Come this Sunday, I’ll be walking out as Champion!
I have a bit of a confession to make: I’m a professional wrestling fan. (GASP!)
I know, there aren’t too many grown men that would admit that to a bunch of professional educators. But it all started when I was in 5th grade, faded out by high school, and made a strong resurgence in my late twenties/early thirties.
I know what most people would say. “But it’s fake! How can you watch that soap opera for men?”
No arguments here on either of these points. (Ahem, you do know most of what’s on Netflix is fake too right? Just saying…)
Regardless of the fact that you’re probably judging me severely right now, it’s hard to argue that nobody likes wrestling when the industry leader takes in over $210 million a year. Children to young adults are the target demographic, of course, with their willingness to stop by the merchandise tables and stock up on shirts and action figures.
So what’s the big pull? Isn’t it just a choreographed modern-day gladiatorial games that promotes needless violence and aggression? Again, you have a point there too.
Then why am I writing this blog post and how could any practical teacher advice possibly be gleamed from the squared circle?
I’m so glad you asked (or at least I’m glad you’re still reading this).
When you’re a long time fan, there are certain concepts and patterns that you pick up on in order to fully appreciate the marketing potential and pure creativity behind such hyperbolic interactions between muscled up performers, whose sole motivation is to get your ratings, brand allegiance, and souvenir money. These men and women are performers after all, and some are extremely good at what they do. Some even blur the line between fiction and reality. That’s when you know you’re truly invested in what is happening.
The reason I enjoy it so much is because of how engaging it is. My wife had rolled her eyes at me for the longest time whenever I asked her to watch an episode with me. Then one day she caught a few climactic minutes in the end of an episode and started asking questions about who was that and why were they after so and so. Before she knew it, she was hooked on the story lines and had already declared her allegiance to her favorite guy and gal wrestlers.
How do these incredible athletes engage the audience in such effective ways? Let’s explore some key concepts and how they can relate to the art of engaging students in order to deliver content that will stick, through dynamic learning experiences.
The Promo – Wrestlers are often interviewed or come out to the ring to address the crowd in regards to their opponent at an upcoming event. It’s a true art form to see how they get everyone riled up with anticipation to finally see them perform at the event. Sure it’s a lot of trash talking, but it serves the purpose of getting the audience invested in seeing this match up that they are promoting for the next big event. (And no this doesn’t mean you should trash talk your students to get their attention!)
- Teacher Application – If you are able to tie your units together thematically then you can really build one concept on top of another. What better way to help students make these connections seamlessly than by doing quick promos of what’s coming up next after they are assessed on the current standards/unit. Build excitement and anticipation in order to mix in some novelty with pre-assessing the next set of standards. If you really want to increase the cheese factor you could film yourself giving little interviews or promos in which you give students a hint of what they’ll see in the next unit. Stay tuned!
The Catchphrase – Every wrestler that gets a big push with the fans does so because they have a certain way of talking that is consistent, catchy (memorable), and contagious. What starts out as a witty turn of phrase to verbally best their opponent is quickly woven into all of their interactions in clever yet predictable ways. It is the theme of their character that quickly and succinctly tells you what their motivation is. To avoid copyright, let me just say if you are not catching an aroma from where food is prepared then you may not be familiar with a certain actor’s previous role as one of the most static-charged sports entertainers of all time.
- Teacher Application – Look at your curriculum and see what common threads you can identify so that it paints a more vivid big picture for students to make connections between units and even subjects. Then develop some key mantras that best sum up the content.
- Example – When I taught 5th grade Social Studies we covered a lot of different civilizations and then a majority of US history. The common thread I found was how certain people groups managed to come out on top at the expense of others. This became the following catchphrase for my students as we tried to understand why people behaved the way they did: “I’m bigger than you, I’m stronger than you, I want it, therefore it’s mine.” Students quickly noticed a pattern as survival of the fittest was on full display in the pages of history. We then talked about the cause and effects of this behavior on other cultures and people groups. Basically just think about how you can sum up a unit with a common phrase or mantra that ties it all together in a memorable way.
The Signature Moves – In any given match you’ll have both wrestlers try to string together several of their most athletic moves to wear down their opponent. These are anticipated because of their consistency but can be the most surprising when done in round about ways. The crowd eagerly waits for them to weave these moves into the story taking place between the two competitors.
- Teacher Application – Just like a wrestler approaches a match in a consistent manner, teachers can take on certain subject area lessons with tried and true activities that lend themselves to the content. Get your students used to seeing you model your own meta cognition as you explain how to go about completing a given task successfully. Employ certain skills as your go to choices for students to show their learning, like consistent use of retrieval practice, sketchnoting, or creating their own visual maps to demonstrate their learning. The more practice students have with specific activities, the easier it becomes for them to think outside of the box and show new levels of creativity. This is also why teachers should stick to only a handful of tech tools that give them and their students the most benefit, and that meet specific needs in the classroom. Choice is key here, just as nobody would want to watch every wrestler use the same moves.
The Finisher – Once a Wrestler feels they’ve got their opponent on the ropes, they will then give some sort of signal that they’re going to use their most devastating move to finally subdue them for a pin fall or submission maneuver. The greatest wrestlers will have more than one to keep the crowd and the competition guessing.
- Teacher Application – When you can tell that your class is ready to be assessed on a specific standard, you can give them the option of demonstrating their learning in various ways (once you have given them plenty of opportunities to practice the procedure) like creating a video project, or building a diagram of something. Give them plenty of voice and choice so that the learning is more authentic and unique to each student as opposed to getting 35 of the same exact product. The true sweet spot is when students can immediately determine how they want to best demonstrate what they’ve learned in order to finish off the unit.
The Brand – Wrap a catchphrase and a finisher together with a logo and you’ve got a brand that sets that wrestler apart from the rest of the roster, and makes them highly marketable to the fans.
- Teacher Application – At the beginning of the year or each semester, teachers have a rare opportunity to introduce their own special way of doing things in their class. Despite the fact that they might be using the same Formative Assessments as other classes within their grade level, they still get to put their unique flair on things. Just ask students about their favorite teachers or classes and they will more than likely describe a unique way in which they seemed to tie everything together. They provided a perfect blend of familiarity and a touch of mystery throughout the semester or year.
The Story – The real driving force for each wrestler is the idea that their character will continue to develop and change with each episode. They develop memorable feuds with other wrestlers and some may even switch back and forth from being the good guy (face) or a bad guy (heel). The best story lines consistently build on themselves as fans get more and more invested in what happens to their favorites.
- Teacher Application – Again, using thematic units with a common thread can make it easier to help students see a bigger picture with the overall curriculum. If standards can be broken into smaller, more manageable episodes, then it may be easier to keep students invested in the concept as it builds upon the previous one.
The Schedule – Within any given year, you can expect the same big pay per view events to happen around the same time. There will be specific events that accompany each season. It’s no coincidence that the biggest event, the Super Bowl of sports entertainment, happens at the same time as state testing in April. Regardless of which event you are the most interested in seeing each year, you can use each of them to chart out your year. It provides a natural roller coaster of excitement throughout the year. There will be build up towards an event, a rush of action, and then onto building things back up for the next one in just a few weeks.
- Teacher Application – If you have taught for several years you have already worked through the kinks of weekly lesson planning to find those tried and true units that you reserve for the same time each year. Then you have those time buffers to fine tune other in-between lessons. Think about your show stoppers when it comes to your most engaging learning experiences. What kind of build up can you generate to get students excited enough to stick with you through the daily grind?
The Shakeup – The last thing you want to watch is something that is completely predictable. To combat things getting stale you will see wrestlers going through different character arcs. A good guy may suddenly turn bad as a chain reaction of events leaves them no choice. A bad guy may have a change of heart and suddenly help others that they couldn’t have cared less about last week. Plus you’ll see different match ups being made as new alliances and feuds form in between episodes.
- Teacher Application – If you are reaching burnout unexpectedly and your students are not as engaged as they were last week or quarter, it may be time to shake things up a little. This may come in the form of a new seating chart or arrangement. Maybe you incorporate some gamification with a lesson or unit and have students organized into teams to complete a series of tasks. This is when you take the time to employ different learning/engagement strategies to give your content a fresh feel.
I could keep going, but I’m sure I may have lost a few people by this point. The bottom line here is finding creative ways to engage students in their learning. And if that means you have to #teachlikeawrestler, then so be it. Mic drop.
Hopefully you found something in this rather long post to spark your own ideas or at bare minimum, develop an appreciation for this highly entertaining and athletic art form with which so many of us have fallen in love. Even if some of you won’t admit it 😉
*All of the GIFs in this post were generated by me using Brush Ninja . A tedious but fun process to say the least.