The Tim Wakefield Dilemma

Tim Wakefield is a former professional baseball player who is most famous for his role as a pitcher on the successful Boston Red Sox teams of the 2000’s.  What makes Wakefield interesting, other than that he started his baseball career with my beloved Pittsburgh Pirates,  is that he threw one pitch – the knuckleball – to every batter he faced.  The vast majority of pitchers in the major leagues have command of various pitches – the curve, changeup, fastball, slider – and therefore keep batters guessing as to what action the ball will have when released.  Not Wakefield.  He threw the same pitch game after game, year after year, decade after decade.  Wakefield had a very good career and met with much success.  And while he was great at one thing – throwing the knuckleball – he is not considered one of the great players of his era and certainly not one of the best of all time.  In the end, his reliance on one pitch allowed him to be good, not great.

It may seem strange to begin a blog post on education with a paragraph about Tim Wakefield.  The Wakefield metaphor is quite useful in my mind, however, when thinking about what defines great teaching because it illustrates how quite often talented teachers fall short of reaching their full potential due to what I call the Wakefield Dilemma.

Many times I have observed teachers who are the equivalent of Tim Wakefield in that they have one style, one way to inspire all students to learn, and they throw that same “pitch” class after class, day after day, year after year and often decade after decade.  The pitch works well for some students, maybe most in some cases, and the teacher has enough success that he or she does not feel any urgency to expand on instructional techniques.

Though there is debate about how many types of learning styles there are and the accuracy of the tools used to measure those styles,  it is beyond doubt that students do have different interests, abilities and learning styles.  To be effective for every student, then,  teachers need to use a range of instructional techniques in order to accommodate those different interests, abilities and learning styles.  To take the Wakefield metaphor to its conclusion, great teachers cannot rely on one “pitch” to meet the needs of all students.

At EAB we understand the need to provide various methods to empower all the young men and women of our school to achieve the desired learning. To that end, the teachers of EAB work very hard to develop different strategies of instruction. Our school has a vibrant professional development program that sends teachers and leaders to conferences all over the world to become better educators.  As importantly, we have a vigorous internal PD program that empowers teachers to share their expertise with others.  The strong desire to grow as professionals creates a community of learners that is dynamic and encourages our teachers to collaborate, learn, experiment, take risks, and adapt in order to reach all students.

The major initiatives in the Upper School over the past 21 months – the move to a 1:1 laptop program, implementation of the new Assessment Policy, renovation of the science labs and iCommons – reinforce the commitment to meet the needs of different learners in that the changes create an environment that is adaptable and lends itself to various teaching techniques.

At EAB we aspire to greatness in all we do and we understand that to be great as teachers we have to develop many techniques to inspire our students to achieve their potential. So, with all due respect to Mr. Wakefield, his model for success does not translate well to education and is  certainly not in line with what we believe at The American School of Brasília.

Have a good week.


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