Lessons from Pele

In the 1970 World Cup semi-final, Brazil played Uruguay.  Pele was playing and this was one of the most talked about moments in the game:

I think there’s much to learn from this clip and the approach of Pele.  If you knew very little about football, hadn’t heard of Pele and just saw this – you might think Pele was a pretty poor footballer for missing the goal.  However, Brazil went on to win this game, and then beat Italy in the final – with Pele being key to this.  Although he missed the goal, the dummy beforehand was a moment of brilliance.  Pele scored 1283 goals in his career.  He was a remarkable player.

So what is there to learn from this?

  • In the same way as making a judgement about Pele as a football player, based on this miss, would be a nonsense, so is making a judgement about a teacher based on one short lesson observation.  Instead we should look at everything they do as a teacher and most importantly, how the students they teach achieve, over a number of years.  This is what we should be judged on.  If you are still grading lesson observations, make 2015 the year you stop.
  • Failure is OK.  Even people at the top of their game will get it wrong from time to time – Pele did here.  This is fine.  What matters is how we learn from it.  If we want teachers to develop and improve their practice, by trying things out, we have to accept that sometimes it won’t work out.  This is fine.  We’re not surgeons – nobody dies.  School leaders at all levels should all be looking to build a safe and supportive environment within their teams, where teachers are confident to say ‘I tried this out the other day…..’



  • We can all get better at what we do – but it won’t happen by chance.  We need to decide what we need to improve, practice it and stick with it.  So for example, I want to improve the written feedback I give to students, by developing ‘live marking’ in my practice e.g. in lessons, writing feedback as questions in the books of students, for them to respond to.  This is a change in my practice, so I know that I will need to focus myself on doing this and sticking with it.  At times I’ll get it wrong, and this is fine.  I’ll reflect on why and learn from it.   It will take deliberate practice to get it embedded effectively into my day to day practice.  This is important for CPD – encourage teachers to focus on one aspect of their practice that they want to improve and focus on improving this through deliberate practice.  Don’t try to focus on too many things – avoid cluttering!
  • Challenge yourself.  Be bold with your teaching – look to improve aspects of your practice that are going to challenge you professionally, but will be worth it in terms of learning gains.  Pele on bicycle kicks:

“The bicycle kick is not easy to do.  I scored 1283 goals, and only 2 or 3 were with bicycle kicks”


  • Never think you are the finished product.  Look around you for inspiration.  Who are the best teachers in your school (even better than you!)?  What do they do?  How do they do it? How can you be that little but better at…..?  Use this to develop your own practice.  We all ‘require improvement’ and can all get better at an aspect of our practice:

“A lot of people, when a guy scores a lot of goals, think ‘He’s a great player’ because a goal is very important, but a great player is a player who can do everything on the field.  He can do assists, encourage his colleagues, give them confidence to go forward.  It is someone who when a team does not do well, becomes one of the leaders.”

– Pele

As we move into a new year, we will continue with our ‘Growth Mindset’ journey as a school.  This doesn’t mean that we can all be amazing at everything, but what it does mean is that if we all ‘encourage our colleagues and give them the confidence to go forward’ we can all get that little bit better at what we do.  That’s what growth mindset means to me.

Here’s to 2015.


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4 Responses to Lessons from Pele

  1. Mr Sugden says:

    Reblogged this on petersugden and commented:
    At the end of the day you get out what you put in, and even then there is no guarantee of success, but at least you know you’ve put a shift in.

  2. Pingback: ORRsome blog posts January 2015 | high heels and high notes

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