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Learning at its Best

What Schools can learn from Successful Sports Teams

Successful sports teams have an identity, a vision, and a culture of learning and being that permeates throughout the entire organization. The Pittsburgh Steelers, for example, is the most success team in NFL history. They are a common man’s team with community values. The ownership believes in loyalty (up to a financial point), “blue collar” hard work, and good people, and it shows in the way the team plays, the players they choose and the personnel they hire. The Steelers aren’t a glamorous “new media team.” They are old school like the rotary phone. And, unlike most of the professional sporting world, the Steelers have only had 3 head coaches in the last 40 something years. Which has resulted in every one of the 3 coaches playing in the Super bowl more than once and winning at least 1 championship.

How does that relate to school success? Easy!

Often public schools have no direction, no meaningful mission, and very high turnover rates – especially at the leadership positions. This results in learning programs constantly changing, new philosophies being handed down, and a teaching corps who doesn’t know what will happen next. As such, the school just hovers. It can’t move forward because it’s in perpetual flux.

No organization can be successful without an identifiable, mission, vision, and culture of learning. Everyone from the superintendent to the TA to students should be able to clearly and succinctly communicate what the school stands for, believes in, and is doing to achieve its stated goals. No organization can be successful when high turnover is as certain as death and taxes.  And, no organization can be successful when its members are not hired and developed according to the organization’s needs.

If public schools continue to throw stuff at the walls to see what sticks instead of developing a sustainable learning organization, they will reach the point of no return. They will become the LA Clippers or the Cleveland Browns of education.

About peoplegogy

Will Deyamport, III, MSEd is a social media strategist and frustrated filmmaker. A former intern at, he is now the Chief Social Strategist for StrengthsFactors – a career development resource company. Will has a B.A. Film Production, a B.S. in Child and Family Studies and an MSEd in Professional Studies in Education. He is also the founder of PEOPLEGOGY – a blog focusing on life and career developments, and he is currently working on an Ed.D. in Educational Leadership and Management from Capella University


9 thoughts on “What Schools can learn from Successful Sports Teams

  1. As a Ravens fan I must strenuously object to the notion that the Pittsburgh Steelers enact community values and employ good people. Their star quarterback is a multiply charged rapist and womanizer and their biggest star prior to Big Ben was Joey Porter, who was well known as the dirtiest player in the NFL, stomping on peoples helmets, sucker punching, and hitting injured players. Both handsomely rewarded by the Rooneys.

    Re: the actual substance of your article though, right on! It seems like in all of our public schools and in society more generally there is no agreement about what the mission of education is.

    Posted by Corey Brooks | April 20, 2011, 11:02 am
  2. Health care can be painted with the same brush. What a shame.

    Posted by bridgesburning | April 20, 2011, 5:21 pm
  3. It’s tremendously difficult to build a team of teachers that buy into a common vision and identity.

    It’s tremendously difficult to find a leader who is really good at helping teachers become a team with a common vision and identity.

    It’s tremendously difficult for teachers – and their students – to self-organize into teams with common visions and identities, given our scheduling and staffing practices.

    Teachers should make an effort to recruit one another into passionate teams; public education and the attacks on it urge us to do otherwise, but we should organize and create learning environments and open schools as teams big enough to influence local leaders and small enough to be nimble in addressing students’ actual needs.

    Thoughts on how to organize into school starters? Culture changers?

    All the best,

    Posted by Chad Sansing | April 20, 2011, 6:47 pm
    • While I agree with your comment, I also see really great leaders who can inspire people toward a common vision and identity being ground down by power brokers who want conformity. I see teachers with a common vision trying something innovative and meaningful facing a resistant culture and being forced build their own counter-culture. Until we have more autonomy, it will feel more like a battle than it needs to be.

      Posted by johntspencer | April 21, 2011, 8:47 am
    • There are several other difference between schools and sports teams. Professional athletes can move to teams that have systems that put their talents to the best use. The athletes and fans have a far better idea about the system each team employs than teachers do about the preferences of administrators at any given school.
      Second, professional athletes can be much more mobile than teachers.
      Third, a professional football players average career is 3 or 4 seasons. Teachers careers are much longer.
      Finally, a point about stability. The Steelers have had only 3 coaches since the 1970. Each shared a philosophy that emphasized defense.
      Now that the sports analogies session is over, educators do need a clear vision; throwing stuff against the wall and hoping it sticks really won’t help.

      Posted by LK | April 21, 2011, 8:22 pm
  4. I like the idea of passion teams. They can start anywhere, and go viral. With enough passion. That’s a place to start.

    Posted by Kirsten Olson | April 21, 2011, 9:32 pm
  5. The point of the article wasn’t to compare players or teams to teachers or schools. It was about pointing out how an organization needs an identified mission, vision, and a culture that leads every decision made and is shared by everyone involved within the organization. I just used a sports team and the Steelers specifically as a way to illustrate my point.

    Posted by peoplegogy | April 22, 2011, 12:46 pm
  6. The analogy to sports team is great. It’s a perfect demonstration of how schools need a clear and steady path to success – with that being a clear goal and mission in mind. Without the right mindset in the beginning as to what needs to be achieved, how can we move forward?

    I work as a student assistant for DML Central where we talk about how digital media plays a role in society, especially in education. Please do check out our website and see what we’re doing here in sharing the practice of digital media today.

    Posted by Connie | April 22, 2011, 4:55 pm

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