The Teaching 4-4-2: Organizing the Art of Education

This guest post is written by Justin Holbrook @JustinHolbrook

I am one of those soccer fanatics who wakes up early on Saturday and Sunday mornings to watch the matches from “across the pond”. As the rest of my apartment complex is fast asleep in their nice warm beds, I am up drinking coffee and screaming at the television in support of my favorite club. I can’t miss it! This weekend’s matches from the Barclays Premier League in England served up some inspiration to an education question I have been pondering over the past few months. Through twitter chats such as #PWCSedchat, #Leadupchat, & #BmoreEdchat I consistently hear the same thing from teachers around the world: teaching is an organic art. In other words, how are we supposed to standardize or categorize teaching into a cohesive style?

This is where my favorite club Tottenham Hotspur came into play (no pun intended)! As I watched us win on Saturday morning (and move into second place!), I recognized how every player on the field played with their own style to fit the needs of the team. The forward, Harry Kane, took up a position high up the field with direct runs and skillful hold up play. Wingers such as Erik Lamela provided a creative spark with skillful dribbling and quick darting play. Central midfielders like Moussa Dembele, linked possession from back to front with balanced passing and clear communication. Defenders like Toby Alderweireld protected their teammates with steadfast organization and crunching tackles. Spurs, our nickname, played with an up-tempo pressing style where we challenged the other team with tight defending and quick passing.


That being said, every player selected in the starting eleven Saturday fit into this system but at the same time freely played with their own individual style. This observation is what inspired my connection to the education world. As a 4th grade teacher, I teach differently than other teachers at my school and they teach differently than me. In soccer terms, we all fit our positions and play/teach with our style. However, schools are made up of more than one classroom, teacher and leader. That being said, we teach together as a team to work with and for students. How then can we group ourselves and truly define teaching? To try and categorize these differences and/or similarities in teaching styles, I grouped teaching styles into soccer positions.

Teacher Defender – These are the teachers who are steadfast and practical in their approach. They are driven and pragmatic in every decision that they make in their classroom.

Teacher Central Midfielder – These are the teachers who link and collaborate well with others. They are always communicating with their peers and sharing their ideas. They make others better.

Teacher Winger – These are the creative teachers who are innovative and unafraid to try something new. They approach teaching with a whimsical approach.

Teacher Forward – These are the teachers who are driven to lead for others. They are the proactive planners who know where their class is going and when they are going to score.

Teacher Goalkeeper – All of these roles have their advantages and disadvantages but when a staff is balanced with a clear purpose, every position works together! I haven’t included the goalkeeper in the definition list as the ability to use one’s hands in soccer is unique. As a former goalkeeper in college, I consider (with an immense amount of bias) the position the most important. Goalkeepers are the leaders who connect the team together with communication and vision as they can see the entire field. In other words, I had a coach as kid who told me the goalkeeper is the last line of defense but also the first line of offense.” Leadership positions in our schools fit this goalkeeper definition. Principals, IEP Chairs, Instructional Support Teachers, even teacher leaders themselves can possess a little “goalkeeping” leadership.


In order to use this idea in a practical way, it’s important to consider your own position first. What are your strengths? Do I bring the creative flair like the dribbling of Messi? What are your growth areas? Do I need to be more collaborative like a central midfielder keeping possession by passing with others? Once we know our own style, we can then decipher and learn from the teaching styles of others. Who on my team brings what I struggle with? Who on my team teaches like I do? Using this soccer analogy can be a useful tool when selecting the best team around you.

“Acquaintances, in sort, represent a source of social power, and the more acquaintances you have the more powerful you are.” Malcolm Gladwell

Messi Dribbling

Don’t forget that soccer and education is a creative, fluid and team-based game. We can always change roles/positions and play with a different style! That is what makes teaching such an art. What we have to remember is our job/position is to fit a specific role for kids. WE ARE ALL IN IT WITH THE SAME OBJECTIVE: SCORE GOALS AND WIN FOR KIDS!!! Take some “extra time” to think about your soccer teaching style. It might surprise you!

Connect with Justin and give feedback on his post! 

Justin Holbrook @justincholbrook 4th Grade Teacher
Roland Park Elementary/Middle School, Baltimore City Schools, MD


Consider continuing the conversation on #BmoreEdchat. Justin founded and moderates this inspiring weekly Twitter edchat Wednesdays from 9-10 pm EST.