Education Should Imitate Sports

Mohan Sivaloganathan is the Director of Development and Civic Engagement for Citizen Schools New Jersey

My wife and I are huge Lakers fans. I know, that causes an interesting situation when you work for an organization that’s headquartered in Boston. But that’s another discussion – let’s talk about how the Lakers (and sports) connect to education in America. Even with their success over the past few years, the Lakers frustrate us far too often. For example, our emotions in response to Metta World Peace’s three-point shooting have gone from disappointment to annoyance to amusement by virtue of disbelief. As of January 11th, his shooting percentage on 3s is 8.7%. The NBA average is ~33%. If I rolled up ten pieces of paper and threw them over my head toward a trash can, I’d probably make just as many shots as Metta does from 3 point land. 

Even my favorite player, The Lord of the Rings (aka Kobe Bryant), can drive me crazy. This season, Kobe is shooting 52.2% on shots from 10-15 feet. The Lakers win when he plays the midrange game. They lose when he fires up threes and unnecessarily dribbles all over the place. Now let’s switch to football. You’ve been living under a rock if you haven’t heard of Tebow-mania. The guy knows how to win, and I’m not talking about Charlie Sheen winning. I’m talking about playoff winning. How? He’s not a Drew Brees-type who will air it out 40+ times a game. That’s not what works. He’ll call the option, run his RBs, and hit his WRs for a couple of deep plays per game. That’s a formula for success. They use it and it works. See where I’m going?

Something I love about sports is that you won’t find a clearer example of absolute achievement. The team that scores more points is the better team. Champions are the ones who maximize the use of their strengths and minimize the impact of their weaknesses. Notice that it’s not about the quantity of strengths and weaknesses – it’s about capitalizing on what you know will work. That’s where our national debate in education is falling short.

The airwaves are constantly flooded with theories and nice-to-haves. A certain individual or group might adopt an idea and just run with it, irrespective of the data, the evidence, or anything else that might help them to make a well-informed decision. Politicians aren’t the only guilty parties here (yup, I’m sure they’re the ones who jumped to the top of your mind). It happens in education all of the time. As a result, not only do we lose sight of what’s truly effective to win, but we also lose sight of who we’re playing for: the kids.

The kids aren’t interested in your pet beliefs. They’re not interested in your untested theories. They want something that works, and they want it right now. I’m sure you can relate. Here’s something for the Boston-ites. If you’re a Patriots fan, do you want Tom Brady to hand it off 30 times a game? If you’re a Celtics fan, do you want Rajon Rondo to shoot five 3s a game? (As a Lakers fan, I’d love that.)

The fact is we know what works in education. We have the data. Here’s just a sample of what’s proven to drive results:

  • High quality teachers with high expectations and demonstrated leadership experience.
  • Principal control. Allow them to own and manage hiring, goals, culture, and accountability.
  • Data-driven instruction and accompanying professional development for educators.
  • More school time for students.
  • 21st century curriculum standards, with a particular focus on math & science education.

Let’s spend our time discussing how to do even more of what works. It’s about championships, people.

Teamwork Makes the Dream Work

Lorelle Schaub is the Operations Coordinator for Citizen Schools New Mexico

“Teamwork makes the dream work” - a colleague of mine shared this with me one day, as she often hears her favorite conductor announcing it on the T in Boston. It has become somewhat of a tagline, a #hashtag (if you will) for a group of us here at Citizen Schools, it seems so simple, and couldn’t be truer for working at Citizen Schools.

I have been on teams for most of my life. From the day I tried out for basketball in the 6th grade to the moment I graduated The University of Connecticut (GO HUSKIES!!!). The time came where I could no longer identify myself as a “student athlete” and spandex and kneepads were no longer a part of my daily wardrobe.  As I began the Fellowship in 2009, I was also coping with this concept of being a “civilian”. What was I to do?! No coaches, no practice, no issued gear! The teammates I had counted on for years were now in Chicago, North Carolina, DC, Connecticut, Atlanta, and I was all alone in New Mexico. Looking back, how naïve I was.

I came to Citizen Schools and traded coaches for Campus Directors, early morning work outs for full time team meetings, late night study hall turned into late night lesson planning, and teammates were traded for fellow Teaching Fellows. Some of my best memories from the fellowship come from colleagues, whether it was Karaoke in Austin (I’m looking at you WCPIC Class of 2010), scavenger hunts around Santa Fe for someone’s birthday (I didn’t mean to drop your cake, Danielle), watching first years “jump and jive” (a game that forces people to dance in hilarious ways) in a hotel conference room in Houston, or destroying the students in the Staff vs. Students basketball game.

It was in my second year that it dawned on me, I now had another team to rely on. I had a rowdy bunch of students my second year and we often had to reestablish classroom expectations. An incident had happened where we were debriefing about what it means to be a team. I shared examples of how my team was in college, and how we always had each other’s backs. I then began to share that how being on a team meant helping each other out. I told them how our “staff team” sometimes had to do things for each other. One day it might be coming in early to help make visuals, and other days it might be putting our tasks aside to help with an event. As I explained all the support we provided each other, I realized “Team De Vargas” wasn’t just Citizen Schools lingo, we really were a team.

In college I couldn’t win a point, game or match without my teammates. In Citizen Schools I couldn’t reform education, I couldn’t impact students, and I couldn’t build community without my colleagues. My time in the fellowship is over, and I spend my days coordinating operations for the New Mexico office. #teamworkmakesthedreamwork still holds true as much today as has it my whole.

When were you surprised to find that #teamworkmakesthedreamwork?