A couple of weeks ago, the All Blacks thumped the Springboks 57 points to nil. The New Zealand All Blacks are world rugby’s perennially top ranked team. The Springboks from South Africa are no mugs either. They are currently the third ranked team in world rugby.

While the All Blacks were heavy favourites to beat the Springboks, the scoreline was remarkable. To put it in tennis terms, it might be like Rafael Nadal beating Andy Murray 6-0, 6-0, 6-0.

The All Blacks are not perfect, as confirmed by a recent loss to Ireland and a drawn series with the British and Irish Lions. But they are probably more perfect than they have ever been.

So what is the difference between the All Blacks and the rest of the world’s rugby teams? England’s World Cup winning captain, Martin Johnson was asked this question. Johnson does not think that there is a lot of difference in what the All Blacks do compared to other teams. This makes sense in that everyone sees what the All Blacks do on the field and it is easy for other teams to analyze that. The All Blacks will also be analyzing what their opponents do. Johnson simply attributes the All Blacks’ success to doing the the simple things better than any other team.

Educators can learn a lot from a team like the All Blacks. I believe that enough research and practice has been done around teaching and learning to identify how we can develop our students’ potential. Essentially, we know what we need to do and we know why we need to do it.

The All Blacks clearly know what they need to do and why they need to do it. That is not to say the All Blacks do not innovate. But innovation for a team that is already performing well should not mean a complete change of tactics. Innovation for the All Blacks means improvements to what they are already doing with the odd creative solution to unique challenges posed by a particular team, player or even referee.

As educators, we should view innovation in the same manner as the All Blacks. We need to develop a clear understanding of what needs to be done and to make sure that we are doing the simple things well. We do not need to overly complicate things but we do need to be adaptive enough to take opportunities and deal with challenges as they arise. Innovative practice to me means improvements made to what is proven to be working.

If something is not working, it may be that we do need to find a new way of doing things. But we must be careful not to throw away progress made and lessons learned. Educators need to focus on building on what is already in place and doing the simple things better rather than succumbing to fads or quick fixes that may have us all starting from scratch again further down the track.

But surely the third ranked rugby team in the world also knows what they need to do and why they need to do it. Why then are the All Blacks so far ahead of the Springboks?

Many suggest that the All Blacks current dominance is grounded in a well documented cultural change, the seeds of which were sown after a loss against the Springboks in 2004. Rather than dilute the story, I have included links to four excellent articles that document a shift from a dysfunctionally macho culture that tolerated binge drinking (among other things) to the current ‘Better people make better All Blacks’ mantra.

It seems that the All Blacks not only know what they need to do and why they need to do it. They also have a very clear understanding of who they are. Maybe it is this clarity of identity that separates good teams from great teams and good schools from great schools. 

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