Teaching the Boston Celtics Way
I live outside of Portland, so I like the Blazers. And I really like them. It’s easy to be a Blazers fan, despite their struggles. But, if I had to pick a different team, not the local team, I’d have to go with the Boston Celtics. I like the Celtics, their creativity and grit and chemistry (some of this could be a confirmation bias with The Association providing the details that I can only see through my lens of Celtics love). I also like teaching, and I like to think about teaching. So, it’s pretty easy for the food processor of my head to mix together some Celtics love and a few teaching ideas. I think I need to start writing a book called Teaching the Boston Celtics Way. If I did, the first chapter would probably be about triggers and options…
Most teams have a primary “trigger.” A go-to play with a go-to playmaker. The sweet spot where they generate a significant chunk of their offense. For most of this season for the Blazers this should have been LaMarcus Aldridge getting an entry pass to the lower block. When they couldn’t make this happen for big stretches of the season, things fell apart and terrible things happened like Andre Miller shooting three pointers. For the Celtics, well, they have a lot of potential triggers. Rondo penetration. Garnett pick and roll or pick and pop. Ray Allen off a sequence of screens. Paul Pierce in a pick and roll situation. Even without their premier big man (really Danny Ainge? why?), they still have a lot to work with. But, right, in reality, these aren’t all triggers. Some of these things are options. Once your trigger fails, you go to your second, third and fourth options. As Kevin Arnovitz writes, great teams can convert on more than just their trigger (something that set the Mavs apart from their Blazers once Brandon Roy realized he was a human with weak knees again). And what really sets the Celtics apart (when things are going well for them, see 2010, 2008), is that they get into their offense quickly and have, ” a knack for creating and capitalizing on multiple options and triggers.” They get into their offense quickly, and then rattle through their options very quickly. This, this thought right here – getting into your offense, trigger and then multiple options – this is a metaphor for teaching.
Getting into your offense quickly: this is about transitions, not wasting class time, no dilly dallying on periphery stuff. Sit down and get to business like Rondo running the ball up the court. For a teacher, this means clear expectations for specific student action steps at the start of class. Students should know a routine or where to look for their instructions. Then… the trigger. What is the best way to get each individual student to demonstrate proficiency at the learning target. Do this thing. If it’s something different for each student, do it that way. If it doesn’t work (the ball doesn’t find the net) – and formative assessment shows you this, then you quickly cycle through your options. The key here is to be prepared with a lot of good options. Options in this metaphor are ways of reteaching or looking at a problem in a different way or finding a different way to allow a student to demonstrate proficiency.
For me, a favorite option is sticky note formative assessment: give each student a sticky note, have them respond to a statement related to the objective, have them put the sticky note on a continuum on the board showing where they fall between strongly agree and strongly disagree with the statement, then have the class discuss the range of acceptable answers. To quote a sometimes poet, “It is not the only or the easiest way to come to the truth. It is one way.”
This metaphor, Boston’s triggers and options, is really about maximizing class time and differentiating instruction. It takes a lot of work to have a range of options available, but it’s worth it. You don’t want to end up like Scott Brooks, deep in the playoffs, unable to write or call plays on the fly, and your main trigger going cold (Kevin Durant) and your other one fouling out (James Harden). For a good teacher, like a point guard or coach, it’s not just about having great initial lesson or play, it’s about having a sequence of options to fall back on when the initial trigger doesn’t convert.