The Importance of Not Stepping In


I had a fantastic opportunity to do a student podcast recently, and although the students were there to ask me questions, I took a lot of time to ask them about their own experiences in school. Honestly, I would rather hear from them and their perspectives than I would talk so I tried to get in as many questions as possible.  It was such a pleasure to connect with these students.

We got onto the topic of “empowering” students and why I thought it was so important. Something they said triggered a thought I had about one of my favorite basketball coaches of all time, Phil Jackson.  For those who don’t know Phil Jackson, he is famous for coaching the Michael Jordan Bulls and the Lakers to 11 total NBA championships, the most of any coach in the NBA. His resume is incredible as a coach.

There was something that he would do that was unlike any other coach that was meant for the long-term success of his teams.  Usually, when a basketball team is facing a situation where the momentum is shifting, and sometimes the crowd is getting rowdier or losing interest in their own team, the majority of coaches will call a timeout to regroup their players.  I have watched basketball enough that I can tell when a timeout is about to be taken because you can feel it in the stadium. Phil Jackson would often just let his players stay on the court and let them try to figure out, even when the pressure was high, to get themselves out of a bad situation.  The mentality was that there might be a situation in a playoff game that the team is either limited in timeouts or doesn’t have one at all, and the coach won’t be able to save them. It is better for the team to learn how to figure it out on their own while actively playing in the game.

Do you see a connection to a classroom?  Often, as a teacher or principal we want to jump in when our students struggle with new learning in a situation, but what does that lead to when they are on their own?  I have talked often about working with students that were sent to the office for behavioral issues, and I would merely ask, “Why are you here?” and then follow the answer to that with, “What would you do if you were me?”  The point of those questions was for the students to develop the skills and mentality to be able to figure out tough situations on their own since we know we will not always be around.

When you look at the situation with school or coaching, when we empower others, we have to realize that what is most comfortable for us at the moment can lead to detrimental consequences in the long term.  Giving up ownership now can help our students figure out their direction in the future. Engagement is more about today where empowerment is about leading to better choices and application both today and tomorrow.  It is not always easy, but ultimately it will be worth it.

Source: George Couros