By sarah raskin, design engineer
“Your beliefs become your thoughts. Your thoughts become your words. Your words become your actions. Your actions become your habits. Your habits become your values.
Your values become your destiny.”-Mahatma Gandhi
Every March I find myself getting excited. Spring is on the way, the days are longer, the birds are chirping, and the NCAA Men and Women’s Basketball Tournament is in full swing. 64 teams vye for the chance to make it into the Sweet 16, the Elite 8, the Final Four, and the National Championship Game. Many of us join office pools and fill out tournament brackets. We evaluate the strength of team schedules, analyze offensive and defensive statistics, consider the perennial favorites and their illustrious coaches, and predict which team will be this year’s Cinderella. In 2018, the eleventh seed from the South, Loyola of Chicago, busted our brackets and stole our hearts. Although the clock struck twelve at the hands of Michigan, make no mistake this Cinderella danced all over the hardwood floor. On the Women’s side, my Fighting Irish of Notre Dame overcame adversity all season long with four season-ending injuries to starters before entering tournament play. But, that wouldn’t keep this gutty little team and their AP Coach of the Year, Muffet McGraw, from waking the echoes and thundering into the Final Four. In the semifinal game, they faced the University of Connecticut Huskies. With eleven national titles to their name, an undefeated season, Kobe Bryant in the stands cheering them on, and a seven game winning streak over the Irish, many thought this game was a foregone conclusion. But with the final seconds of overtime ticking off, Notre Dame’s Arike Ogunbowale pulled up for an athletic jumpshot just inside the three point arc, and with the swish of the net, David slayed Goliath. My apologies to Geno Auriemma and his Husky faithful, but these Irish eyes are still smiling! For me, the madness of March fills me with nostalgia from my days on the court and reminds me that every Cinderella has a fairy godmother of sorts and a bit of magical inspiration.
I grew up in the little city of Brea, California. Over the years, Brea has become known for two things; the second largest grossing mall in Southern California and girl’s basketball. While I spent very little time shopping, I poured in thousands of hours bouncing a basketball all over the blacktop courts and indoor gyms of the city. In high school, I was a proud member of the Brea-Olinda Ladycat Basketball Team. We were the only girls team in the state of California to have our own CIF sanctioned mascot. The Ladycats not the Wildcats, have represented the school very well over the years in winning a total of 10 California State Championships. During my years playing, I was a member of three California State Championship teams and a USA Today National Championship. Every March, I find myself reflecting back on those teams and remembering how we got there. Brea, the one-time oil town of 30,000 in the suburbs of Orange County, was the Cinderella of the 1990’s. With our own fairy godmother, or in this case, a godfather, in Coach Mark Trakh, and a bit of magical inspiration, anything was possible.
Opinions about what made this team consistently successful were often debated. Was it the rigorous conditioning program, the commitment of the players to sharpen their skills through year-round competitive play, or the unique high school feeder team? Undoubtedly all of these opportunities contributed to the success of the program, but over the years, I realized that it all boiled down to the coach and his belief in his players.
Coach Trakh spent countless hours sitting with players and watching Bobby Knight’s 1987 National Championship Indiana Hoosiers play basketball. We analyzed the man-to-man offensive role every player assumed from their star guard, Steve Alford, to the last person on the bench. We understood that every person played a role and it was our job to understand the role we would play to contribute to the team. Most importantly, rather than running set offenses, Coach Trakh taught us how to read a defense and take what was given. The difference between teaching players how to read a situation and react based on what is given, verus moving from an assigned point A to point B on the court, is like teaching a man to fish verus giving him a fish to eat. We were empowered to cognitively engage in every aspect of the game and make our own decisions. As a team, we became agents of our own play, commanding our destiny, and believing that we would win state championships every year.
So how do Cinderella basketball teams, fairy godmothers, and magical inspiration relate to our current work to transform teaching and learning in the Del Mar Union School District? It all boils down to making our students agents of their own learning. In his article, “Perceived Self-Efficacy in Cognitive Development and Functioning,” Psychologist, Albert Bandura, identified that a positive self-efficacy, or belief in one’s chances of successfully completing a task, plays a major part in determining our chances for success. Bandura noted that positive self-efficacy stems from mastering a task or controlling an environment. Giving students agency to regulate their own learning and master academic tasks, builds positive efficacy.
So, as March fades into April and the National Champions are crowned, perhaps we can take inspiration from the Cinderella teams that danced their way through the tournament, remembering the fairy godmothers and magical inspiration that got them there. Behind every great team is a great coach. Those coaches taught the fundamentals, empowered their players to own their individual roles, and create winning opportunities. They believed in their players and their players in turn believed in themselves. In homage to legendary basketball broadcaster Dick Vitale, may we remember that we are entrusted with the “diaper dandies” of the future. We have the responsibility to give them the tools to own their own learning and then let them drive the lane.
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