Let them struggle, so they can learn.

Let me begin by saying 100% believe that all students are different. Each and every student has a variety of strengths and weaknesses as unique as their genetic sequence.

As educators our job is to provide instruction in a variety of ways to play to our students strengths, while also improving upon their weaknesses. This is done in countless ways starting with differentiated instruction, accommodations determined necessary by IEP and 504 teams, or something as simple as spending a few extra minutes at the end of class double checking a student wrote down his/ her homework. Recognizing these differences and solving the puzzle of how to connect with, and help each student learn are crucial aspects of the educational process.

The most important part of learning is learning how to learn. Developing critical thinking, judgement, and problem solving skills only comes through practice. These types of skills do not come easy, and they certainly do not spontaneously develop. They are learned by struggling, getting frustrated, confused until you have your “ah ha!” moment.

A fear I have at times as I see students working with assistants or tutors as part of their accommodations is that they no longer are given the opportunity to surpass a roadblock and celebrate an ah ha. Instead they’ve been conditioned to give up when they get stuck and get the answer given to them “help”.

This is not our students’ fault, Pavlov would proud of what we’ve accomplished. When a paragraph of text isn’t understood, instead of rereading it a few times, practicing reading comprehension, students can easily find someone to tell them what they need to write, as long as they look frustrated or confused enough.(who’s been conditioned anyway?) Oftentimes, when a problem gets tough the towel is thrown and the battle to solve it is over; instead someone around can “help” me solve it.

The best successes are those that come from a hard fight. In the end students are more proud of an accomplishment they worked for than of anything that is simply handed to them, even if it was hard,

We need to rethink how we support students. Re-train the staff that provide the support. Student should be allowed to struggle, get frustrated with hard work. Our role should be to facilitate or prompt how to get over a hurdle. It should not be to carry them over the hurdle, or put them on a track without hurdle all together, for fear they won’t clear it.

A student who difficulty with reading comprehension will never develop those skills if she never has to grapple with informational text. If she is simply told what to write based on the ability of someone else to read and understand the text for her she will not grow.

This is a monumental system wide change, but equally in magnitude is its importance. The first step starts at home. My goal for next year is to help more directly model, for those assistants I work with, how to facilitate problem solving without solving the problem.

5 Important Lessons for New Coaches

Last Tuesday I was asked to coach the Track & Field team at my high school, the catch: There was no Track & Field Team until last Tuesday.

I have plenty of experience when it comes to track, after 3 seasons of indoor and 3 seasons of outdoor I have participated in my fair share of practices, and  meets. However, this experience is quite limited. When running the 3000 meter run it is not necessary to use technical items liek starting starting blocks. Though I always thought it could help, no one else seemed to agree that after 7.5 laps around the track it really matters. The same goes for relays, fractions of a second saved during a good hand off are a bit less important in a 4×800 meter run than say a 4×100 meter dash. In the distance relays we were happy if we didn’t drop the baton, we set the bar high.

When it comes to distance, I’ve got that down. To quote a fellow team mate: “You put one foot in front of the other, keep doing that and then do it faster.” I remember my workouts, I can coach that.

As for the rest of it, those events that require “technique,”  “measuring steps,” or advanced “coordination” I’m clueless.

Luckily, I’ve got a several local coaches excited about our new track program and willing to share their knowledge and experience as well as their track with us (did I mention my school doesn’t actually have a track). I am also excited to meet with my former coach to absorb as much of his knowledge that I can. I feeling confident and ready to take on the season.

After 4 practices, almost a week through the track season, I have compiled a list my top 5 lessons for a new running coach:

5. Get used to no sleep.

I find myself rolling around in bed, fighting the pillows and my brain as it works ferociously designing workouts and thinking about the next day’s practice. Funny, it seems to have taken up some of the space in my melon that used to be devoted to thinking about classes and academics at night. On top of this, late afternoon practices push back your evening routine atleast 1.5 hours.

4. If you run with your team, prepare to lose.

I’m pretty proud that since this fall I’ve gotten back into similar shape as when I was a high school, even back in the same pant size. But, even being in decent shape its hard to keep up with runners like a 17 year old girl that was a district champion and placed second in the state in cross country, and as I approach the big 25 I’m not getting any younger. Luckily, I’m the coach so if I need to rest I can go check on the sprinters.

3. People still try to find short cuts.

While I was running there were always those people on the team trying cut corners and do as little of the planned workout as they could. Luckily, I have a bit more patience these days, and hope to find ways to motivate these runners to strive to to their best everyday. A bit different than my opinions of those runners while I was busting my a**.

2. Don’t wear clothes that match your water bottle.

I happen to have yellow shorts and a yellow water bottle with a blue cap. So, earlier in the week when I happened to be wearing my yellow shorts with my yellow water bottle I definitely got called out for planning my “outfit”. Don’t even get me started when I wore a blue t-shirt with the yellow shorts today.

1. The smell check is no longer going to slide for selecting running gear.

In high school I would use a t-shirt a couple days during the season before it got too ripe to wear. So, Tuesday morning I gave Monday’s t-shirt a sniff, it was good! So, I threw it in my gym bag and was good to go. False. I joined my team in the afternoon to a choir of “Eww, Coach didn’t you wear that shirt yesterday.” I was shocked for two reasons. First that they remembered what I was wearing the day before, and second my trusty method of selecting running clothes is now obsolete.

So, to all those teams starting their seasons good luck and run hard. I’ll see you on the track. (I’ll be the guy with the clipboard and stopwatch)