Sunday, January 15, 2012

NASCAR and Professional Learning Networks

I had a great day on Saturday, January 14, 2012. I took advantage of the Florida sunshine and spent the day at the Daytona International Speedway observing the NASCAR Pre-season Thunder; the warm-up trials for the teams and drivers preparing for the upcoming Daytona 500 on February 26. After being allowed to pull into the infield and wandering over to the fan observation deck over the various team garages I had a first row vantage point to watch the heart and soul of NASCAR racing from the pit areas.

All the big names in racing were there: Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin, Danica Patrick, Dale Jr, and all the other drivers that race these cars to unbelievable limits. But, there were hundreds of other people as well, furiously working on cars, adjusting, measuring, adapting, analyzing, conferring, re-adjusting and trying again. These people are the heart and soul of the teams that make the cars and drivers do all of those unbelievable things, like drive in tandem at 200+ mph., win races, and earn more points for the competition.

Spending a day watching this activity has reinforced my belief that we as educators and school leaders can learn much from NASCAR. Here is what I think we can take with us when we confront our schools and seek to improve student achievement.

  1. Team work makes it happen. Many people need to be involved in the educational planning for a student's achievement. Planning and conferring, adjusting, adapting and scheduling for needs, must take place for all students, and not just the special ed child for problem student.
  2. Teams use data analysis to assess performance and make a formative decision for a student's needs. In NASCAR, each car is a veritable integrated computer system that has every system, component, and part monitored by team members to determine where more efficient adjustments will be necessary. The same mode of learning should occur in schools, for every child.
  3. While the teacher of record is important, supervisors and administrators must oversee the team to ensure oversight and planning is optimal for the student's needs. NASCAR uses a system of a crew chief that oversees the team, and the driver of record implements the work direction, but is responsible for the outcome.
  4. Finally, when the race is over, teams are not punishing themselves for losing the race, they go back to the drawing board and redesign the effort for the next race. In schools, we cannot allow a student to keep a failing grade as the final outcome on their record. We need to go back to square one and figure it out again and ensure the student has all the resources necessary to win the race.
For those people that have been following my previous blog posts, you understand my passion for NASCAR. There is so much we could admire and use from this experience but the truth is still the same. Our students are running a race and we need to be the pit crew for each and every child to run that race well.

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