Too Busy Winning

There are a thousand areas where teachers can direct their attention. It is hard to know where you will get the most return on your energy investment. Be careful not to dedicate your valuable time to something that might come across as impactful, but ultimately has little to no benefit on student learning.

Happy Gilmore’s Shooter McGavin (Christopher McDonald) is a highly unlikeable character. The man is trying to steal a sweet grandmother’s home. As much as you grow to hate Shooter over the course of the movie, in this scene he is absolutely correct.

Shooter just finished winning another golf tournament. Instead of focusing on his victory, the media is solely concerned with Shooter’s opinion of new golf pro, Happy Gilmore (Adam Sandler). Not a single question about his performance. Rather, several questions about Happy’s extraordinary ability to drive the ball over 400 years.

Obviously upset, Shooter provides two of may favorite quotations when pressed to discuss Happy: “I was too busy winning” and “Yeah, how’d he finish again? Dead last?” At this point in the movie, Happy is a circus act, with no real golf game. Shooter has every right to be upset with the line of questions, as the emphasis should be on his performance.

Implications for Education

Beginning Teacher

A teacher has just landed her first job. Does she wait for the fall to get started? No chance. She is coming in over the summer to get ready for the start of the year.

So much to do. Where does she get started?

There is a giant corkboard right outside of her classroom. It looks like it has not been updated in several years. She thinks that this is the perfect place to begin. She will spruce it up to hook students before they enter her classroom.

With ribbon, color photos, borders, construction paper, and a bedazzler in hand, she is ready to go. Over the course of a week she spends hours rearranging the layout, adding, taking things away until finally it is just right.

She takes a step back to admire her work. While this first year teacher is basking in the glow of a beautiful bulletin board, a couple of teachers walk by and comment on how great it looks. Reassurance that all that time and effort was well worth it.

Veteran Teacher

At the same time that our beginning teacher is designing her corkboard, the veteran teacher next door has been hard at work inside her classroom.

This year she is dedicating her summer reviewing last year’s assessment results. She is going through each test to pull out the most missed questions. Next, she is linking those questions to the state standards. Once she has all of that information she will rank which standards gave her students the most difficulty. She plans on creating daily warm-up questions that focus on these standards. Her students will get a daily dose of the most challenging material, so that when summative assessments come around, they will be thoroughly prepared.

Additionally, she is transitioning all those assessments to be taken online. This way she can link the standard to each question. Now she will not have to go back by hand to identify the most missed standards. The grading software will disaggregate it for her.

Open House

The Wednesday before school starts, families are invited back to school. Parents and students come streaming in the building to meet their teachers, catch-up with classmates, and get a glimpse at what is new this year.

As parents walk by the beginning teachers classroom they can’t help but notice the gorgeous bulletin board. Many stop to talk with each other about how promising the new hire is. In fact, people are taking pictures of the board and posting them on social media. The images are getting lots of likes. In fact, other teachers from around the county are commenting on how they will be stealing some of the ideas.

When these same parents walk by the veteran teacher’s room they notice a bulletin board with important information about the curriculum and the different ways she will be communicating with families. Nothing flashy. If parents choose to go into her room, the veteran teacher is more than happy to discuss curriculum, pedagogy, rigor, and all the ways she plans on growing her students that school year.

The night ends. And, as families leave the school, the principal overhears parents discussing how impressed they are with the beginning teacher.


If you fast forward to the end of the first quarter, the new and veteran teacher are at two different positions.

Because of all the effort the veteran teacher put into her warm-ups, her students were well prepared for that first assessment. The scores were markedly improved from last year’s first test. Students have more confidence heading into quarter two. Also, the new warm-up process has helped mitigate behavioral concerns that typically occur at the beginning of class.

And where is the beginning teacher? Her bulletin board is not looking as beautiful as it once did. Over nine weeks the pictures have faded, some of the construction paper is ripped, and the material that is displayed is no longer pertinent to the instruction happening in the classroom.

Inside the classroom she has been struggling to keep up with the curriculum. With her head just above water, she is less patient when it comes to student behavior. Spending more and more time on classroom management is only putting her further behind with the curriculum. She wishes she spent more time over the summer learning the curriculum, designing lessons, and creating systems to maximize instructional time. Every time she passes her bulletin board, she shakes her head.


People naturally gravitate towards the new and shiny. It is hard to not put time and energy into the things that garner recognition and praise.

But, you can’t be all sizzle and no substance. It has to be about the students. You must be, “Too busy winning.” And for educators, winning is all about teaching and learning.

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