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90% is Away From the Ball…

by Neil Finney

When I played for my high school basketball team, I remember one particular pep-talk from the coach very well:

 “Listen, basketball is a thinking game. 90% of it is away from the ball. Filling the lanes, setting picks and making cuts – these are the things that lead to success.”

Lately, I have come to realize that the same can be said about teaching.

What we actually teach students (in the way of curriculum) is only a small portion of what our job entails and the measure of our mark when it comes to student learning and development. Whether it is the high fives in the hallways between teacher and student or sharing some our your lunch when you  notice that a student came empty-handed – we forge strong bonds and have lasting effects through the compassion and caring of our own actions.

Right now, I am in the middle of a four-month long game of tag with a couple of junior-grade girls at my school. I don’t remember how it started, but make no mistake that we look out for each other when we walk around the school in case there is an attempt to make a tag. Though this may seem trivial to some, it is a unique – and genuine – way to make a connection with students in an unconventional – and therefore – lasting way.

Asking students about their weekend on Monday morning as they walk into class is a fringe aspect of my role as an educator – and yet – without this experience I would struggle to connect with some of my students who would view me solely as an instructor.

Whether it is learning the names of the other students in the school so you can greet them in the hallways during breaks or perhaps playing chess in the library during recess when challenged by a student – these are things that make us a valuable member of the school community – not merely an employee in the building.

We, indeed, inspire futures through the humanity and personality that we emanate to our students. We are role models and guidance counselors. We are coaches and tutors. How will we be remembered by our classes? For those things that we didn’t teach – but rather, showed.


How do you make genuine connections with your students? Share a story about how meeting one of your former student years after teaching them made your day.


During Neilʼs 10 years of teaching experience, he has taught in London, England; Ontario; public and private schools; elementary and secondary; junior; intermediate; core french; developmental skills; and junior gifted (grades 4,5,6). He is a Reading Specialist that has been incorporating technology in his practice consistently throughout his career. Neil has recently published his first book entitled “Ignite. Incite. Inspire.” – Examining 21st Century Issues in Education, which is a collection of teaching articles and posts written from January to December 2011.



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