It’s 10 a.m. at Arsenal Elementary School and class is in session.
I enter the school and walk down a long hallway past classrooms of various grade levels. A quick glance into door windows shows characteristics of a successful educational environment: peer collaboration, student engagement, in-depth discussion, etc.
After what seems like an eternity, I approach the classroom I’ve come to observe, Arsene Wenger’s first grade classroom. It’s room #49 at the end of the hallway, almost as if it’s a separate entity from the rest of the school. As I get closer, the serene nature of the school changes and I hear children yelling, chairs and desks clattering, and objects being moved. I slowly and cautiously open the door.
Students are dispersed throughout the classroom. Mr. Wenger is at the center of the room teaching a small group of students how to add two digit numbers. The rest of the kids are on carpet squares and in various classroom “nooks and crannies” doing any of the following: reading, writing, using measurement tools, and of course, finger painting.
There appears to be little structure as he lets his students problem solve through a variety of tasks. It doesn’t take long for me to realize his approach to teaching is very “hands off”. He gets noticeably uneasy when students become confrontational and engage in minor squabbles, each time encouraging them to find a solution among themselves.
I sit down near his small group mini-lesson and listen in:
AW: OK class, remember, 27 is a two digit numbah. Ze two represents two groups of ten. Ze seven represents seven ones. You vill now complete ze following problam: 27+22. You have all the objects in ze classroom at your disposal.
Pat (student): What do you mean “group of ten”? How do I make seven ones?
AW: Patty my boy. I cannot tell you vat. You will never truly learn until you come to ze realization yourself!
Pat (student): Starts crying. This is too hard Mr. Wenger. Sniffle, sniffle. Just last week we learned how to add single digit numbers and I have yet to feel confident in my ability. Just tell me exactly what to do!
AW: You have all ze tools you need to be successful. You must dig deep and display your top, top quali-tee and mental strength. You’ve been in first grade for three years now and I’ve observed you making similar errors. You sink it’s time for a fresh approach?
Two students, Kendrick and Adam, approach Mr. Wenger. They had been using rulers to measure objects around the classroom.
Kendrick (student): Mr. W! Mr. W! Adam stole the object I was measuring right out of my hands! He threw it across the room and called me a “big butt face” when I asked nicely for it back!
Adam (student): No I didn’t. Kendrick is lying again!
AW: Vhat do I always tell you boys? It is up to you to come to a resolution. Verking out problems with others is a valuable skill and will be used often in life. As per usual, I vill not adjudicate dis problem or any others! Ve should rarely be confrontational, as to not promote disharmony between our classroom walls!
Mr. Wenger, the 1st grade teacher, has endured the test of time.
Despite constant reforms and changing ideologies in education, he has taught for countless years with a similar guiding philosophy. He is a legendary enigma. Fellow colleagues revere him for his overall contributions, yet condemn him for his stubbornness. Parents love that he achieves above average academic growth in their children but loathe that fact that he never produces a student top of their respective class. His knowledge of how to educate is unrivalled, however he rarely wishes to pass on his expertise directly. He hopes to place his students in the right situations for them to gain insight, so it becomes authentic and more permanently embedded.
Back to reality now.
As an elementary school teacher of 10 years, I have had the privilege of working with and/or observing remarkable teachers. Ones who are held in high-esteem and shown the utmost respect across the educational community. They don’t just teach, they transform individuals. The interesting commonality between all great teachers? They display many of the same practices in their classrooms.
Arsene could learn a thing or two from the elementary school setting. The following teaching ideals are ones he would do well to adopt going forward:
Every successful classroom begins with a structural framework. A schedule is established and expectations for each part of the day are explicitly taught, modeled, and practiced often. Only after this platform has been laid can meaningful learning and student creativity flourish.
I feel many Arsenal players aren’t always well-drilled in their roles. Players need repetitions in a micro (game-to-game) and macro (seasonal) sense based on squad roles. They need to be well-drilled in keeping a shape off the ball, maintaining healthy distances with teammates, and knowing where teammates should be. A proper structural platform first and foremost provides the base that leads to creative license.
Accountability is Key
Good teachers constantly refer back to behavioral and academic expectations. Students are aware of classroom norms and individual responsibilities, given positive reinforcement when those are met, and consequences when not completed.
Far too often, Arsene fears disharmony and aims to avoid confrontation. He tends to stick with similar personnel and playing styles from match to match. A healthy Ramsey almost always means a spot in the starting XI. Last year, it was Theo often deployed on the left wing instead of Joel Campbell getting time. He ran Giroud into the ground despite ineffectiveness and diminished energy levels. This year we’ve seen Iwobi, Coquelin, and Ozil fail to impress for extended periods without being dropped. Even if it’s just to send a short term message, give them a time-out Arsene!
Sharing is Caring
Great classrooms are like communities. Everyone is responsible for playing their part and relied upon to make meaningful contributions. Kids, teachers, assistants, related-service providers, and administrators are vital cogs within the community.
If Arsene Wenger were a squid, his tentacles would cover the whole of Arsenal Football Club. His influence permeates throughout and he feels the responsibility to make decisions well beyond his managerial duties. His valuation of transfer targets, stressing dietary/fitness ideals, and analysis of advanced analytics are some of his many additional roles. These are roles that other staff should be specializing in. He simply has not surrounded himself with enough footballing minds to ease the burden of running such a huge footballing entity.
Arsene, delegation is OK! The paint color in the locker room and toilet paper thickness can be decided by someone else!