Alternative Educational Approaches

Back in May 2019, I had the opportunity to go through the U.S. Marine Corps’ Leadership Workshop.  Great learning experience and I wrote about that here.  Since that point, I’ve been trying to keep their ideas in mind as I think about teaching.  That’s important because a lot of what they do falls in with John Kessel/USA Volleyball’s belief in game-like drills being superior to blocked training.

It’s also important to realize (and many do not–especially school administrators) that coaching and teaching are the same thing.  The only difference really is that in a gym/training situation, sitting is rarely involved.

I came across a meme that got me thinking again and when I went looking to find out who to attribute it to, I couldn’t find it.  I did find a very similar quote though from seventy years ago.

  • Margaret Mead: “Children must be taught how to think, not what to think.”
  • Found Meme: “Don’t teach the subject, teach the student.”

Consider your approach.  I’m spending a lot of time reflecting this fall since it’s thirty years of coaching for me–but I also started as a teacher back in 1991.  This applies to me in a gym and classroom.

1 – Is your approach less effective than you’d like?

It is great to know the sport, the technical details.  It’s great to know the numbers and metrics and what they can do for helping your team succeed.  The thing is–success is not going to come from showing your knowledge, it is going to come from what your subjects do with what they hear or see, what they are capable of understanding.

If I’m teaching European History, it’s great that I think Niall Ferguson’s “Pity of War” is an important, controversial book and I can cite his economic numbers and such–but what if I’m teaching 10th graders?  Instead of detailed numbers, how do I create a situation that forces them to think?  What if you give them the big test question in advance? “What do YOU think was the most important cause of WW1?”  That’s great–but it won’t work in a 4th grade/Intro to History setting.  Maybe there, by knowing the kids, your goal is for them to know that WW1 is the first modern war, the treaty at the end leads to WW2…that events happen in a chain–and then see if they can find other areas where events are linked.

With volleyball, I love numbers and data–but I also know my players.  If I go into an explanation of serve-speed related to air friction maximizing the ball’s float combined with the optimal ball height crossing the net, I will have a dozen sleeping girls.  If we watch a video, I know they’ll zone out–unless they are given something specific to watch for or are writing/working in conjunction with the video.  I tailor the goal to my athletes and their ability level.

**This is where the Marines reinforced my approach–>they made a big deal out of their instructional methodology.  They start at Square One with everything.  It avoids shortcuts that could cause problems with later concepts, but it also provides a morale/confidence boost for trainees as they master each proceeding level of a skill.

2 – What is the root of your frustrations? (Because all teachers/coaches have these moments)

For quite a bit of my instruction vocation, I’d get frustrated at my students and athletes from time to time.  I still do, but what frustrates me has changed.  I’ve gotten better (but I’m not there yet) in keeping the focus on teaching kids rather than the subject).  That means when I get frustrated now, it’s usually one of two things causing it:

  • The kids not performing up to their potential/what I know they are capable of achieving
  • Silly bureaucratic paperwork that gets in the way of teaching/coaching

Paperwork kills everything (and isn’t the focus of this particular blog…), but that first one is a killer we’ll come back to in a moment.  What used to drive me nuts:

  • Not giving correct answers on tests / not doing specifically as instructed on the court
  • Points on the scoreboard / speed reaching a drill’s goal

Can you see the difference in my frustrations? (I hope so…otherwise I’ll have to write another blog….)  My frustrations now are about their potential, what comes next for them in their development while the old me was focused on arbitrary goals that aren’t necessarily related to them as individuals.

So–you’ve got a choice as an educator.  Do you try and change all of the young people you work with or do you change yourself and your approach?  It seems hard to change yourself, but it IS easier than changing everyone else around you.  I changed, I evolved.  I think I am more successful from that.  You can be, too.  Some ideas:

  • Before an assignment, tell your kids what the objective of it is.  Afterwards, ask if it was successful.
  • Take suggestions on ways to reach your objective.  Kids know kids better than adults.
  • Match objectives to their knowledge/skill level, not yours.
  • Show to your students that you are a learner as well–learning how to teach better, learning them better, learning new perspectives on the subject matter.

There are people out there who think that changing how you coach is a bad thing–that it is because kids today are soft, ‘snowflakes’.  Poppycock.  Education has always adjusted to apply ‘best applicable practices’.  That’s what you are doing.  Be confident.