Kevin Ryan, EdD, is the assistant superintendent for teaching and learning at North Shore School District 112 in Illinois. In his role, he is responsible for overseeing curriculum, instruction, and assessment to improve student growth and success.

Game On

My phone rang that Sunday and, on the line, I heard my 18-year-old son’s quivering voice say, “Dad, Kobe died.” 

I sat in the car stunned. I turned on the radio to find out more. As I listened, I heard people who intimately knew Kobe Bryant describe what made him one of the best basketball players to ever play the game. It wasn’t just natural ability, but it was his work ethic, passion, and desire to continually grow.  

The dedication of a professional

All the way back in high school, Kobe would show up to the gym at 5 a.m. to practice by himself before school started, and then would practice with his team after school. In the NBA, he would show up two hours before practice started and shoot baskets in the dark before the gym lights were on. During games, he was known to watch the first half footage of himself during halftime so he could see what adjustments he needed to make in the second half. He used the data that he had available to help him develop his skills. He constantly honed his craft to make sure he was the best player on the court. He worked with coaches and other players before, during, and after practice to make sure that the team was at its best. 

As I listened to the stories, I thought to myself, “What if all of us educators put forth the same effort to prepare for our game?” 

After all, our “game” is one of the most important games out there: helping children reach their full potential. The time we have with our students is so short that we need to make sure that we are truly prepared to maximize our effectiveness with them. Professional learning communities provide the vehicle to make this happen, but unless, as Rick DuFour says, we are focused on the right things, then we are just wasting precious time. 

Embrace the work it takes for success

As leaders, have we developed the structure to allow our teams to collaborate? If we have, how do we make sure that they are focused and working on the “right things?” Are we developing our teachers to be leaders? Are we building their capacity to be the best teachers possible? Do we have a guaranteed and viable curriculum, as well as an instructional framework, to make sure that the most effective learning strategies are used in the classroom? 

Are we using the data to adjust our instruction to meet the needs of all students? Do we provide our teachers with job-embedded professional development such as instructional coaches? Do we monitor all of this and hold people accountable? After all, as my former superintendent, Tom Many, always said, “What gets monitored gets done.” 

When done right, being an educator is the hardest job out there. The success of our students is our number one priority. The children deserve us going above and beyond to make sure that they thrive both academically and social-emotionally. We need to make sure that our teachers have the tools they need to make a positive impact on ALL students. 

The only way to do this is to have the passion, work ethic, and desire to continually grow that Kobe demonstrated throughout his career. Our students deserve it. 

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