Even if you haven’t binge-watched Ted Lasso like I have (twice!), you’ve probably heard of it. In this blog post, we’ll explore one of Ted Lasso’s classic lines: Be a Goldfish and consider how it might help us when we’ve had a negative interaction with a student.
In Episode 2 of Season 1, we get a brief but powerful lesson from Ted about the importance of shaking off a tough incident. Jamie Tart has just humiliated Sam Obisanya (my favorite character, by the way)—juking him on the field and then taunting him in front of his teammates. Sam is dejected–embarrassed and mad. Ted calls Sam to the sidelines for a quick pep talk.
Ted: Do you know what the happiest animal on Earth is?
Sam: (Shakes his head…)
Ted: A goldfish. You know why?
Ted: Got a 10 second memory. Be a goldfish, Sam.
There Are Many Times When We Might Be a Goldfish
Ted is encouraging Sam to brush off the rough interaction and refocus on practice. Dwelling on failures (real or perceived), humiliations, and other setbacks places your energy in the wrong place and can be counterproductive. A basketball coach told me that he tells his players that as soon as the shot leaves their hand—forget it and start focusing on the next one. Abraham Lincoln once advised an aide who was harboring resentment about a colleague: If a man is to make anything of himself in this world, he cannot spare time for personal contention.
As educators, we have countless opportunities to take Ted’s advice.
- A parent sends you an angry email after they misunderstood something you wrote in a class newsletter.
- A colleague says something snarky at a team meeting about an idea you shared.
- Your carefully planned lesson falls apart as you realize students weren’t quite ready for it.
- You lose track of time and your students rush out of class before you can wrap up the activity they were in.
- And the list goes on and on and on….
Of course, this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t learn from our mistakes, address misunderstandings, or stand up for ourselves when necessary. The key is to not hold onto (even nurture?) the emotions that come with tough events. Nor should we try to not feel emotions such as embarrassment, anger, confusion, or sadness. Feel it. That’s okay. Then work at moving forward. I think that’s what Ted is really saying to Sam when he says, Be a goldfish, Sam.
There’s one particular kind of incident that we experience as educators when being a goldfish is especially important.
After a Student Melts Down
Mason is struggling with math, and you’ve tried to help him several times. Each time you approach, he gets more surly. Finally, he snaps. “Just leave me alone! I don’t care about fractions. You suck!” He stands up, flips his chair, and storms out of the room.
Hurt, embarrassed, and shaken, you call the office and let them know that someone needs to get Mason. A few minutes later, you get a text that he’s in the counselor’s office and will return when he’s calm.
Fifteen minutes later, Mason is at the door, smiling. He’s holding a picture he just colored and gets a high-five from the counselor.
Chances are, you’re still fuming, and watching this happy return might rub you the wrong way. (How dare he look happy after what he just said to me, you might think. Shouldn’t he feel guilty and be sobbing an apology to me? For crying out loud—he got to color!?)
But now’s a perfect time to be a goldfish.
Kids tend to make emotional transitions more quickly than adults. Mason was feeling stupid when he got confused in math. This made him mad (at himself, mostly, but you bore the brunt). He exploded. He and the counselor colored together. (Your counselor knows that doing something can help some kids open up and talk more easily.) As Mason colored and talked, he started to feel better. They talked about an idea to try the next time he gets frustrated. (He’s going to ask for help before he’s really upset.) When the counselor asked if he was ready to return, he said he was. All of this happened in fifteen minutes.
During that same fifteen minutes, you didn’t have the luxury of coloring and talking about what happened with a trained counselor. You had to keep helping the other 23 kids (some of whom got nervous when Mason exploded and started to get squirrely themselves) work on fractions. All the while, you simmered.
But what happens if you’re not a goldfish? What if you greet Mason at the door by scowling and saying, “You better be ready to offer me an apology, Mason!” Chances are, you’re going to put him right back in fight-flight-or-freeze. He’ll explode again or quietly seethe. Either way, he’ll still be unavailable for learning, and you’re likely setting him up for more meltdowns later in the day.
So, what would it look like if you’re a goldfish in this moment? As Mason walks in the door, wave, smile, and help him get back to work. Hey, Mason! I’m glad you’re back. Here’s what we’re working on now….
How to Be a Goldfish
It all sounds so simple, doesn’t it? Just be a goldfish–shake it off.
When a student gets angry and says something that feels personal, it’s hard to greet them with a smile a few minutes later. Just because they’ve got their cool back doesn’t mean you do. So what can you do to be ready to move forward?
Here are a few ideas to try.
Write yourself a note about when you’ll touch base with the student.
Just because we shouldn’t talk with Mason about the incident when he first returns doesn’t mean we shouldn’t chat later on. In fact, I think this is really important. When you’re both calm and there’s a bit of distance from the event, have a chat to talk about his plan for what to try next time. Writing yourself the note about when you’ll touch base can help you calm down in the moment—knowing you’ll get a chance to talk later.
Fake it ‘til you make it.
You know that when you feel good, you smile. Did you also know that it works the other way around? Smiling can make you feel good! Even a forced smile can trigger the release of endorphins which can help shift your mood. So smile, use a friendly voice and welcoming body posture. (After all, don’t we all eventually become what we pretend to be?)
Think of this as a teachable moment.
We have to remember that we’re all modeling–whether we mean to or not. All children, and perhaps especially ones prone to meltdowns, need to see examples of adults who can regulate their behavior. Here’s a chance for not just Mason, but everyone, to see what it looks like to be upset with someone and then forgive and be respectful. What an opportunity!
What are some other ideas you have? How else might you follow Ted’s advice after a tough interaction and be a goldfish?