As I mentioned previously, my experiences coaching have given me reason to remain optimistic about teaching. One reason is that I’ve learned some valuable lessons from coaching young student-athletes that translate well into the classroom. To be honest, many of these have come from one of the most valuable professional development trainings I’ve been a part of – annual coaching clinics.
In particular, though, I think there are 3 lessons I’ve learned through coaching that have made me a better teacher.
- Yes, we are talking about practice. This year, I’ve taken a different approach to teaching reading and writing skills. I’ve adopted a simple model – show them what to do, help them do it, then allow them to practice it on their own and give them feedback (or, in edu-speak – model the skill, provide guided practice, then allow independent practice with ample feedback. And yes, I realize that this is already best practice in teaching…it just took coaching to help me realize it).
For example, when teaching students how to improve their sentence fluency, I gave them a sentence, then showed them different ways to tweak the length and structure of the sentence [model]. Then, I gave them a different sentence and had them try it in their notebooks. I pulled a couple of notebooks at random and displayed them on the document camera and we reviewed them as a class, pointing out positives and also making additional suggestions [guided practice]. Finally, I had students pull one sentence (preferably a longer one) from the draft of their essay and revise it in three different ways. They turned this in on our Moodle site and I was able to grade and give feedback on these sentences [independent practice]. Has it worked? I think they’re better writers as a result, but that brings me to lesson two…
- Failure is ALWAYS an option. Sometimes, even when we’re trying, things go wrong and we don’t accomplish what we’d hoped. This is true of me as a teacher and coach, but it’s also true of students and athletes. In baseball, for example, there’s a saying that even the absolute best hitters fail 6 times out of 10. How we manage that failure is the challenge. I think this is true in school, as well, and even more so in writing. For example, in the sentence fluency activity described above, some students didn’t do well – they didn’t understand what I was teaching them. So what do we do about it? The same thing a baseball player does when he makes a mistake: reflects on what he did poorly and finds a way to fix it (with or without my help) the next time. In football, too, we watch the film, see what we did wrong, and fix it when we go back out to the field. In school we should look at what we did on the assignment, take in the feedback, and give it another shot. But do students do this? If I’ve learned anything, it’s that there’s one big difference between sports and school, which is lesson number three.
- You have to COMPETE. There are many reasons athletes get better, but all of the coaching books I’ve read, from Vince Lombardi to Bill Walsh to Pete Carroll, agree on one simple thing – competition breeds success. However, that doesn’t mean that we want kids competing with each other. Rather, it is the individual competing with himself that breeds success. Pete Carroll says he wants to do things “better than they’ve ever been done before.” Great athletes – successful athletes – compete against themselves and try to do it better. Why? Because they have a desire, a motivation to be successful in their sport. The biggest difference I see between students that are successful and those that are not is this simple fact – the successful students are always trying to improve, while the others simply want to get by. There may be many causes for motivation, but that desire to become better, to improve, to compete, at writing, reading, or anything else is what makes students successful.
We practice, then we fail, so we practice even harder. It seems simple in theory. Why is it so difficult in reality?