I love this video of Golden State Warriors’ coach Steve Kerr giving his star player Steph Curry some advice during a game:
Steph Curry is clearly having an off-game. He’s not scoring like he typically does. Coach Kerr points out that, while his shots aren’t going in, Curry is still making a difference when he’s on the court (that’s the “plus-minus” stat he cites).
I love this for several reasons.
First, Steve Kerr could never play basketball like Steph Curry can, even in his prime. Kerr was a good player; Curry is a superstar. But that doesn’t stop Coach Kerr from being a mentor.
Second, Kerr doesn’t give a vague platitude, or, worse, deny that Curry is having a bad game. Instead, he acknowledges the problem and then offers specific and truthful praise: you’re not scoring well right now, but the team does better when you’re on the court. Compare that with, “Don’t worry, champ. You’re still a great guy!”
Third, Kerr doesn’t try to fix the problem! He doesn’t offer shooting advice or correct Curry’s form. The middle of a bad game is not the time to fix the nitty-gritty. To Kerr, the problem isn’t even Curry’s shooting — it’s his confidence! Steph Curry is more than capable of working his way through a shooting drought on his own, if his mind’s in the right place.
All three of these are applicable to us as teachers:
- Just as many of Kerr’s players are better than he ever was, we are frequently faced with students who can already out-think and often out-perform us. That doesn’t mean we can’t be their mentors.
- When students are in a rough patch, we have to acknowledge that their problems are real (even if we have outgrown those problems). We can’t offer generic praise. Kids see right through that — and then they worry that they can’t trust any praise from adults see more.
- Although we can spot and acknowledge a student’s problem, we don’t have to fix it for them, nor do we have to give them the precise steps to fix it. Kids are only going to develop grit or a growth mindset when we give them the confidence to work through a problem on their own, while knowing we’ve got their backs when they need us.
PS: Here’s Kerr being a goofball with reporters.
- “While talents have been recognized in many cases at an early age, doubts about the accuracy of identification and the objectivity of parents or favorite teachers linger.” – Buescher and Higham, Helping Adolescents Adjust to Giftedness
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