What you should understand from the beginning is that I am a huge football fan. I’m the commissioner for a fantasy football league… and play in another as well. In 2009, I was even the NFL/Pepsi Touchdown Dance Champion. And on Monday mornings when I walk through the halls to my classroom, my students and I engage in a running commentary on the weekend’s wins and losses.
Yet, more than that, you must understand and that I am a huge San Diego Chargers fan. How I became a San Diego Chargers fan is a long story for another time, but the fact is that the Bolts are close to my heart. With this dedication to the Chargers comes a deep seeded, bitter feeling toward our rival, the Denver Broncos. And unfortunately for Tim Tebow, who may otherwise have garnered some of my support, he is one of them.
I will admit that I was truly shocked that the Broncos made the play-offs, though winning a division while tied with an 8-8 record is nothing to write home about. So, when I saw that the Broncos were playing the Pittsburg Steelers, with the #1 defense in the league, I was fairly confident that the young quarterback was going down… hard.
So, like any good American, I slowed down my life on Sunday night for a good rubber necking at the impending crash.
But Tim Tebow and the rest of the Denver Broncos surprised us. Tebow threw 316 yards against the #1 pass defense in the league, the most by any quarterback this season. Despite all of the negative press and doubters, the Denver Broncos won their first playoff game in six years.
I will admit that I was a non-believer. Not just because I have a personal predisposition against the Broncos, but because I didn’t think Tebow could do it. I underestimated him.
Fortunately for Tim Tebow, it didn’t matter what I thought.
And fortunately for so many students that walk into classrooms everyday, their future is not dependent on the outlook of their teachers and parents either.
I think that, as a whole, teachers and parents significantly underestimate the potential of our children. Growing up, we learned to place boundaries around our abilities, to draw lines in the sand between things we can and cannot do. As adults, most of us play to our strengths to ensure success, making calculated risks and taking the occasional challenge for good measure.
Because we want our children to be successful as well, I fear that too often we place boundaries around what children can and cannot do. Sure, we want to set up our students to succeed, but if we never give them opportunities to “max out” their capabilities, how will they ever know where those boundaries truly are?
Over the last week, there was a lot of naysaying about Tim Tebow. Following three losses leading up to the playoffs, there was even talk about replacing him. Yet, without giving him the opportunity to throw that 80 yard pass in overtime, neither Tim Tebow, nor his coaches and teammates would have known that they already had a playoff winning quarterback leading their team.
So, what can we do for our students to give them a chance at the big pass?
- Create learning opportunities that allow students to set their own goals, like participating in the National Novel Writing Month Young Writers Program, where my students blew the minds of educators and parents with goals 10,000 words over my recommendations! This could also be personal goals for times tables, AR points, science/history fair or the number of books to read for the year.
- Differentiate learning opportunities that allow students at every level to reach their edge of their potential… and fail in a safe environment. If your highest ability students never encounter assignments, projects, or problems that they truly cannot yet do, they are not being challenged enough. We must provide chances for students to surpass our expectations, and theirs, without fear of failure affecting their grades or esteem. Plus, this is one of the only ways to know if students are truly working at the appropriate level… and learning something new.
- Admit that we have no idea what the boundaries of our students’ abilities are. If Tim Tebow can lead the Broncos to defeat the reigning AFC champions… and today’s kindergarteners can make original movies, Skype with grandparents, and give poised presentations in front of the class, how can we possibly predict what our students will be capable of achieving at the age of ten, fifteen, or twenty?
It is easy to make excuses for why, as educators, we shouldn’t let our students take on certain challenges or try to do certain tasks or projects. There will always be critics, naysayers and rubber neckers watching for a crash. But maybe, if we do these three things, we will be pleasantly surprised to find that we were wrong about the boundaries. Pleasantly surprised, in fact, to find that we had seriously underestimated the potential the very students we claim to believe in.
The next Tim Tebow of math, engineering, painting or poetry may emerge from the student we least expect. Will you be the one benching him in the playoffs or cheering him on from the sidelines?