I learned to play checkers at my grandparents house before I started school, and I learned chess in high school.
Just the other day, while waiting for seat at Cracker Barrel, I played my twelve year old in her first game of checkers. It was a rather one sided victory, and it was a simple strategy- surround and conquer.
A day or so later, a friend was talking about challenging his niece to a game of chess and described some of the complex strategies and diverse moves that he used to beat her.
As these two classic games and the memories I have of them rattled in my head, I began to see comparisons to how we approach our campus and classroom culture. I tend to see educators either play chess or play checkers with issues like discipline and development, and I also tend to see one approach being more impactful to student learning and to staff development.
React or Prepare
I think the easiest difference in approach to see is the react (checkers) vs prepare (chess) model. In playing with my daughter, I noticed we both simply reacted to what happened. There was a minimal amount of planning- simply a "they did this, so I do this" style of play. In chess, one needs to think multiple moves ahead. Traps can be set. Not that checkers cannot be played this way, but it is more common to see the reaction style.
In school culture, we either react to a situation or we prepare for many. We often think that discipline must be a reaction based response, but in truth- if we have not already formulated a potential response to a situation, we can make significant mistakes. Most of the time when I lose my cool or say something I regret to a student, it is based on a reactionary mindset- I have not prepared and strategized a response. Reactionary discipline is all too often emotional in a bad way. You can also practice preparedness by teaching expectations. My current campus has attempted to do this with our Cougar Qualities- teaching students what good character looks like.
But it is not all discipline- we can react to or prepare for new developments. If you have a lot of leaders on campus, are you reacting to their requests to serve, or preparing opportunities for them to step up? When there are curriculum changes, do you wait until the last minute to implement or brainstorm as far in advance as you can?
There will always be reaction responses- even in chess. But the more we can minimize those in the moment decisions, the better prepared we are when they cannot be avoided.
Different Roles or the Same Role
One of the more complex elements of chess is learning that each piece behaves differently. Much like your classroom. (OK, that analogy literally writes itself.) For some, this is a reason to stick to the simple, every piece does the same thing game of checkers. But does it lead to real stimulation and growth?
We have long heard that not every student is the same. Each has unique strengths, weaknesses, interests, abilities and quirks. Yet too often, we treat these varies chess pieces like common checker discs. We force our knights to move forward, not in the L pattern they succeed in. A rook can cover the width or length of the board, yet we make it move a space at a time. If we adopt a chess mindset of the classroom, we can allow our students to find and pursue their passions and strengths, instead of standardizing their learning to fit a simple mold.
But the diversity is broader than that. If you are a campus leader, do you treat all your teachers the same? Sure, there must be equity, but if you treat a staff member capable of moving multiple spaces at once the same way you do a single space mover- is that benefiting them? Is it benefiting your campus? You have teachers with unique gifts- find ways to incorporate them in your leadership of the campus.
Another comparison worth noting here is that checkers campus leaders often use the phrase "there are not titles here." They mean to say we all work together and no one is more important than anyone else. But in practice- try to do something a department head or admin would do and see what happens. See, there are no titles on checkers pieces, but there are kings. And kings have more authority and exercise that authority when a regular checkers disc makes a move. But a chess minded campus leader is not afraid to admit that some people have responsibilities and obligations that carry more or different weight. And if someone wants to take that on, they will strategically find a place for them.
Proficient or Prestige
You ever noticed that there are Chess Grandmasters, but no Checkers Grandmasters? Both games involve levels of difficulty and strategy, yet chess is seen by most as the superior intellectual game.
If you are playing campus checkers, you can still have an great campus culture. You can be- to use a term co-opted for teacher evaluations- proficient. But if you want your campus to be something truly special- something that other campuses and other districts look to for inspiration (think Ron Clark Academy)- you have to play campus chess.
Be innovative, not isolated. Be relational, not just rigorous. Be strategic, not just satisfactory.
I teach Psychology, Sociology, World History Honors and Debate at College Station High School, as well as coach the debate team, sponsor the TED Ed Club, and I am the Lead Innovator for LEADS CSISD (A student leadership empowerment program for 5th-8th graders). I am an aspiring administrator.