It’s All About the Fundamentals


I haven’t been able to dunk a basketball for the past five years.

Or during the 30-some odd years prior, for that matter.


Back in 3rd grade, though, you would have had a hard time convincing a four-foot-me that I wasn’t destined to star in Space Jam 2.

And I wasn’t the only one with hoop dreams.

I’d have bet a month’s allowance that my entire basketball team would be dunking alongside Michael Jordan and Bugs Bunny someday.

We were that good.

Michael Jordan

As I look back now, of course, none of us can claim much credit for ourselves.

We might have gone undefeated that year.

And we might have finished first place as 3rd graders in a 5th grade tournament.

But credit for our perfect season goes to our coach and everything he taught us along the way.


I don’t mean to imply he showed us how to run a flex offense or 1-2-1-1 zone press.

Nothing that complicated, oh no.

He didn’t even explain the Hack-a-Shaq strategy – which in hindsight seems like a pretty effective game plan for a bunch of 8-year-olds to use.


Instead, credit goes to our coach because he taught each of us the fundamentals of basketball: how to get into a proper defensive stance and how not to double dribble, all while shouting things – loud and boisterous as if holding a bullhorn that wasn’t there – like, “Fundamentals make a good player great. It’s all about the fundamentals!”


And so, in honor of my 3rd grade basketball coach, below are four fundamentals I’ve learned over the years (mostly the hard way) about teaching online/blended classes.

They’re nothing complicated, oh no.

But like learning to get into a proper defensive stance or how not to double dribble, they’re fundamentals I wish I’d known back in the day when I taught my own online/blended class for the first time.


Fundamental #1: Keep your head up.


Ask any great player and they’ll tell you the first rule of basketball is to keep your head up.

By keeping your head up you’re able to see the big picture, spot open teammates, and stay focused on your ultimate goal.


The same holds true for teaching online/blended courses.


Yet not unlike the way a 3rd grader’s eyes are drawn down to the ball, when I designed my first online/blended class, it was easy for me to fixate on all the brand-new technology in front of me.

In the process, all those newfangled options and shiny new gadgets nearly kept me from focusing on my ultimate goal: the class’s SLOs.


I soon realized I couldn’t let technology take the reigns.

I had to keep my head up and remained focused.

All those newfangled options were there to serve the students and me, not the other way around.

Said differently, technology should always fit the class; the class should never feel as if it’s being made to fit technology.


Fundamental #2: Play to win.


In basketball, the team with the most points wins.

It’s as simple as that.

When the final buzzer sounds, it doesn’t matter how many hook shots you took or how many Pistol-Pete-style-passes you made.

All that matters is whether or not you scored more than your opponent.

Pistol Pete

Likewise, I’ve learned the importance of keeping it simple and straightforward in each of my online/blended classes.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how many software programs I integrate into my curriculum or how many apps I have my students download.

All that matters is how much those students learn.


For that reason, if I’m ever in doubt about whether or not to include a certain tool or technology, I’ve learned to err on the side of no.

I’ve learned that less is more.

I’ve learned to avoid showy and splashy features, if those features are ultimately unnecessary and uncalled-for.

And I’ve learned, just as winning is all that matters in basketball, learning is all that matters in the classroom.


Fundamental #3: There is no “I” in team.


One player can be a crucial ingredient on a team, but one player can never make a team.

Or at least that’s what my 3rd grade basketball coach used to say.


And you guessed it:

The same goes for teaching in an online/blended classroom.


No matter how well I keep my head up or how hard I play to win, I can never do it all myself.

There are always people out there with more ability and know-how and experience than me.

And that’s a good thing!

As a result, I’m always better off when I collaborate with others as much as possible: from sharing ideas with fellow colleagues, to visiting CI’s FIT lab for support, to reading blog posts like this one, to completing the Teaching & Learning Innovations’ summer BLPP course which – coincidently – you can learn more about by clicking here.

T&LI Pathways

After all, good players only become great once they’ve mastered the ability to play with their teammates.

And good educators only become great once they’ve mastered the ability to learn from their colleagues, students, and those around them.


Fundamental #4: Have fun.


Finally, the most important fundamental of all is to have fun.

To play basketball without enjoying it is like watching a silent film with your eyes closed.

You’re missing out on all it has to offer.

You’re missing the point entirely.


In the same way, I’ve learned that my online/blended classroom should be fun, or else I’m missing the point.


And I don’t only mean fun for the students, but fun for me as well!

What I’ve realized over the years is that if I’m not engaged, neither are my students.

For that reason, I always have to keep things fresh.

I have to continue experimenting with new approaches and techniques; I have to continue trying new things in and out of the classroom.


Besides, as the classroom leader each course is mine to create.

So if I’m no longer having fun – if I find I’m swamped with grading or dreading another lecture or uninspired by the reading material – then it’s no one’s fault other than my own.

I’m to blame.

Which means it’s time to switch things up, to take control, and to (re)create the type of class I want to be a part of: a fun one.


So there you have it:

  1. Keep your head up.
  2. Play to win.
  3. There is no “I” in team.
  4. Have fun.


For me, those four fundamentals of basketball are also the four fundamentals of teaching a successful online/blended course.

They aren’t complicated, oh no.

But as my 3rd grade basketball coach might say: “Fundamentals make a good educator great. It’s all about the fundamentals!”