World Cup Referees and Classroom Management

Posted: July 18, 2019 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , ,

Image by Keith Johnston from Pixabay

So, I’ve been thinking about new teachers, and I’ve been watching the World Cup. I may have showed up at a recent Central Administrative Team meeting wearing my own very home-made fan outfit–masking tape has many uses and among other things can be used to turn a plain blue shirt dress into respectable Rapinoe-fan attire, complete with #15 and USA on the front, back, and sleeve. 

Anyway, I’ve decided that the link here between teaching and world cup soccer is the referee. Last year, watching the men, the refs were particularly entertaining. There’s so much more flopping and drama than with the women that the refs have a lot to manage. Then this year, as I watched the refs in the women’s games, I saw how they were always in just the right spot, but rarely in the way. I think watching referees manage games might be instructive for new teachers.

I did not start watching the World Cup games for the refereeing. However, at some point during the elimination round last year, we at my house started looking up who the referees were and what country they were from. It was fun to watch how each man had a set of hand gestures that conveyed all sorts of things from the basics of who was in trouble for what to the more complex “I’m done listening to your nonsense.” 

One of the things that I think is hard for new teachers is to find that balance between, on the one hand, hearing a kid out and using a lot of words to carefully address all potential issues and, on the other, the need to respond quickly and efficiently and get back to whatever is supposed to be going on. One of the things I sometimes hear from teachers of all experience levels is a frustration that kids say silly things, ask the ridiculous question, keep pushing, etc. You know; you’ve heard and said the same things. We all have. Yet, when I am being my best self, I know that for the most part kids are doing regular kid stuff that isn’t actually meant to be obnoxious or threatening or any of those things. (This does assume that there is generally a good amount of control in the classroom and the kids have not gotten the impression that they can hijack everything with with the ridiculous.)

Back to the referees. I started watching the player-ref interactions and noticed that frequently they played out in has a very predictable way. Here’s what happens:

  • The ref makes the call. 
  • The player is horrified at the injustice. 
  • There is some brief discussion (perhaps a review of the offence, some alternative presentation of the circumstances). 
  • The ref does his particular signature hand gesture indicating that the discussion is settled. 
  • The player continues with another moment of moaning or drama. 
  • Play resumes.

 All of this is usually over in a minute or two. (I certainly watched enough to see that there are other ways this works, but I’m talking about the everyday stuff here.) I think what’s important in this mini drama is that in a few minutes play resumes. No one is offended, really. 

Similarly, whenever there is some sort of minor infraction or issue in class, the goal in my mind is for class to resume. If this is a big deal situation then we’re having another discussion, but if someone is talking/wandering around/not paying attention/bothering someone else/insert a million other things here, the goal is to return to the business at hand not to debate the ins-and-outs of whether you were talking to yourself or someone else/texting your friends or just checking your phone for one thing. As I talk with the new teachers that I work with, I am going to share this tidbit. Could they have set scripts, like the refs? Then, everyone knows how this story goes, we play it out, briefly, and move on. It’s a set piece. Once they get this return-to-class-habit down, then we can think about whether some of these habits are worth breaking, or if they are not worth the effort.

As I think about ways that the refs in the women’s World Cup soccer games could be like a teacher in the classroom, I think that idea that play continues all around her, but she is not participating in the action is worth noticing. I noticed that a lot with the women’s games this year. The refs were so close to the action, knew what was going on, but got out of the player’s way.

Isn’t that what we want to do as teachers? We want to be there, do some guiding, remind people about some rules, set up some norms, and lead our students towards independence. We do not want to have our feet on the ball all the time. The students aren’t doing the thinking and the learning if I’m doing all the work. It’s so tempting to do the work for students; you don’t even realize you are doing it.

I’m a big planner (My motto: plan, plan, plan. Then go with the flow.), and I encourage new teachers to plan thoroughly as well. Maybe it’s important to remember to plan how I will, or any teacher will, get out of the way. At what point will I step back or to the side? What will this class/lesson/unit look like when students are gaining independence? Even though I am not a big soccer watcher all the time, I know what a mess it is when the ref gets in the way. It’s jarring; flow is interrupted. This analogy is far from perfect since there is plenty of time when teachers will be directing and modeling a lot. But, if our goal is for the learners to learn, the learners have to do the work.

If I can help new teachers remember that the goal is always for play (learning and thinking by the students) to resume and for the learners to learn, I can’t imagine it won’t be helpful.

Comments
  1. Wendy, this is a great analogy and a valuable piece, not just for new teachers, but also for those of us who’ve been at it a long time. I hope you don’t mind if I share it with some folks in my building; we all can use a little nudge to get out of the way and let the students make the meaning for themselves. The idea of quickly dealing with a thing with a set script and moving on to the real business at hand is not only super efficient, but makes the learning rise to the top.

    This is definitely more than a “tidbit”!

    • mseiteljorg says:

      Kathy,
      Thank you for commenting. Please, share with anyone. I’m glad you enjoyed the post. I trying to get back on the blogging wagon. It got away from me for a bit there.

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