Posted by: darcymullin | March 9, 2011

What Educators can learn from Tiki Barber


What can former (and current?) NFL player Tiki Barber teach us about education?

I don’t know how closely people follow the NFL, but yesterday Tiki Barber announced he was coming out of retirement.  This struck me as very odd.  Tiki was a running back and left the NFL in 2007 and retired on his own terms.  Running back is a punishing position and players often begin a serious decline after 30.  Tiki left at the top of his game, before he began to decline.  Some argued too early, but Tiki is intelligent, well spoken and very charismatic and new there was life for him beyond the field.  Almost right away he got a job as an analyst and seemed to making a very smooth transition to the real world.

Then the wheels fell off…his first mistake was publicly criticizing his former coach and quarterback.  Later that year they won the Super Bowl (a feat that Tiki never achieved) and then made some choices in his personal life that ended up getting his contact with NBC sports terminated (read more http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2011/football/nfl/03/08/tiki-barber-unretires/index.html?eref=sihp).  Out of options Barber has decided to return to what he knows – pro football.  As educators, what can we learn from Tiki Barber – quite a bit actually?

When I think about the movement towards 21st century learning, there is no question it is the right thing to do.  We need to move forward and make progressive choices in education to meet the needs of our learners.  We need to act now.  Barber could see his career was going to decline and the likelihood of injury was high, so he made the decision to change.

Personalized learning and 21st century skills are all the rage – very sexy terms right now.  We can equate that to the charismatic Barber upon retiring.  Networks were lining up to sign him.  Everyone wanted on board; they could see the value that Tiki had.  Educators know that 21st century skills are the way we need to move and want to be a part of it.  However, charisma and buzz only gets us so far.  Barber parlayed his charisma to a nice job, but when the rubber hit the road, he realized it was hard work and perhaps he was not prepared for the rigour it takes to be an effective sports commentator.  Did he have the work ethic off the field that he had on the field?  Implementing a new pedagogy and a new way of organizing education is a huge endeavour, fought with as much failure (learning) before we will see desired success.  The payoff will be worth it, but there will be naysayers balking every step of the way (Fraser Institute, Scott Walker anyone?).

When the naysayers call for abolition of this new methodology, and cry for a system that teaches the basics, what will we as educators do?  We will be like Tiki and go back to what we know?  For  him returning to the gridiron and for us standing in front of our classrooms, being the only source of information while drilling our students with worksheets on the “basics” required to do well on standardized tests, or will we fight the good fight, make tough decisions, learn as we go and make the system more responsive to our students?

Let’s learn from Tiki and continue to make our system better

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