The SEC Basketball Tournament was electrifying and it could help teachers as they navigate the classroom.

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If you watched the Women’s SEC Basketball Tournament this past weekend, you saw some of the league’s best female players engage in amazingly electrifying basketball in pursuit of the coveted SEC Championship title. Each team, regardless of seeding, showed up prepared to achieve one of the goals that have been on their vision boards since last season…winning the SEC Championship. As I watched the game, lying on my sofa and screaming to the players inside my television screen, I realized the games I was watching reflected my work as a teacher and now a leader in an organization that prepares teachers. 

Any great teacher will tell you that success comes to those who understand the significance of relationships and can connect learning to the real-world. The best teachers know that learning can be found in any space, even during the SEC Women’s Basketball Tournament which, on the surface, doesn’t seem like a classroom. Unbeknownst to many, this year’s tournament produced a plethora of life gems that are very relevant to teachers and administrators in classrooms across the country.

Diversify your skills

You should always be working on diversifying your skill set. It should be an annual goal to learn a practice or methodology that will enhance your efficacy and create opportunities of growth for you and your students. Kamilla Cardoso, a 6’7 post player, practices three-point shots daily. Although she rarely takes that type of shot in games, she was able to save their undefeated season with a three-pointer at the buzzer against Tennessee. Teachers who diversify their skill sets make themselves more versatile and fluid, which usually activates external opportunities to continue to expand in the field.

Show up every day

 When you have been identified as the best, you have to show up, even when everything is not functioning in your favor. The best teachers are asked to do a lot because they have capabilities that make them unique on their campuses. Even though there are times when the systems, practices, and techniques are not working, great teachers still make it happen. Reigning National Champion, Angel Reese, acquired an intense ankle sprain during the LSU-Auburn game. Many questioned if she should play the next game against Ole Miss.

But, because Angel has been titled one of the best players in women’s college basketball, it wasn’t a question to her. She let the media know she would be playing against South Carolina, even though her ankle was not up to par, because she understands her role on the team and that her absence takes away their connectivity and greatness. The best teachers ALWAYS show up with a winning mentality, even when there are obstacles that can stifle their productivity. THEY FIGHT ON!

Setbacks are normal

If you are the heartbeat of your campus and contribute to cultivating an engaging climate and culture, when you have a setback, others will have your back and forge forward in your honor. There are teachers who make campuses go. They are foundational to the success of the school. They aren’t always the most decorated or celebrated teachers, but they are profoundly integral to the functioning of the school. When LSU’s Last-Tear Poa severely injured her head and had to be carried off the court via stretcher, her team was emotionally defeated, but they finished the game with a win…because they played for Poa.

Although Poa isn’t a starter or an all-conference player, she is the heartbeat of that team. She is a fierce competitor who sparks her team by bringing an unwavering energy that solidifies her place and purpose in that space. There are millions of teachers that show up as Poa every single day. Just because a teacher hasn’t earned an award or bestowed a celebratory title. In fact, some of America’s best teachers haven’t been recognized because their main goal is to help students, not collect acknowledgments. Those same teachers are such significant contributors to their campuses, that when life happens, their peers and students are prepared to support them and stand in the gap for them because of the deep love, admiration and respect they have earned. 

Sound expectations are needed

It is imperative that teachers set sound expectations in schools from day one. Doing so ensures that everyone is in alignment, and when someone chooses to step outside of those bounds, they are aware of the consequences. During the battle for the SEC Championship between South Carolina and LSU, the referees had several opportunities to create expectations regarding the physical play of both teams. There were many instances of dirty plays and excessive, invasive trash-talking throughout the game from both South Carolina and LSU.

When the referees did not make examples out of the players who were engaging in provocative behaviors early on, it laid the foundation for issues to brew. A brawl ensued, including fans and players. South Carolina’s Kamilla Cardoso was ejected and cannot play in the first round of the game and both teams had players who were ejected because they left their respective benches towards the melee. To prevent severe incidences from occurring on campuses, teachers must create and communicate rules and consequences as soon as the year begins. This sets the tone and creates a space of understanding and acceptance.

The need to reset

Last but not least, every day should be a new day, even after an SEC Basketball tournament. Every student on the campus should be allowed to have a reset. Creating a milieu embedded in restorative justice helps properly teach students they are worthy of a second chance. After the fight between South Carolina and LSU, Coach Dawn Staley shared her disappointment with the entire incident. She also stated that she understood emotions were high and was vulnerable in stating that she had been in similar situations as a player. She explained that both teams were assessed penalties and would have to live with those consequences. Her most powerful sentiment was rooted in her raw acknowledgment of mistakes being made by both teams but the opportunity to learn lessons that will allow South Carolina and LSU to come back stronger and more aware.

Teachers must have the patience and skills to coach students through behavior issues when they occur and be steadfast in providing space for students to reclaim their greatness after a mistake.

Shareefah Mason is the Director of Teacher Engagement at City Teaching Alliance-Dallas, formerly Urban Teachers, a national non-profit educator preparation program that welcomes prospective teachers across the country to hone their teaching skills in Dallas, Philadelphia, Baltimore and D.C. She is a former State of Texas Master Teacher, serving sixteen years in the South Oak Cliff community, one of Dallas’s most disinvested areas. She served on the Texas State Board of Educator Certification and was an Associate Dean at Dallas College, leading the team that brought the first teacher apprenticeship to the state. She has written numerous Op-Eds and papers regarding the recruitment and retention of teachers of color and creating culturally-affirming schools for Black teachers. She delivered a polarizing TEDx Talk on teacher diversity and produced an international award-winning documentary, From the Block, amplifying the extraordinary impact of Black teachers on the academic and professional development of students and colleagues. 

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