Allen Iverson: A Teaching Moment

I’m sorry to see Allen Iverson leave the Denver Nuggets, partly because my four-year-old son has an AI jersey, but also because he was one of my favorite teaching examples.

One of the central debates on teachers is if one should focus on skills or effectiveness. This can be seen in the very first goal of the (now dormant) Denver Plan (last updated 21 months ago). The diagram under the three goals (page 3) lists two of the three inputs to Student Achievement as “highly-skilled” instructional leaders, and “highly-skilled” and empowered faculty.

The problem here is that skills are vastly overrated. Effectiveness is underrated. What I want in the classroom are highly-effective leaders and faculty. If they happen to have great skills or credentials, even better. But our current teaching system, the emphasis is far too much on skills: various credentials, masters degrees, Professional Development Units and the like. This bias of skills over effectiveness even shows up clearly in ProComp, which does far more to reward the inputs (degrees, PDUs) of the teaching profession than the outputs (student learning).

I think we need to focus on teachers who are highly effective. This brings me back to AI. He is one of the most skilled players in his generation, is tough as nails, and will never lead his team to the championship. Not in his brief college career, and not in the pros. In a book called “The Wages of Wins” (Moneyball for NBA fans), the authors look beyond the most obvious skills and statistics (points scored, etc) to see what makes a basketball player effective at helping his team win games.

As this enthralling article discusses, AI was exhibit one. He is highly skilled. He is not highly effective.

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