Last night, the Vancouver Canucks lost the last game of the Stanley Cup finals to the Boston Bruins. Following this devastating 4-0 loss, disappointed fans took to the streets of Vancouver and began rioting. Usually I am not too excited by hockey or sports in general, but images of angry, drunken Canadians behaving badly were all over the news this morning, so I couldn’t help but notice. In a casual conversation with my husband, I mentioned, “Boy, Vancouver took losing the Stanley Cup really hard, huh?” An avid hockey fan, he told me that Canadians take their hockey very seriously and jokingly added, “There’ll be a public lynching of the coach later this afternoon.”
At first, I wanted to respond to this statement with a flip, “Why? The coach didn’t lose the game. The players did.” But before I spoke these words out loud, I found myself thinking about the coach’s role and his responsibility to his team. In any type of sports match, players act and react to the heat of the moment. Their decisions and moves reflect an immediate interpretation of the game. A coach, watching from the sidelines, sees the game from a completely different perspective. It is his responsibility to read and interpret what’s going on all over the field, or in this case, the ice. That information, coupled with the sum total of mental data he has collected about his team through countless practices and games throughout the season, saddles him with the responsibility of calling the shots. It’s up to him to think about what he knows about these players—their strengths and weaknesses and make the decisions that will affect a more favorable outcome.
As I thought about the coach’s responsibility to his team, I found myself thinking about teachers in the classroom. So often we want to blame students for their failings: they don’t pay attention, they don’t do their homework, they’re not trying hard enough, they misbehave. But as teachers, we have to look at our students as if they were these hockey players. Vancouver has never won a Stanley Cup and to be that close to the top prize in hockey, you know they WANTED to win. They WANTED to be successful. Perhaps they played badly, but they didn’t lose because they are bad players.
I suspect that Alain Vigneault, head coach of the Vancouver Canucks will spend his summer watching video replays of last night’s game over and over. He is going to want to know what went wrong. Why did his team fail? What could he have done differently to help them capture the coveted prize? As a coach, he basks in the glory of winning but he also shares the pain of defeat.
And as educators, so too, must we.
Our classrooms are spotted with students who are struggling but we need to remember that they are not failing because they are bad kids. They WANT to be successful. As teachers, it is up to us to assess and reassess the big picture and call the shots that lead to more favorable outcomes. When students fail, we must share the pain of defeat and closely examine its cause. And when they succeed, we can bask in the intoxicating glory of success because after all, when it comes to learning, teachers and students are in the game together.