I have coached my daughters’ soccer teams with my partner Stu for the past 5 years. It was okay when they were young and the objective was to keep players from chasing the ball like little bees. But being that I identify more as an artist than an athlete, I have struggled to keep up with the intricacies of the game as our players have gotten older. Stu, on the other hand, has played soccer his entire life. He loves the sport and can masterfully lead our players through drills and plays. When I express my insecurities about coaching, he sweetly reminds me:
“You manage the bench,” and
“You remember all the players' names” and finally,
“You remind me to give the kids water breaks!”
“That is all really important.”
Stu and I recently discovered Ted Lasso and like so many others, we are completely taken with Ted’s optimism and heart. If you are not familiar with the show, Ted, played by Jason Sudeikis, is an American football coach who finds himself coaching soccer (or football) in London. He is charged with bringing victory to the floundering Richmond Football Team even as the woman who hired him secretly conspires against him. It is obvious early on that while Ted is an excellent coach, he knows little about the intricacies of the game. Enter Beard, Ted’s steady and knowledgeable partner played by Brendan Hunt. In episode after episode both men bring their strengths to coaching the team together.
While driving home from our last game, Stu turned to me and said, “You are like Ted Lasso! You coach with heart, you build morale, and you get to know the players.” I smiled and responded: “Yes, and you are Beard.”
How Ted Lasso has informed my teaching life
So this conversation got me thinking about what teachers can learn from Ted Lasso. Clearly this guy gets right to the heart of what matters most: identity, relationships, and community. Below I offer a few lessons I have learned from Ted.
1. Know your students.
As teachers we know that even when our teaching assignments and curriculum stay the same, no two years are alike. That is because of our individual students’ identities; each bringing different strengths and needs to our classrooms. Early on in my career, I learned that what engages one group of students may not excite another. How do I figure out what works for individual groups? I use my most powerful teaching tool: my EYES! Yes, kid-watching. I watch students and notice: what brings a smile to their faces, what frustrates them, and how they carry themselves when they are alone and when they are with others.
I use my other superpowers: my ears and voice. I listen to what they say to me and others and consider what their words reveal. Finally I talk with them, chat really. When lining up for lunch, while waiting for their buses to be called, and when arriving in the morning. Those unstructured times provide so much space for connection.
2. Build community.
One of my favorite episodes is when Ted leads the team in a cleansing ritual in an effort to rid the medical room of a rumored curse. Each player gathers around a bonfire and offers an object that symbolizes something they want/ need to let go of in their lives. This experience invites players to be vulnerable with one another and set long standing feuds aside. There is a fun twist at the end but this act illustrates the power of gathering.
While we certainly won’t start a bonfire, creating opportunities for students to gather can provide a powerful bonding experience. On the second day of school, my students created identity webs inspired by the work of Sara K. Ahmed, author of Being the Change: Lessons and Strategies to Teach Social Comprehension. Lately I have noticed some friction among students so I decided to have them take out their webs. First, we added any new identity markers that we had discovered about ourselves in the past month. And then, students walked around the room sharing their identity webs and looking for connections to one another. The experience reminded us of our shared commitment to appreciate one another and the community that we have built.
3. Engage in play!
During the show’s pilot, the screen repeatedly flashes to Ted dancing in the locker room surrounded by cheering athletes following his football team’s victory back in Kansas. He kicks the ball around with locals in his London neighborhood. Periodically, Ted runs with his team. It would be so easy to remain at his station on the sidelines yet Ted demonstrates again and again that he is a member of the team.
During dismissal, my desk reminds me of the soccer/ football sideline. Those 20 unstructured minutes while buses are being called are prime for checking off items on my “to do” lists yet, I opt to play. Somedays I plop on a pillow on the floor and play mum-ball with my students, others it’s a game of kickball during recess. These interactions with my students build trust because they see that I am willing to make time for them; time that is not academic. And, I find this time relaxing and joyful. I may need it more than they do!
4. Rely on those around you for support.
One of the reasons Ted can focus so much on the wellness of his team is because he has his fellow coach and confidant, Beard to support him. As the season progresses, Ted’s inner circle grows to include Nate and Higgins, calling themselves “The Diamond Dogs”.
When it comes to coaching soccer, and most things in my personal life, I have Stu. But when it comes to teaching, I have my amazing partner teacher, Stacy, my fifth grade team, the counseling staff, my administrators and my students’ families. I rely on each and every one of them to support my students’ wellbeing and bring the best out of each one of them just as Ted strives to do with his team.
So, teachers, may we always remember to center individual students and the communities we build in our instruction. Above all else, may we lead our teams with heart.