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Instructional Practice

Coaching Like A Champion: Harbaugh It Up in the Classroom

Pizza, screaming, faces filled with the epitome of joy and fear filled living rooms across America as the Super Bowl was watched yesterday, February 3rd. Qualifying to participate in this highly anticipated sporting event means that two teams took countless hits, memorized hundreds of plays, analyzed hours of film, and executed excellence on the field multiple times. Excellence on the field is not an accident- it is a direct result of excellent coaching. As students across America head towards their ‘Super Bowl’ (state-mandated tests like STAAR or TAKs, End of Course exams, unit exams, SATs, AP tests, etc.), we owe it to them to provide them with excellent coaching: individualized coaching tailored to send students into their ultimate assessment of mastery with all of the skills needed to dominate that ‘Super Bowl’. Author of Teach Like A Champion, Doug Lemov, published an excellent book on the importance of practice in 2012 called Practice Perfect. San Francisco Forty Niners Coach Jim Harbaugh (one of two Harbaugh coaches in this year’s Super Bowl match-up) utilizes many of the strategies highlighted in Practice Perfect to bring out the very best in his players. His coaching prowess and skill is widely praised, and his passionate determination to see his players demonstrate the best is easily visible each week while he coaches. This week, Jim Harbaugh’s best practices and areas for growth will be highlighted in an attempt to help classroom instruction. Let’s get started!

Happy Harbaugh: Excitement Shines from the Sideline!



Highlight Bright Spots: Those whom we coach (students, adults, colleagues) work hard to meet many expectations, and those efforts deserve to be honored. Dan and Chip Heath introduced the phrase ‘Bright Spots’ in Switch and note the necessity of finding those bright spots in order to leverage success. Showing, in this case through a wildly pleased facial expression, those who we coach that they are performing well provides them with an incentive to keep working hard and allows the coach to move to the next area of focus since one area has been mastered. Happy face =highly appropriate! J

Providing Effective Feedback: Smiling and saying ‘great job’ is a start. This builds classroom climate, AND such feedback does not transform a classroom, transform a child’s achievement, or transform a colleague’s performance. Such feedback is vague-not targeted or replicable for the listener. Lemov states that effective feedback has the following components:

  • A statement of identification
  • A statement of application
  • A statement of replication

Read below to see how Harbaugh’s Happy Face and Words could be transformational to his players! Teacher feedback to students is critical and must enhance student performance.

Harbaugh Feedback 2.0: “Good job! You ran straight up the middle and positioned your body so that your throw was directly to Frank Gore. Keep positioning your shoulder like that when you throw.”

Harbaugh Feedback in Classroom Format: “Great work on this question, Sam! You fixed this fragment by adding a subject, which makes it a complete sentence. Keep using our underlining strategy to help you see what part is missing from the fragment as you move on!”


Hostile Harbaugh: Abandon All Hope Ye Who Stand Near Harbaugh





No glow here, Jim L Rage to the point of frothing at the mouth is not okay in the classroom.

Describe the Solution: Harbaugh’s sideline rage indicates his displeasure with either a call made by referees or with the performance by his team. In order to maximize these errors as learning opportunities, Harbaugh should channel the emotion bursting from every vessel in his being into describing the solution for the error which just occurred. According to Lemov, good feedback “describes the solution-in concrete, actionable terms-rather than the problem.” Student performance can lead to frustration, and this is an opportunity to highlight the way to eradicate that problem.

Harbaugh Feedback 2.0: “That play did not work, and we will fix it on this next play with stronger coverage around the quarterback and a quicker transition to snapping the football.”

Harbaugh Feedback in Classroom Format: “Writing a strong thesis was a difficult skill on our last timed writing, and we will strengthen this skill by reading exemplars, determining why they are excellent, writing an excellent thesis as a group, and then creating a fabulous thesis individually.”


Great coaches do what is necessary in order to set their teams up to succeed and triumph. What have you seen great coaches do which mirrors things that should happen in the classroom?


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