Maxims for Teaching

A look at General Neyland’s 7 Maxims (for football) and how they might be translated into Maxims for Teaching.

English: Robert Neyland Statue
English: Robert Neyland Statue (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s time for the first game of the year in the Vol Nation, and for those draped in the orange robes of Vol history, it is time to review Gen. Robert Neyland’s 7 Maxims. Neyland was coach from 1926-1952 (with breaks for wars, etc.) and was a winner. His football strategy was defined by 7 Maxims:

  1. The team that makes the fewest mistakes will win.
  2. Play for and make the breaks and when one comes your way – SCORE.
  3. If at first the game – or the breaks – go against you, don’t let up… put on more steam.
  4. Protect our kickers, our QB, our lead and our ball game.
  5. Ball, oskie, cover, block, cut and slice, pursue and gang tackle… for this is the WINNING EDGE.
  6. Press the kicking game. Here is where the breaks are made.
  7. Carry the fight to our opponent and keep it there for 60 minutes.

And here’s my transformation into maxims for teaching, with discussion:

  1. The teacher that makes the fewest mistakes will have the most impact.  I take this maxim to mean that one should take care of mistakes as they come so that at the end of the day all would say very few mistakes were made. Many mistakes are a natural, and useful, part of the daily classtime. A good teacher turns those mistakes around and makes them a positive part of the class.
  2. Teaching happens in unexpected moments, and we should look for and make such moments happen. And when they do, we should take advantage to make learning happen. This might be an unexpected question or answer, or just some new twist on a topic. Good teachers are flexible and can take advantage of these opportunities, but they also don’t just wait for such things happen.
  3. If you are working at your teaching and things don’t seem to be going well, don’t let up, but keep on doing what you are doing with more effort. This is especially true if you are trying something new. A good teacher knows his or her skills at teaching, and when things can go better, put in the extra effort to make it happen.
  4. Protect the class transitions (e.g. beginnings and ends of sections) and the lead examples and points of the course. And when things go well, protect the atmosphere of success all the way to the end. The transitions are critical moments in a course and if handled poorly, can lead to a irreversibly lost class. Second in importance comes the main points that the course is built on. Finally, success builds on success, so if things go well, keep it up.
  5. Create good habits (and a common vocabulary), but remember the ultimate goal: LEARNING. Having good routines with a matching language in a class is a great way to build student knowledge and to create a learning atmosphere (besides just being fun). But it is important to remember that the goal isn’t the routines (or the fun) but it is learning.
  6. (Seems like just a repeat of #2, with a touch of #4)
  7. Be persistent and consistent and always look for opportunities to push the students to learn, for the entire hour, for the entire semester. This isn’t about covering more material, but of taking advantage of every opportunity, especially those where there is learning happening, to push for more.

So as you move from ‘sage on the stage’ to ‘guide on the side’, consider the Maxim’s in your teaching.


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