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  • Writer's pictureRich Haglund

Taking what the defense gives you

If you've played sports or watch sports, you may be familiar with the concept of "taking what the defense gives you."

In football, this might mean noticing the "soft spots" in the zone defense where your receivers will be open to catch passes. In hockey it might mean adjusting to a defense that's standing up at the center of the ice, preventing you from moving into the offensive zone with the puck, with speed. If that's happening, you can work to "dump" the puck deep into the offensive zone and chase it. In soccer, it might mean continuing to pass laterally until the chasing defenders open up lanes for forward passes.

So, how does this apply to the work of your organization?

Here's an example from K-12 education. Imagine you decided to create a nonprofit and to operate a public charter school to serve students who have not historically had access to the best public schools or even reasonably good private schools. You're committed to being open to all students regardless of circumstances or needs. And you're adamant about students keeping the protections afforded in public schools by federal and state constitutions.

But, laws, rules, and the procedures of the school districts or other entities that "authorize" (approve and oversee) public charter schools have become so onerous that you don't think you can carry out your vision.

Meanwhile, the state has provided means for families to receive a set amount of money they can use for their children's education. Why not operate as a private school whose tuition is covered by the funds given to families? You can market your school to the families you would like to serve. You can make enrollment open to all by conducting a lottery if you have more applicants than seats. And you can commit to the constitutional protections you care about by writing them into your governing documents and handbooks.

What might taking what the defense gives you mean for your organization? And how will you know what they're giving you?

Football teams often run 10 pre-selected plays to start games. They run each of those plays in order, no matter how successful the previous plays were. By doing so, they prompt the defense to show how they will respond.

Are you bent on sticking to your game plan regardless of whether it works in the current circumstances? Or, are you open to finding the best ways to serve the individuals and communities you serve, based on what's happening on the ground, right now?

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