How Do We Teach Kids to Come From Behind?

Late in the third quarter of yesterday’s Superbowl, I said to my friends, the Falcons have out-coached and out-played the Patriots. For almost three quarters of a game the Falcons had the mojo and the Patriots had the no-show. When one of my friends asked who that was on the television—an analyst up in a booth high above the field—I told them that the analyst was trying to help Patriots coach Bill Belichick “adjust” his strategy.

The Patriots adjusted their game, implemented their new strategy, came back from a 25 point deficit, successfully capped touchdowns with two-point conversions, tied the game at 28 with 30 seconds left, won the coin toss and scored in sudden-death overtime to win what may be the greatest Superbowl game of all time and certainly the greatest comeback in recent memory. So how do we teach students to come from behind?

The lessons for children and students around the United States is adjustment. How can we teach kids to succeed in school and how can we teach them and us to survive in our ever more complex world when we all get behind? Adjustment.

In sports as in life, we constantly are amazed at the ability of teams to adjust. The Patriots made many adjustments, but one I know of and can cite is that their wide receivers were so well covered that the adjustment quarterback Brady made was to throw to receivers inside. For most of the game, that adjustment was not enough, as Brady got hammered in the pocket while trying to throw a variety of short passes. The run was not working, the Falcons quarterback Ryan was amazing and the game seemed lost to Atlanta’s excellent playmaking. But somewhere in the third quarter the Patriots started to throw to White and others out of the backfield. Atlanta’s strategy did not consider this change by the Patriots soon enough. Then Hightower sacked Ryan and the momentum changed.

Did you see the look in Brady’s eyes during the game? The eyes were focused and determined. Was he scared of losing, upset or angry? Emotionally he was all of them, but his eyes just said I am working hard here. The analyst in the booth was just one of many helping to provide helpful comments about how Brady et al. could change their game. In education we use formative assessments during a project to help change the outcome of a project and increase the learning that students demonstrate. This feedback to the student is in time to help them really improve their work and deliver a product that meets academic standards. This is how schools teach students to come from behind. Adjust your thinking. Adjust your strategy and deliver a winning product.

Then in the third quarter, when the newest adjustment of many changes employed during the game started to work, Brady’s eyes showed determined and efficient—he had waited long enough without losing hope to see the opportunity to embrace the adjustment and win the day. He communicated he was going to take it all the way. The entire team is accustomed to hanging in there, waiting, scoring, winning. The statistical chance that they would come back was highly unlikely. But the Patriots were not playing statistics, they were playing themselves, carefully losing momentum while the Falcons scored four touchdowns, carefully not showing loss of faith, wondering if an opportunity to score at least once would save them humility in what looked like the worst football game ever played.

In playing themselves, they controlled their own destiny, to the extent that any of us control it. We cannot determine other people’s actions, we cannot control the weather, we cannot control a game we lose. But if opportunity arises, we must be ready. If time permits, we must score, and if we can comeback from our losses, it will be partially due to our ability to make adjustments and bring about change. The Patriots showed all of us it is possible to come from behind, way behind. It is possible to change ourselves. Thank you.

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

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