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John Eggers: The Axemen: A model for school improvement

As ridiculous as this may sound, we can learn something about improving our schools by watching the Bemidji Axemen indoor football team. Yes, I was at the first Axemen game and I was pleasantly surprised. It was great and, yes, it was even better than the Super Bowl. I enjoyed watching the crowd, seeing the variety of activities and the game itself.

As a teacher for many years, I continue to look at things outside of the school that may help give me another perspective on how to improve schools and teaching. I didn’t attend the recent Axemen game for that reason, but now that I have been there and having reflected on what I saw, I am beginning to make some connections.

There isn’t an educator in the country who isn’t asking themselves, “How can we make our school better for students?”

This is the question I faced this past week when I headed off to northern Michigan to address a group of teachers on the same topic.

What did the Axemen game teach me about school improvement?

First, the game was highly entertaining. It was colorful, never a dull moment and people were engaged. A huge part of keeping students on task involves keeping them engaged. This is no secret to teachers but it is a challenge. If we want students to learn and remember what they learned, students need to be engaged at a high level.

Educators too often are fearful to admit that school should be fun when every teacher who went into teaching did so because they enjoyed it and for them as well as myself, learning was fun. Why shouldn’t we make learning fun for students?

How do you make learning fun and enjoyable? That’s why we are called teachers and that’s what teachers do.

I noticed that at the end of the Axemen game all of the players from both sides went on the field, formed a circle, and said what I assume was a prayer. They probably were thankful that no one was hurt and hopeful that everyone would have a good season. There was definitely a spirit of cooperation and cohesiveness among the players.

Good schools are the same way. There is a spirit of cooperation among the staff and they all work together to make their school a better school. They realize that they are all in this together.

The same needs to happen in the classroom.

The classroom is a team and when one person does well, the team does well. When one person fails, the team fails. The teacher is the coach calling the signals.

I am sure the owners of the Axemen team tried to provide as much as they could for coaches and players to succeed. “What more do you need to help you do your job better?” is also one question all school boards need to ask the superintendent, principals and teachers.

Various things have to be done to allow educators to do their job.

It might have to do with policy or procedures. It might be the curriculum or school climate. If just one thing that is needed can be provided, it’s a big first step.

There were lots of parents at the game with their kids. Fantastic! Now, if Mom and Dad could be equally as active in school with their kids that would really help.

Because many if not all of the players look at indoor football as a stepping-stone to the NFL, their coaches try to teach them the skills that will enable them to move up to the next level.

For educators, moving up to the next level for students is more challenging. We want all students to make it and we are held accountable when they don’t, which we should be.

I am not sure if the Axemen coaches communicate with NFL coaches but more communication needs to exist between k-12 schools and colleges as well as businesses if we are to ensure that all who graduate from high school are prepared for the next level.

School improvement is never easy. Maybe by looking at other models we can get better ideas and have more fun at the same time.

See you at the next Axemen game?

JOHN R. EGGERS of Bemidji is a former university professor and area principal. He also is a writer and public speaker.