Friday, August 16, 2013

Who is Number One on Your Trophy?

The past several posts have been targeting my first few years in teaching, but haven't addressed the BT era of my life.  BT meaning before teaching.  Before teaching, mainly in high school or in college, I loved playing sports.  Anything from football, basketball, track, baseball, whiffle ball, kick ball, indoor hockey during physical education classes or paper field goal football.  In paper field goal football you would fold a piece of paper into a triangle "football" and "kick" it with your finger through your buddy's goal posts (made using two hands, joining your thumbs at the end and holding up your pointer finger).  The goal was to “kick” the paper football through the "uprights" and hit your buddy in the face.  Extra points we always told ourselves, especially if it we hit the other guy on the end of the nose!  We would laugh and then decide to move the goal posts to the side!  Hey, I didn't say I was smart, but I loved to play sports.

I think what attracted me to sports was the activity and competitive nature of a game.  I loved to win, to get the better of my opponent.  Sometimes I carried it too far and became more of a jerk about stuff than I should have been.  I can still remember my displeasure and a teammate’s reaction during an indoor hockey game when our goalie let someone score the winning goal.  I wasn't close enough to participate in the sequence of events, but I let my displeasure be heard.  I still remember the reaction of a teammate who was within hear shot. She turned to me and said, "Not all of us can be perfect, Mike!" Wow!  That was a jerk moment.  I do want to make a clarifying point.  Both teams were equally split male and female.  I wasn't the only guy playing with a bunch of girls and displeased with their efforts. So does that may make me less of a jerk?

Were the teams I played on highly successful because of my drive to win?  Not really, in fact it was the exact opposite.  The teams I played on were rarely competitive.  In fact, I never won a single football game during my school years. Jr. High and high school career combined: zero wins, nada, none, big goose egg, or whatever catch phrase you want to use. During high school we held a record.  A record, for a losing team?  Yes, we had the record for the state's longest losing streak: 48 games!  It wasn't that we had bad teams, it was just that everyone was always better at the end of the game.  We tried to have some fun with it through my middle high school years.  We would turn popular songs into our theme song. Remember the rock-n-roll group Queen?  We changed one of their popular songs, "Another One Bites the Dust", into “Another Beats our Butt!” We sang it well, but with little cheer behind it.  Hmm, I wonder why?  

In my last year of school I put a lot of effort into trying unsuccessfully to help us end the losing streak.  Although I received some individual recognition for my efforts, it was still not the same as winning a game.  I wouldn't have been selfish about it.  Just one win would have been fine.  That would been enough to break the streak.  Eventually my high school did break the streak.  The first game after I graduated.  Thanks fellas!  Actually I was very happy for my friends and proud of them.  The school was so excited they left the scoreboard on all night long.  Even though I wasn't a member of that team I liked to believe that I had something to do with helping them break the streak.

When I started college classes, my passion for sports eventually led me into the area of teaching.  I enrolled in the teaching program so I could coach.  Yes, that is correct.  Before I wanted to teach, I wanted to coach.  That is by no means a slight on coaching.  Coaches can have a positive lifelong impact on students.  With the right attitude, a coach can influence student athletes positively.  With the wrong attitude, he or she can have a negative impact. My attitude, as you have already picked up, was not the most positive.  I was all about winning just as I had been in high school.  I didn't want to be known for losing.  Which meant I was very high strung in my practices.  I expected a lot from my players.  I tried to instill a great work ethic and high expectations in my players, but I never seemed happy with them unless they won.  It was a philosophy that would never lead to fulfillment for my players or me.  It would change in my second year of coaching.  I ran across book by Rainer Martens called, "Successful Coaching."  Great title, I thought because I wanted to be a successful coach.  Problem was I had the wrong definition of what success looked like.  Very quickly, on page five to be precise, Mr. Martens changed my philosophy.

It was with one little illustration of two trophies that made me change how I would coach. One of the trophies had a winning cup at the top with a number two engraved on the bottom pedestal.  The other trophy, taller than other one, had a student on the top with a number one on it.  Athletes first and winning second was Martens’ philosophy.  Son of a gun, I thought to myself.  Have I been putting winning ahead of my players?  Am I treating them like objects to achieve the goal of winning.  I took at honest look at myself as a coach.

The other problem with me was that I carried the people as objects to help me win into the classroom.  As a teacher I was treating my students like they were little industrial workers in a factory.  Lined up in neat little rows, which allowed the custodians to clean the room rather neatly, and working on their neat little worksheets.  If they weren't winning – getting an A or weren’t in the 90th percentile on a test – in class, I was disappointed in them and myself.  It took me awhile to figure out how to stop getting the same results.  I finally realized that I had to stop doing the same thing. Instead of focusing on how I taught, I focused more on how students learned.  Teaching the same way for everyone wasn't going to work.  Teaching the students just to win in my class wasn't going to work.  I had to get to know them individually and take different approaches with each person.   It was time consuming, but well worth the time invested.  The irony was that it started with the thing that got me into education.  Wanting to be a "Successful Coach" made me revaluate my teaching.

What about you?  What is your approach to the classroom?  If you are coach, what is your attitude toward the athletes you lead.  Are you an athlete- first-winning-second type of coach?  As a teacher are you a student-first-teacher- second type of teacher?  I would encourage you to take a deep look at your approach to kids.  As you are reflecting, remember your students are always people first, then a member of your class and team.  I wish you the best in this process and hope that no one "Beats your Butt!" when it comes to putting kids on the first place trophy.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Stealing the Student's Carnival Rides!

I am sure most of you have seen the History Channel show, American Pickers.  If you haven't, let me summarize.  The show follows two guys around the United States looking for old antiques in people's sheds, barns, garages, or even old junk piles.  These two guys are very well versed in antiques and what would be good to "pick" out of some one's barn.

As educators we can learn a lot from this show.  You are probably saying to yourself, "What can I learn from a TV show about two guys going through a bunch of old stuff"?  It's not so much about the stuff they are rummaging through, but the discovery process of finding artifacts.  If you ever have watched the show, you have seen what these men go through to find an artifact.  They dig through, climb over, handle, and scrutinize a lot of stuff.  They are ones that are involved.  How fun would it be if they got someone else to do this for them?

Having someone do this for them is like hiring someone to ride your favorite carnival ride. Wouldn't that be a bummer watching someone else laughing and screaming the whole way through what was suppose to be your ride.  It's enough to make you mad, but wait you're the one that hired them in the first place.  So you think to yourself that was plain stupid paying someone else to have your fun!

As a classroom teacher I would sometimes steal the students' carnival rides. You're probably thinking what a rotten educator I must have been to steal rides from innocent children.  Technically I didn't steal anything from them, so don't go calling a private investigator to pursue my teaching background.  What I did take away from them was an opportunity for them to discover on their own.  I would poor my energy and talents, more energy than talent mind you, into planning a lesson for my students.  I had it all figured all of the research for a lecture of twenty to thirty minutes, give them a worksheet or assignment, answer a few questions from the students on the front row (they seemed the most interested) and then sit down in my chair and watch them go at the worksheet or assignment. 

Through this process I was taking away the discovery part for my students.  I was riding the carnival ride and they were watching me have all the fun.  They were spectators and not participants.  Sure I needed to know my content in order to be a resource for my students, but really I was doing most of the work everyday.  Doing this seven times a day (seven period day) made me a little worn out at the end of the day.  It is a no wonder that my students left the day with more energy than I did.  When the ending school bell rang and they would run from the school with the energy and life of young foal kicking and prancing in the back pasture.  I on the other hand would stay and start the process over again planning for the next lesson.  Once I was done then I would drag my tired broken down workhorse body home and collapse in the recliner.

Eventually it came to my mind that this seemed a little backwards.  The students should be spending the energy and time, as I would like to call it, riding the carnival ride of discovery in the classroom.  They should be the ones rummaging through the resources to find the necessary facts for a lesson.  Once I switched my methods around, I was able to step back and watch them learn on their own.  I set up the parameters in the lesson.  Which sometimes was a simple question to get them started.  Which still meant I needed to know my content area well enough to ask the "important" questions.  Eventually the students started asking those types of "what does this mean?", "how did they?", "what if?" to keep the learning going.  The important transition for my classroom was from teacher centered to student centered.  By doing so the students were spending their youthful excitement which in turn rejuvenated this tired teacher. It was a win - win situation for everyone!

How about your classroom?  Who is spending most of the energy in learning? Is the procedure all about the teacher or the student?  Ask yourself honestly and if you're not sure, try asking your students.  Switch it around to be student centered and you will find several "treasures" in the minds and results of your students.