Recently, I heard Kobe Bryant’s announcement that at the end of this season he will be retiring from the NBA. As he discussed his decision to step back and move into a new phase of life, he mentioned that his body is ready for a break. One example of his intense physical conditioning and training is that for every day of his career, every single day, he made 1,000 shots. That really hit me- he didn’t say he took 1,000 shots, he said he made 1,000 shots. And that wasn’t most days. It was his minimum for every single day.
A colleague of mine talks about teachers that are just “magical”. You know the type- they explain things in a way students really understand. Kids like them. When you’re in their classroom, there’s a positive energy, a buzz of excitement, and you can see students learning and caring about their work. They are the born teachers, the naturals.
But, what if the naturals aren’t really so natural? What if the success they have in their classroom is more about their daily approach and specific actions they take that set them apart? What if, by studying how they got to the top of the teaching mountain, we all could learn concrete steps to take to improve in our own teaching practices? I believe that great teachers are made, and they are made in the same way exceptional athletes like Kobe Bryant are- through specific, consistent effort and an unparalleled commitment to excellence.
In everything that you do, the path to excellence is one of hard work. No one wants to hear about the long hours, the trying new things and failing, but learning from that failure and trying the next thing. They don’t want to hear about the intense, often uncomfortable, self-reflection on how things are going in the classroom. Their eyes glaze over when you try to explain that you spent your July researching how other educators set up their classroom for maximum student engagement, or the systems they use to promote students’ independence.
Magical teachers have an unrelenting pursuit of improvement to the point of obsession. I think of one teacher who has long been viewed as the top math teacher in my district. And yet, after I sat in her room to complete a peer observation of her a couple of years ago, she approached me and asked pointed and specific questions about areas she wanted to improve in. I was surprised in the moment, quite frankly, but looking back on the experience, it makes sense. It’s quite clear to me just how she became the kind of teacher she is, and it wasn’t luck or a special teaching gene that she possesses. Rather, it’s a reflection and culmination of years of practice, refinement, reflection, and dogged commitment to personal improvement.
There is a risk in thinking that certain teachers are magical. It’s too easy to dismiss what they do as impossible to replicate, or learn. It reminds me of this Michael Jordan commercial:
Maybe it’s my fault.
Maybe I led you to believe it was easy, when it wasn’t.
Maybe I made you think my highlights started at the free throw line, and not in the gym.
Maybe I made you think that every shot I took was a game winner; that my game was built on flash, and not fire.
Maybe it’s my fault that you didn’t see that failure gave me strength, that my pain was my motivation.
Maybe I led you to believe that basketball was a God given gift, and not something I worked for every single day of my life.
Maybe I destroyed the game.
Or maybe, you’re just making excuses.
Let’s all find it in ourselves to become a little more magical, and beware of making excuses. Becoming a great teacher, or great at anything really, doesn’t happen all at once. But it can happen a little bit more each day if we’re willing to put in the right kind of work. Let’s go get it!
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