One of the highlights of my trip to ISTE this summer was running into Jim Lobdell, the cofounder of History Alive and an overall awesome educator (and an even better person). I lost contact with him over the past decade years, and in chatting with him in Chicago, I found that he is busy with a few education related ventures, including publishing for the Positive Coaching Alliance. I never heard of the organization, so Jim sent me a couple of their books about developing winners in sports and life. Being a coach myself, I dug into these books from the athletic lens, but it quickly became apparent that all of the suggestions and ideas fit perfectly for a classroom teacher.
In addition, I consider myself as more of a history coach than a history teacher lately. I rely less on lecture and more on working with students to try to ask great questions, find and make sense of information, come to conclusions, and present their ideas effectively. I’m coaching them in analyzing the past to understand the present and help make a better future, just without a whistle. (Although I sometimes do use a whistle for a tension breaker – It’s always worth good laugh.)
As I read PCA’s The Power of Double Goal Coaching by Jim Thompson, I came across the following observations that I feel fit perfectly in the classroom as well as on the court, the diamond, infield, on the rink, and wherever else we traditionally coach. I encourage you to give it a read – it’s short, enjoyable, and I think you will find yourself nodding your head … a lot.
- Thompson starts with talking about your legacy as a coach and how important it is to help young people realize their potential as people as well as athletes. We can use our classes like sports to teach life lessons and character especially when we as teachers do things the right way. Social studies teachers have the perfect content to do this, right? We need to leave a legacy as teachers – it’s our higher calling.
- The power of positivity is overwhelming with kids. Positive gets results. Negative makes things worse. A coach or teacher who establishes a positive team/class culture will help young people develop a passion for the discipline or game and will be remembered by students long after the class is ended. What great thoughts as we enter the new school year!
- Thompson uses the term “double-goal coach”. This may be a new moniker, but it’s a long standing concept. As he said, we have the unique opportunity to use sports (and our classes and curriculum) to teach important aspects of life such as hard work, fairness, team play, resilience, delayed gratification (I love that one) and how to compete fiercely and with class. We can be the teachers that go beyond the classroom with our impact, the ones that students come back and say I learned a lot in your class, but I learn more about becoming a better person and a better student. We can be the DOUBLE-GOAL TEACHER.
- The concept of coaching and teaching for mastery as opposed to winning is one that we can use as a guide. It’s not the score on the scoreboard, the test, or the essay that really matters (although winning in the scorebook and gradebook does have some importance.) Improving in a certain discipline or as an overall student and developing the skills and habits necessary to succeed well after the class is over is the mastery part of learning that we should use as our focus.
- I love Thompson’s concept of the ELM tree of mastery, which fits perfectly in any sport and any discipline in school – and, for us as professionals. With consistent Effort, a goal of Learning and improvement, and bouncing back from Mistakes, mastery (and positivity) it easier to attain. By creating a mastery climate, students enjoy the discipline more, show more progress, any keep up their effort more. He also references the importance of the growth mindset. That ELM tree of mastery needs to be discussed with students and recognized, especially when students bounce back from mistakes. We also need to share our commitment to mastery with our students by discussing our professional development and learning and give examples of when we have bounced back from mistakes.
- I have adopted a mistake ritual in coaching and I want to bring into the classroom as well. When somebody makes an error in the field, we hold a hand in a fist and open it as if letting go of a balloon. We are not ignoring a mistake, but letting it go in order to have another chance as success. Why not do this in school?
- We all know the importance of filling the emotional tanks of students, yet it sometimes slips are when the school year progresses (especially in the dog says of February – ugh). The analogy to a gas tank is simple – if the gas tank isn’t full, the car wont travel very far. It’s very similar to the emotional tanks of our young learners.
- Praise must be truthful and specific rather than a generic good job. Thompson references that the optimal ratio of praise to criticism is 5 to 1, what is known as the “magic ratio”. He also encourages that we get our students to learn about the emotional tank and how to fill it for themselves and for others. He has great talking points to do this, including “if we all become tank fillers, we’ll have more fun and be a better team”. Isn’t that perfect for classrooms as well?
- Kid friendly criticism is important because it provides our students with usable information to improve while minimizing tank draining. Waiting for emotion to dissipate, making sure criticism is done privately, and even asking students for permission to give them some feedback are all ways to make criticism more kid friendly.
- Thompson’s case studies are awesome, because they offer perfect examples of situations that can happen in coaching and teaching. Kids being nervous about a big game for a big test, disruptive kids at practice or in class, having a wide range of abilities in a classroom, making parents an asset, even teaching or coaching your own kid (which I do on the field and court but not in the classroom) are situations that teachers face every year. The specific advice given as great food for thought.
So, as I approach this new school year, I’m going to go into it with the explicit mindset of being a double-goal teacher. I’m not only trying to have my young historians become better readers and writers and communicators and overall students, but also to help them develop habits and skills and learn life lessons that will take him far beyond my classroom when they leave in June. I might even have them call me “Coach” – and if I can get away with wearing sweats and a hat, it’s a bonus! Thanks, Jim and Jim, for the inspiration to push to be a DOUBLE-GOAL TEACHER.