“Gentleman, this is a football.” In July 1961, mere months after his Green Bay Packers had lost the NFL Championship in the 4th Quarter to the Eagles, coach Vince Lombardi started training camp holding a football and reminding his players what it was. It wasn’t that coach Lombardi felt that his players were rookies or somehow new to the game, he knew all too well otherwise. He had however resolved to focus on the basics. Whether his players were indeed rookies or veterans of that championship loss his approach would remain the same; focus on the details that the competition overlooks.
Every now and then we have to refocus on the essentials to make sure that what we’re adding to our repertoire doesn’t supplant the most basic of our skills. This became painfully clear to me recently and I was caught unaware at just how long it had been since I focused on differentiation. Now, after cleaning the spit-take’s worth of liquid off of your computer screen, hear me out. I didn’t say that I hadn’t differentiated my instruction; it had simply taken a backseat after years of teaching similar classes and curriculum. I had recently fallen into one of the great traps of education - familiarity. My classes had become so commonplace and unremarkable: the content, the pacing, the CFA’s, and CSA’s, that I simply put it on autopilot to an extent. At the same time I had also began trying to try all the new things. Our corporation has gone one-to-one with laptops and we had adopted a new LMS (Canvas is the berries btw) and I had focused on the new so much that I had lost sight of one of the most crucial and indispensable aspects of teaching. I realized quickly that I was woefully ill-equipped to turn it back on. It was not like a switch or riding a bike. It was more like trying to remember a recipe for pizza dough that I used to make before I was married, then divorced, then, well you get the idea; it was agonizingly close but difficult to recreate.
If we’re honest with ourselves, there’s the little bit of hubris in us all that keeps us from reviewing the basics; we’re beyond all of that first-year stuff. That said, I can only imagine what those Green Bay Packers must have thought the day that their coach, the guy with whom they had nearly won the league, reminded them what a football was. That’s the rub though isn’t it? We remind our students every day that learning is a process yet we’re at risk of losing sight of it ourselves. It’s imperative that we purposefully focus on practicing our craft or we may find that we’ve lost part of what makes it, and us, great.
Just to bring closure to my story, my student is not a strong writer and was having difficulty even starting a writing assignment. I was unaware of his struggles, aloof may be a better word because I was beyond needing to focus on how to differentiate, until his TOR came to speak with me. To be clear the writing wasn’t the objective, it was the practice. Identifying strengths and weaknesses was the objective and we made a T-chart.
The student showed me the football and reminded me what it was.