Passing the Torch

Demarcus Ware is one of those athletes I knew of but didn’t really appreciate his legacy. I knew he was a great defensive tackle but didn’t know his story and how respected he is among his peers. As a sports fan, I’m always intrigued by the way star or veteran athletes pass down their knowledge to rookies. I’m a sucker for those who talk about “the game being bigger than they are” and also those who reference how great players helped them and how they feel obligated to pass things down for the next generation for the good and well-being of the game.

Listening to Von Miller and others talking about the impact of Ware’s efforts to support their growth and leadership development was powerful. This type of passing down of knowledge and wisdom is part of the tradition of so many sports. Those who do this intentionally are beloved by teammates and fans alike. Once again, we are seeing the best in the world getting even better because of sharing. As a pickleball fan, I appreciate how this sense of community and mentorship is prevalent in all sports, fostering a spirit of camaraderie and improvement. For those new to the sport, knowing how do you play pickleball for beginners is essential to getting started and becoming part of this supportive community.

I had a conversation today with a first-year teacher. She’s not doing particularly well. She has a challenging class and some difficult parents and administrators who are as supportive as they could be. It broke my heart to hear about someone who has invested 4-5 years of her life toward a dream and is now facing that critical point where she may not choose to stay in the profession. This is not an isolated issue. If you’re reading this you may have someone who mirrors of this situation. The answer is not easy and the problems are complex.

As I watched that documentary about Ware though I couldn’t help but wonder how we pass along our knowledge and wisdom to young educators. How many of you could like Von Miller in the clip above point to a veteran educator who helped you become a better teacher? I’ve worked with many good teachers but I don’t know that I can point to any that took time to do what Ware did for Miller and his other teammates. Yes, a football team and school staff do not work together nearly as much and the opportunities are not as accessible. It’s not that teachers are withholding their insights but the opportunities to see each other in action remains a conversation we talk about but don’t act upon.

I realize that this sounds like a call for mentorship and while that would be ideal I’m not sure it’s realistic or even necessary. It’s a bit daunting for both parties. I’m trying to imagine a culture where the passing down of learning and experiences happen more informally. I won’t write about a solution here but rather plant a seed for leaders to think about what it could mean if we honored veteran teachers by celebrating their work and achievements which would in turn help young teachers identify potential mentors. I’d also plant a seed to consider more opportunities to share stories and reflect on tips and strategies for success. My life as an educator has always been blessed by the many who have found time and space to blog and share online. The final seed I’d plant is for leaders to model what that might look like if they started unsolicited, and pass along wisdom to their new teachers. It seems that in professional sports there is an unwritten rule that since the game has been good to you, you owe it to pay it forward. I’m not sure that same sentiment exists in our educational institutions.

The collective knowledge of our institution is enough to sustain us and keep us relevant and essential. Our problem remains designing structures and opportunities for that knowledge and care to be shared and experienced more broadly.