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Photo courtesy of US Presswire

Let me first say that I generally abhor sports analogies.  Using them only creates a connection with people who either participated in (or have an appreciation for) sports while making you look like a simpleton with everyone else.  With that said…

I love watching Peyton Manning play football.

He has a command of the game that just sets him on another level from everyone else on the field.  A powerful combination of talent, experience, careful preparation, and being surrounded by a great team make Manning and the Broncos an opponent to be feared on any given Sunday.

One of the things I enjoy most about watching Manning play is his ability to adapt his play (and the play of those around him) based on changing circumstances and conditions.  One play might be called in the huddle, but on the line of scrimmage Manning reads the defense for early warning signs of where the opponents intend to attack.  He calmly and efficiently adjusts formations, blocking schemes, pass routes, or changes the play altogether depending on the circumstances.

More than once I’ve seen Manning step under center, then see that strong safety creep up toward the line of scrimmage with eyes intently focused on the gap he intends to blitz.  This safety intends to do Manning bodily harm, but the savvy quarterback steps back, adjusts, and then reengages with an adapted plan.

As if anyone needed any evidence that I am a confirmed “edu-geek,” read this next statement closely…

I think the way Peyton Manning plays football can teach us a lot about great instruction.

Great teaching is built on a combination of talent, experience, preparation, and surrounding one’s self with a great team.  It also results from going in with an engaging plan that has been carefully tailored to student needs, but also from being able and willing to adjust on the fly in the face of changing circumstances and situations.

The effective educator reads the situation from available formative information and a qualitative understanding of the students.  When the carefully laid plan isn’t working for some students, the effective educator quickly adapts and, at the very first warning signs, changes the approach and tactics to find a way to reach each student.  The effective educator also calls on and directs the talented team of supporting educators to make sure every student is provided an instructional approach that works for them.

I visit schools and classrooms in my district (Eagle County Schools) regularly.  In every school, I look for “data walls,” where the educators are mapping out the early warning signs of struggling students.  I speak individually with teachers and principals, asking the question 101 ways, “How are we adapting instruction and interventions to meet every student?”

In our district, we are working to build schools full of instructional Peyton Mannings – who bring talent, experience, preparation, teamwork – and then put it together with an adaptive instructional approach that shifts tactics and interventions to meet where every student needs us to be.  We need to build a system that makes these adaptations with incredibly high reliability – where no student falls through the cracks and isn’t provided customized instruction.

For the blue and orange faithful of “Bronco Nation,” not reaching the Super Bowl (especially with this talented team) would be a catastrophe.

For us, the educators, the stakes associated with failure are supremely higher.