Lessons from The Last Dance

Not surprisingly The Last Dance documentary about the 1997-98 Chicago Bulls season has set records for viewership all over the country. In a time with no live sports and people penned up in their houses, a basketball team from 22 years ago has captivated the sports world! Despite living a world that is completely different from the one (22 years ago) that we see in the documentary, there is still a lot to learn from this series. (Warning: There will be some spoilers if you haven’t watched the series or followed NBA history very closely…honestly though, I don’t think what you’ll read here will ruin anything for you…so read on!!)

The first four episodes of this series included a lot of flashbacks, perhaps most notably to the two playoff series against the Detroit Pistons, or Bad Boys as they came to be known.  As a basketball fan I was certainly aware of the Bad Boys and the rivalry they had with the Bulls but I didn’t know nearly as much as was shared in this documentary. Even more so, I didn’t know about the way the Bulls responded to the results of those two series.  

After the first season that the Bulls lost to the Detroit Pistons (1988-89 season) in the playoffs not much changed. The Bulls went back to Chicago, took the summer off and came back ready to try again the next season. They actually got closer too, they almost beat the Pistons in the 1989-90 playoffs but ended up losing in game seven of the Eastern Conference Finals. This, however, is when things changed for the Bulls…and where the lessons begin for us.

The Bulls went home and got right to work. They took a hard look in the mirror and made some realizations about themselves and what they needed to do to be better. Specifically, they looked at their areas of weakness and what they needed to become the best. Once they identified those growth areas, they set out to improve on them and increase their chances for success. Not only did they look for areas of growth but they also focused their strengths and looked at how they could improve even more in those areas.

The differences between these two off-seasons couldn’t have been more stark. In the first example, they went home and came back hoping to get better as they worked throughout the season. In the second, they didn’t leave anything to chance. They set to work right away, striving to guarantee enough growth to overcome their main obstacle in the next season. 

This second example, when the Bulls went straight to the weight room and the gym during the off season, is how I believe educators truly grow as professionals. During the school year we’re like the Bulls in season, our practice time is limited because it’s game time!  We’ve got lessons to plan, kids to teach, and classrooms to run…we don’t have lots of extra time (or energy) to sit back and read about new ideas, take courses, or integrate new strategies into our daily routine. That, however, is exactly what we have in the summertime. Now, I know that might sound crazy (especially after the way this year is ending) but consider this your hard look in the mirror. If you really want to make leaps as an educator, the summertime is when you have the opportunity to make that growth. 

Just as in basketball, we have different levels of growth to focus on as educators. We have our individual growth, what we can do to make ourselves better educators. Then we have team growth, how do we work with our PLC or at the school level to become a better team? As we near the end of the school year and begin looking toward that nice long break until the end of August, it’s time to start thinking about how we can grow as individuals and as a team. I don’t want anyone to think I’m suggesting you work every single day to grow over the summer, because I’m not saying that at all! However, I am suggesting that you should plan to dedicate some portion of time and energy this summer to thinking about how you’re going to grow as an educator. Perhaps it’s dedicated collaborative time with your team, a conference to attend, a course online, or specific professional books to read. Take a look in the mirror, think about where you want to grow, set a goal, and create a plan for achieving that goal!!

If working to improve in the off season was good enough for Michael Jordan, I think it’s good enough for all of us as well!  

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