Watching Your Documentary

A little over a year ago Netflix released a documentary telling the stories of people in Scooba, a small town in the southern state of Mississippi, USA.  The main characters are the players, coaches, and staff of the Football (American style) team at East Mississippi Community College.  The players at this community college are young men who usually, for one reason or another, were rejected or kicked-off of powerhouse university teams.  This small town, with it’s community college, has gained relevance as the home of what has come to be known as ‘Last Chance University’.  A place for young men who’ve made mistakes off the field, to possibly earn another shot at stardom by cleaning their slate and starting fresh.  Sports have always played a huge role in my life and I draw many lessons from my experiences as a player, coach, referee, and fan.  So as I binge-watched my way through Season One, I was learning a lot and praying for a Season Two.

Season Two of Last Chance U was recently released and started off with audio of a preacher in front of a congregation, sharing a story about Coach Buddy Stephens of East Mississippi Community College (aka Last Chance U).  Viewers of Season One know him as a fiery, foul-mouthed football coach whose team ended their season in the most unfortunate of ways (you’ll have to watch for details, no spoilers here!)  Now, as Season Two begins, Coach Buddy has watched Season One of the documentary and, as the preacher tells us, “As he watched himself on that screen, he didn’t like what he saw.  Can you imagine if a documentary was made about your life?  And they followed you, the good, and the bad, and the ugly?”

The preacher was heading in a more existential direction with his sermon than I’m going to go in here but his main point really hit home with me.  What would we see if we could watch ourselves, filmed and edited from an outsider’s perspective, and would we like what we saw?  Now, before we get too deep into this thought exercise, I’d like to narrow our focus a little more.  Instead of trying to imagine your whole life, start with your professional life.  What would a documentary based on your life as an educator reveal to both you and the world?  

I believe that most of us are like Coach Buddy, in that we would look at a documentary about our life and see areas for growth.  However, unlike the now (in)famous Junior College football coach, we are probably not going to have the luxury/burden of Netflix deciding to make a documentary about our professional lives.  This means that, in order to get that outside, ‘documentarian’, perspective on our educational story we’ll need assistance from someone other than a Netflix camera crew.  

As educators we’re lucky, we’re surrounded by others who are just as keen to learn and grow as we are.  We’ve got colleagues who know and understand our craft, able to provide feedback, conversation, and strategies for growth.  Similarly, we’ve got students who see, hear, and evaluate much of what we do professionally.  The resources to produce our own documentary script are there and, while we’re not being filmed 24-7, we are certainly being watched.  In this way we are more lucky that Coach Buddy, we don’t need a documentary to provide us feedback.  

Where the challenge lies for us as educators, in an insulated community, is facing the reality of needing to grow and finding the proper motivation to do so.  Coach Buddy didn’t have much of a choice, the whole world was watching the same documentary as him.  He realized that without changes, the same mistakes were going to keep repeating themselves for the whole world to see.  In education, just as in sports, mistakes can cost you dearly and if we want to improve we need to acknowledge those areas where growth is needed.  While parallels can certainly be drawn between sports and education, we’re not playing a game when we enter the classroom each day, the results mean much more to our students than a simple W or L.  

I’d like to ask that you’re actively reflecting on your practice as educators.  If you’re a returning teacher you’ve worked with our Performance Appraisal Rubric (PAR) in the past and have a starting point for setting some goals for this year.  If you’re new to the school, think back to your past practice and begin to identify areas where you know you can grow, areas that will positively impact our students’ learning.  We will begin to officially document goals and move to reflection together in the coming weeks.  While there won’t be any Netflix camera crews, there will be ups and downs, wins and losses, and without a doubt – a lot of learning and growth.

 

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CAISSA for the Win

This week/end we’ve been busy hosting the CAISSA regional sports tournament.  With visiting schools from Venezuela, Dominican Republic, Trinidad & Tobago, and Cayman Islands it’s been a great experience for everyone involved.  

As the days rolled on I took a few moments to sit back and reflect on everything that I’ve seen and heard during CAISSA, it’s been interesting.  I want to share some of the observations I’ve made and how they are a positive for, not only our community but all of those who’ve been involved.

  1. School isn’t exclusively about textbooks and exams!  The lessons that have been learned during this event have been incredible.  There have been lessons on sportsmanship (with examples of the good as well as, unfortunately, the bad).  We’ve seen our AC students come out and support their classmates (or older role models) and cheer positively for the efforts of all the athletes, the positive experience of enjoying a sporting event is not to be underappreciated!  While all of this excitement has been happening we’ve also seen the discipline of many of our students to attend classes and, in some cases, take tests despite the energy of these athletic contests happening just steps away.  
  2. Bonds created by hosting students from other schools last for a long time!  As the week progressed I saw more and more of our students walking around, chatting, and just hanging out with kids from the other schools.  Many times the connections between these students were formed when one student-athlete played the role of host to the other.  Initially, hosting guest student-athletes was a cost saving measure but now it’s grown to so much more than that.  Living under the same roof, if only for a couple days, creates a bond between these young adults that is stronger than the competition.  It’s a unique experience, one that helps these kids realize that it’s not all about the numbers on the scoreboard at the end of the game.  
  3. Hard work prevailing isn’t just something from Hollywood, it actually happens!  Watching some of the games over the course of the tournament, it became very obvious as to who “should” win particular matchups.  However, in a number of cases, the “underdog” showed that hard work and perseverance can win out over a more “talented” opponent.  Teamwork, effort, and fundamentals became more than buzz-words, they became rallying cries and motivation!   As educators, how can we transfer that attitude into the classroom?
  4. Attitude is everything!  The last time we hosted CAISSA I was blown away by the effort and dedication of our JV girls Volleyball team as they battled against all the varsity squads.  Once again, the JV teams have impressed beyond my imagination. The girls soccer team has been competitive and fought hard against every opponent they’ve faced, never hanging their heads or giving up.  Our boys on the basketball court have faced, whether fairly or not, the best that each of the varsity teams have had to offer.  Whether a tough opponent, a bad shooting day, or injured teammates, our JV athletes have fought through and left every ounce of energy on the court/field.

CAISSA has been a nice interlude for our community.  The positive atmosphere of support and hard work from our athletes and community has been wonderful to see.  It’s not all about academics when it comes to school, CAISSA  was a nice reminder of that fact.  We’re helping transform young adults into adults, that extends well beyond the books!!