What School and My 2014 Fighting Irish Have in Common

This blog post was written by Sandy Shedenhelm. Sandy is a Senior Director of Powerful Practices at Battelle for Kids. She creates and leads professional development workshops and curriculum to help educators at all levels. Sandy taught English language arts and social studies. 


Anyone who knows me knows that I am a diehard Notre Dame fan. Yes, I have lived in Columbus all of my life, but I just can’t help it. This girl loves her Irish… no matter what. While watching the bowl selections, I couldn’t help but think about how much this season is like school.

It is important to be on a winning streak. My Irish started the season 6 – 0. When you are winning, it feels great, and you keep trying to remain victorious. Success breeds success. School is no different. Students, too, need to be on winning streaks. And as teachers, it is our job to help them get and stay on winning streaks. They need to think ‘I can do this, and it is worth it.’ And if students are winning, teachers and leaders are winning too.

You can’t let failure carry over. On October 18, the Irish left their ‘mojo’ in Tallahassee. The Irish took Florida State to the wire, but left losing 27-31 in a heartbreaker. Unfortunately, they let the loss put their entire season on a downward spiral, losing their final four games, including two at home. This team didn’t know how to respond to adversity. Schools are no different. Leaders, teachers and students alike will all face adversity. The key is to not let it define you. Grit is essential.

Preparation matters. As the season went on, the Irish lost many starting players to injury. With a loss to underdog Northwestern and a beat down by rival USC, it was clear that the ‘next men in’ were not prepared to compete at the level of challenge necessary to win. By the same token, ALL students need to be prepared—to have access to and practice with rigorous, relevant learning expectations. As teachers, we are their coaches and without proper preparation we cannot expect all students to be successful and self-reliant.

Grade performance using the most recent evidence. Teams are not defined by the averages of their games, and practice is never included in the formula. The Irish will have the opportunity to put their best foot forward to end the year in the Music City Bowl against LSU. It will be this evidence that the experts will review as my favorite college football team closes out their season. We too, need to use the most recent evidence to evaluate and support student learning. It is the most recent evidence that most accurately reflects a student’s current level of achievement. As I was reminded at a grading conference last week, reporting inaccurate information about a student’s achievement is not only bad practice but unconstitutional. 

So as you consider your teaching or leading practice, keep in mind some of the objectives of great coaches, which just happen to align with FIP. They inspire and encourage their players to challenge themselves and to set and meet goals (clear learning targets). They let their players take risks and responsibility (ownership of learning) but are right there to course correct as needed (effective feedback).  And they don’t judge them on their past performance, but rather on their current accomplishments (collecting and documenting evidence of success). Most importantly, they encourage them to work hard, to persevere even when it’s easier to quit, and to get up and try again when they fall.