What's Happening in Character?

Unintended Consequences of a Promising Practices

Posted by David Yeager on Thu, Feb 1, 2018 @ 11:02 AM

One hallmark of a great educator is the ability to live with the unintended consequences that commonly pop up with change. Changes in curriculum, instructional strategy, even bell schedules inevitably give rise to these unintended results – some benefits and others, drawbacks. Working with educators throughout the world who are contributing to our growing library of Promising Practices.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, the Iron Curtain, and the Berlin Wall something remarkable emerged. Hundreds of plants and animals that had long been considered endangered began to thrive as the expanse of the Iron Curtain returned to its natural state. While not the intention of the Wall's destruction, flora and fauna began to flourish as an unintended benefit few had considered

I firmly believe nature’s reclaiming a once foreboding region exemplifies the excitement and growth that inevitably accompanies successful promising practices. Unanticipated benefits regularly emerge when a well-designed promising practice is introduced.  Educating Character through Sports: FC-Borregos, a practice submitted by the private Secundaria Bilingüe Albert Einstein school in Navojoa, Mexico is a great example.

The members of Einstein’s soccer team were frustrated that, despite weeks of practice, their skill level had not yet reached their goal.  Discussing the situation among themselves following practice one day, they decided to ask their coach to schedule several scrimmages with teams from neighboring schools.  The athletes’ goal was to interact and learn from each other to improve their game while building bonds of respect and friendship with the visiting teams members.  

The first visiting team of 12 – 14-year-old players came from one of the town’s public schools which received far less funding for uniforms and other equipment.  The visiting team members arrived, “acting confident, happy, and enthusiastic.  While the Borregos team wore their new uniforms and proper soccer shoes, the other team had worn out uniforms and regular tennis shoes.”  Despite these differences, all the players shared a common love of the sport.  When the home team was roundly defeated, “they began to recognize that skills, abilities, and leadership do not come from new uniforms but from the heart.”  

During this first scrimmage, the Borrego team was growing increasingly frustrated, embarrassed, and discouraged as the skill level of the visiting team was clearly more disciplined and successful.  Then the Borregos team noticed that the individual members of the visiting team were kicking the ball to their opponents, shouting words of encouragement followed by friendly instruction.  Gradually both teams level of play began to rise and the students at Albert Einstein began down their character journey toward maturity, focus, and support for others.

When asked to describe the unintended benefit of this cross-school play, one student remarked:

“I noticed that most of us were not making our best effort to play well. The other team, although they didn’t have the best shoes or (transportation) to our school, they were never late to any game or any training previous to the game.  I was noticing that they were making their best effort to help us improve. Noticing this helped me to change and become a better person.  I did it because I saw how they worked, how they always did their best effort, so I started doing the same which is helping me a lot.”

There are always unintended consequences associated with introducing a promising practice to students, staff, parents, and community.  Not all of them will be clear, but when you start reviewing the gradual changes that occur just below the surface, you will see, just as we did with the fall of the Iron Curtain, how some of our best attributes shine and others grow.

I would thoroughly enjoy hearing about the unintended benefits – and challenges – you and your students experience as character moves center stage in your instructional program.  Please feel comfortable sending some examples to me at David@Character.org.   

A Final Note:

Remember, the application window for 2018 Promising Practices will close at midnight February 16th.  Now is a great time to move your ideas from draft to submitted!  If you have any questions please don’t hesitate to contact me.


Promising Practice Sports Application

 David Yeager is the Promising Practices Consultant at Character.org