To the best of my knowledge, that same question has not been asked of teachers nationwide, but I imagine the response would be similar. Schools and districts already spend significant professional development funds – yet achievement gaps still remain for a host of reasons. But – what if more film was watched? What if we could all create cultures within organizations for daily and consistent feedback for the benefit of kids and families?

What we’re talking about is slow, deliberate, thoughtful work. It takes time to coach a team to Super Bowl status, and it would take time to build a system of film-study and coaching across schools nationwide. 

But it’s possible. And it’s worth it.

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