Make the last shot

Has anyone seen the NBA standings lately? My Detroit Pistons are killing it. They are beating up on everyone and are currently in second place in the Eastern Conference. As a basketball fan, this is so exciting for me. Once a decade I get the chance to ride their bandwagon and I am hoping that this might just be the year to do it again. A quarter of the way through the season and the momentum is building. The players are gaining their swagger and that confidence is leading to amazing results on a nightly basis.

As a young, wanna be athlete, thirty years ago, I played driveway basketball every single day after school. I played on school teams with great coaches and prescribed practices but developed my love and confidence for the sport in my driveway where I could work on my own skills and shots. With every outdoor practice session I put myself through, I lived under one premise, one grounding rule. It was: always make your last shot.


My mom would often call me in for dinner or to do my homework while I was outside shooting around and I would always ask for another minute because I always needed to leave the court after making a basket. I could never leave on a miss. This had nothing to do with superstition, but instead on my own need to leave on a high note. I told myself that if I left on a made shot that my mind and my muscles would remember that and the next day I was sure to make more shots.

Now, I have no idea if there is any quantifiable research to support this theory, but I do know that my approach allowed me to always want to go back outside the next day. Feeling like a winner, remembering the shot I did make, gave me the desire to crave that same feeling of success the next day. Success does not always breed success, but success can definitely help develop a passion.

Let me explain this in a slightly different way. This week I received a phone call on my personal cell phone. On the caller ID was listed the name of a friend of mine. I answered the phone with a typical, “What’s up?” only to be greeted by a child’s voice. The child said, “Hi, this is (child’s name). I am working on a merit badge for scouts and have to interview someone I admire and I chose you. Do you think you can help?” Now let me clarify. This child that called me was the twelve years old son of my friend, but even knowing that, hearing a 12-year-old calling me an expert, made me swell with pride. As we continued to talk he explained that he simply needed to interview me about my career and why I chose it. After answering multiple questions for him, I decided to try and turn the table on him by asking him to explain his own career goals. What he told me is actually what is driving the writing of this post. This twelve-year-old child told me that he had a dream to grow up and become a cryptologist. Yup, he used that word. A word that I will bet, most reading this post has never heard of before. In essence, he wants to grow up and use advanced technology to write and interpret codes and confidential information. Why does he want to pursue this career? Because when he was in fourth grade he was asked to provide technology training to a group of teachers. After completing the training he was given validating feedback by one person who told him he was so amazing that he should look into a future career in advanced technology. Because of one successful experience, in which he received validating feedback, this young man now believes he can and should pursue a career that can last his lifetime.


As a career educator, this story resonates with me. My job is to change destinies, to inspire hope and passions. My job is to create learning that lasts and confidence in future success.

In today’s age of educational accountability, far too often our teachers can be seen treating students the same way they are treated as professionals. Schools have far too many people walking their halls telling their systems what they are doing wrong. Principals spend far too much time telling teachers what they need to fix. In turn, teachers then spend far too much time with their red pen in hand identifying deficiencies and working to make struggles average, when we know that often we get better results and generate new passions when we celebrate what is good in an honest attempt to make it great.

As a current elementary school principal, I know feedback is important. We want our kids to grow and improve daily. We utilize grades, stickers, stamps, and point sheets to try and articulate success and struggles, but I have also seen examples (often in other schools) of feedback leading to resistance and bitterness. Instead of ending a class or a day with a mention of success, teachers, with the best of intentions, remind a student of what went wrong and what needs to be improved. A behavior sheet is passed out on the way to the bus, highlighting a struggle that occurred before lunch. A progress report is passed out in October showing a grade impacted by a failed assignment in September.

As teachers and life changers, we need to help our students end on a made shot. We need to allow students to grow from success and to keep taking as many shots as necessary to find that win. It is our responsibility to cultivate passions and ignite motivations. Sure we have standards to cover, proficiencies to measure, and achievement to quantify, but if we really want to change lives, if we really want to see our students develop a work ethic that will encourage them to practice daily, to plan for their futures, and create dreams, we need to provide validation, support, and plant seeds of hope. It is not our job to remind students what they can’t do, but to enlighten them to all they can.

As you plan your day tomorrow, be conscious of whether or not your goals involve giving kids access to the ball over and over again until a shot is made or if you call them in regardless of success. We tend to focus on our last moment more than our most frequent. Give your kids a last moment that becomes a moment that lasts.

To view more blogs by Dave, visit:

Like this? You may want to check out Dave’s latest book: It’s Like Riding a Bike: How To Make Learning Last a Lifetime




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