February 2017
Volume XIV Issue II

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The Super Bowl in the Classroom

Bruce Oliver

Bruce Oliver, the author of Just for the ASKing!, lives in Burke, Virginia. He uses the knowledge, skills, and experience he acquired as a teacher, professional developer, mentor, and middle school principal as he works with school districts across the nation. He has written more than 150 issues of Just for the ASKing!  He is also a co-author of Creating a Culture for Learning published by Just ASK.


Approximately 172 million viewers watched the 2017 Super Bowl. Most watched because of the game while others tuned in to check out the highly-publicized commercials. The hype about the ads attracts viewers who want to see cute animals, humor, celebrities, technological wizardly and just plain creativity. 

Another lens through which spectators could view the annual ratings giant is to look beyond the surface of the commercials to discover the covert or subliminal messages that accompany the advertisements. Whereas the primary purpose of these ultra-expensive undertakings is to promote a product or service, I found myself looking beyond the humor or the outrageous plot lines to keep track of the words, messages, slogans or hash tags included in various ads. Collectively, many of the messages were positive, optimistic, and even uplifting. Early in the game as I watched and listened to each commercial’s words, I made mental connections to schools and children by asking myself:  What if the words in the catchphrases were practices and beliefs in every classroom across our country?  Read on to learn about the connections I made from this very unexpected resource.

“Progress is for everyone”
All children should have the opportunity to clearly know when and how they are increasing their learning. Data from this important accomplishment has been described as evidence-based in current education lingo.  Evidence may come from a variety of sources or practices including teacher observations, self-reflections, teacher feedback, observations from peers, student response to a teaching strategy or traditional assessment data.  A simple letter grade or a number at the top of an assignment is not sufficient.  In order to truly know if they are making progress, students should have time to review their graded work and to make corrections for mistakes in order to know how to improve in the future.  Most students are making some type of progress but too often they simply do not take the time to know what, when, and how it is being achieved.  To use that well-known General Electric phrase from the past, progress is our most important product.

“All dreams are within reach”
Dreams are often synonymous with goals;  the difference is that goals have a plan and a timeline. In our classrooms we might talk about goal setting but do we take the step to actually have students “dream” about what they wish to accomplish both inside and outside the classroom? We all have stories from our past experiences about students who realized unimagined goals because they were encouraged to dream big. If our lesson plans and accompanying learning activities feel as if they are on “auto pilot” with no attention to goals, perhaps it is time for us to “recalculate” so that students can know when their dreams are getting closer to reality. 

“No one likes being stuck”
One of the formidable tasks that teachers face each day is to know which student are learning and which ones are struggling. The best teachers continually circulate among their students as they work, or they ask a variety of questions to learn who is understanding the content. Some students are quick to ask questions when they feel “stuck” while other quieter students might pretend to be working hard when, in fact, they are hesitant to show their deficiency. It is the wise educator who does her best to seek out the students who are stuck, help them feel comfortable enough to ask for help, and provide support in a patient and caring manner.

“The world is more beautiful the more you accept”
Teachers are powerful individuals; most of us see our students on a daily basis, and we are a primary role model in their lives. It is important for us to remember the lyrics from Sondheim’s song “Children Will Listen:”

Careful the things you say
Children will listen
Careful the things you do
Children will see and learn

There is no more meaningful lesson adults can teach their students than the importance of acceptance. Through the learning experiences teachers include in their plans, students can learn to work with one another, to see each other as equal, to learn about different cultures and beliefs, and to discover that we are much more alike than different. The classroom is the great equalizer when teachers demonstrate acceptance, respect and tolerance for all students by treating each one with respect and dignity.  When the adults set the tone in the school, they embody another Super Bowl message, “You’re the inspiration.”

 “Sometimes you gotta go where everybody knows your name”
The world outside the school can be an unpredictable and sometimes cruel place for our children. When teachers create a safe, non-threatening yet challenging environment in their classrooms, students know that even though the world may be chaotic, their school is a safe haven. When every adult in the building operates with the same set of beliefs inside and outside their classrooms, students will open up their minds to learning. A school culture where kindness to one another is emphasized, where bullying is eradicated, and where children are called by their names throughout the building, can help children overcome the adversity they may experience elsewhere.

A Quintet…
“The will to succeed is always welcome here”
“Say goodbye to limits”
“Go further”
“Together we can power past impossible”
“Get crackin”
The five Super Bowl taglines above come from different commercials and yet they fit together in a logical sequence. Collectively, they capture the essence of Carol Dweck’s growth mindset research which promotes the belief that effective effort coupled with a strong work ethic can lead to success. The five statements are important assurances to emphasize in our day-to-day work with our charges.  Additionally, as teachers work to promote resilience and confidence in their students, they must also ensure their students that they will not give up on them.

“Art makes life a more inspired experience”
The arts should assume a prominent place in every school. For far too long, the arts may have had to take a back seat as schools and districts attempt to boost test scores by adding extra doses of math and language arts to the students’ day.  Blogger Grace Hwang Lynch makes a convincing case for the inclusion of arts in our schools when she points out the benefits to children of arts education:  Motor skills, language development, decision making, visual learning, inventiveness, cultural awareness and improved academic performance. In addition, studies have also shown that the arts can help struggling learners and boost self-esteem.  We should be encouraged by and promote the acceptance of STEAM (STEM with art) programs on an increasing rate in our educational institutions. 

“Experience amazing”
Routines and predictability are both important in the lives of students. But sometimes the everyday humdrum practices can lead to a lack of true engagement on the part of our learners. I thoroughly enjoy hearing stories from teachers who have surprised and even stunned their students by planning lessons that are filled with creativity and imagination. These lessons may involve props, videos, guest speakers, a different classroom arrangement, or a teacher behaving in a surprisingly different way that is not the norm.  These are the experiences that students remember and they may result in improved achievement because they are so unforgettable. “Amazing” lessons also show students that their teacher is willing to take a risk which is an important life lesson in and of itself.

“Balance isn’t found. It’s created.”
Whereas the above tag line accompanied an automobile promotion, I thought of an alternative application. Teachers have an important role in the lives of children that goes beyond teaching required standards. We must help our young people to understand that there is life beyond the classroom and that they should work to achieve a balance in their lives. This includes developing outside interests, getting involved in community activities, making sure to develop healthy minds and bodies, and to spend quality time with family members. As adults, we must also strike a balance in our work with youngsters; the Whole Child initiative challenges us to think about the “long-term development and success of all children” by emphasizing not just their cognitive development, but the physical, social and emotional development as well. Finally, we should also make it a priority to find ways to achieve balance in our personal lives that will make each of us a happier and more fulfilled individual.

“When you start out you might not know where you’re going or what you’re doing. You just keep going. Keep your focus and avoid the distractions. At times, you might fall flat on your face, but technically that’s still moving forward. You got to pick yourself up, make some moves, and do it all with a smile. Believe in yourself. The point is all dreams are within your reach. All you have to do is keep moving towards them” 

The above quote was contained entirely in Honda’s Super Bowl ad featuring high school yearbook pictures of current celebrities. I think it represents a solid summary to this newsletter since it combines many of the previously noted messages in one place. I am grateful that I have the opportunity to work with so many SUPER adults who provide loving and encouraging environments for our nation’s children, and who bring life to this newsletter’s messages every day. 

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Permission is granted for reprinting and distribution of this newsletter for non-commercial use only. Please include the following citation on all copies:
Oliver, Bruce. “The Super Bowl in the Classroom” Just for the ASKing! February 2017. Reproduced with permission of Just ASK Publications & Professional Development (Just ASK). © 2017 Just ASK. All rights reserved. Available at www.justaskpublications.com.