Thursday, July 17, 2014

Joe Maddon of the Tampa Bay Rays on the Importance of Focusing on the Process

In my research for What Teachers Can Learn from Sports Coaches, I heard from a number of incredible coaches a pretty clear message about the importance of the process in teaching and learning. Specifically, several of the coaches told me that a key element of their success over the years has been focusing more on the process and less on the results. By focusing on the process (individual and team growth and development) with their players, and by coaching the athletes and teams toward mastery rather than performance (stats, scores and wins), the coaches have been able to improve the quality of individual and team performances. Perhaps that sounds counter-intuitive, but the evidence lies in the national championships and Olympic medals these coaches have accumulated.

I recently discovered a great quote by Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon (I did not obtain this personally for my book)  that summarizes this approach to process-focused coaching and teaching: "What I'm trying to convince them is, you're not trying to beat the Yankees or the Red Sox or the Blue Jays, you're trying to beat the game of baseball through execution." Maddon nailed it. This approach works equally well for baseball, hockey and soccer, as it does for writing, calculus and second languages. Just as Maddon has led his team into the playoffs and into the World Series by focusing on mastering baseball rather than focusing on beating particular teams, teachers, too, can lead their classes to success by focusing on mastering writing, calculus and language, rather than focusing on test scores.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

A Lesson for Educators: John Wooden on Why Joy and Frustration Should Not Come from Scores and Outcomes

"It is difficult for young players to learn - because of the great emphasis on records - but, ideally, the joy and frustration of sport should come from the performance itself, not the score. While he is playing, the worst thing a player can think about in terms of concentration - and therefore of success - is losing. The next worst is winning.”

Legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden sums up nicely a concept that has taken hold of me and won’t let go. In my research for What Teachers Can Learn from Sports Coaches, I heard from a number of incredible coaches a theme similar to what Wooden emphasizes in this quote. (It is worth noting that Wooden uses the word performance in this quote to mean the game itself, not the final outcome of the game.) Indeed, in sports today, people have become obsessed with the scores, records and stats, and the joy involved in the performance, the process of mastering the game itself, often is forgotten. The message this sends to youth may be costly because it implies that the outcomes are more important than the processes involved in learning, improving and mastering the skills involved in a sport.

In my last post on this quote, I focused on the importance of the process. Here, I want to shift my focus to Wooden's idea that "the joy and frustration of sport should come from the performance itself, not the score." Wooden's wisdom shines here. The reason any young person should take up a sport is because he or she loves it, not to win games or accumulate stats. Winning is nice, an enjoyable by-product, but it should be neither the sole measure of success or joy nor the motivation for engaging in sports. For Wooden, true joy lies in mastery, or in progressing toward mastery. Through the process of learning and trying to master a given sport, a young person can learn myriad life lessons including but not limited to dedication, perseverance, grit, growth mindset, and how to deal with winning and losing with class. Of all these, I believe Wooden would have valued growth mindset the most, because it lines up so well with this quote. That the potential to grow and improve in an endeavor, i.e. mastery of the golf swing or the jump shot, lies within a player is a notion that lines up perfectly with Wooden's philosophy.

A great coach or coaching staff can instill in athletes a love of the process, or the "performance" as Wooden refers to it. When an athlete come to love and find joy in the performance, he or she will see the struggles involved in trying to master the sport as part of the growth process. USA Wrestling Coach Brandon Slay told me, "I have to get my guys to enjoy the process of going through the drills." He wants his athletes to be able to say, "At the end of practice when I’m totally drenched in sweat, and every muscle in my body is killing me, I love it. I’m a warrior and I got to do something I love to do." He went on to say, "The more that they love the process, the more meaningful those drills in practice are." Wooden would have loved this. This philosophy implies, then, that coaches should emphasize and praise growth and improvement and not just the score and winning. Otherwise, athletes receive mixed signals or the wrong message altogether.

Let's not forget the frustration Wooden mentions in this quote. For some this may be counter-intuitive, but Wooden means that the frustration of sport should come not from losing or from the score. Rather, frustration should come in the process, the growth and the development. For anyone who ever has attempted to master a golf swing, frustration abounds. This frustration, though, is both natural and healthy, especially in the context of a growth mindset. With a growth mindset, an athlete attempting to master a skill or sport can use the frustration as motivation to continue working toward mastery. After all, with a growth mindset, an athlete has control over his or her own growth and improvement. This philosophy implies that coaches should make sure, as much as possible, that an athlete's frustration centers not on the score and losing but rather on the growing pains of player development.

Simply put, the lesson for educators is this: as education leaders, we must help our students shift their thinking so their joy and frustration lies not with scores and grades but rather with the growth, the process of learning and their journey toward mastery. In the classroom as in sport, according to Wooden's philosophy, the driving force behind instruction and learning should be growth, mastery and the process rather than the grades, scores and outcomes. Grades and other quantification of learning should not be the source of either students' joy or frustration. Good grades and high test scores, like wins in sport, should be merely a byproduct of mastery, growth and the process, not the motivation behind what happens in classrooms. With the current landscape in education focused so much on tests and testing, and therefore on grades and scores, Wooden's approach appropriately applied in classrooms runs opposite that mindset. Thankfully, there appears to be a shift beginning with educators at the grassroots level that would have made Wooden proud.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Helping Teachers Avoid (And Recover From) The Big Miss

Most days I wear two hats: principal and dad. I've been a dad a few years longer than I've been a principal, but some days I'm not sure which is more challenging. Today provides a great example.

When my son - an average golfer - plays in tournaments, I love nothing more than riding along in my cart and watching him for nine or eighteen holes. Because I know nothing about the mechanics of the golf swing, I couldn't offer him advice during the course of play even if I wanted to assist him. I do try to help him with some of the mental aspects of the game off the course, though. Specifically, I draw on my coaching background to help him understand mental toughness and dealing with adversity, among other things.

One of the things he and I have discussed numerous times, based largely on Hank Haney's book The Big Miss, is the importance of what Haney calls **"The Big Miss." Golf is a game of misses. Even pros miss fairways, greens in regulation, and putts, but Haney says the key lies in avoiding "The Big Miss." For example, missing a fairway by a few feet or yards may not necessarily spell disaster for a golfer. Missing a fairway by landing your ball on the fairway of a different hole... yes, that's a "Big Miss" and that's a problem. A "Big Miss" can be problematic in its own right, but a "Big Miss" often causes an undisciplined golfer to make a second mistake while trying to correct the "Big Miss," then another and so on, until an ugly 8, 9 or 10 lands on the scorecard.

As I watched my son make two "Big Misses" on separate holes this morning, I knew I could do absolutely nothing but sit and watch. Even if I had wanted to, even if I had known what to tell him, the rules of golf tournament play prohibit my strolling onto the course and calling a timeout to offer advice. Sure enough, after his each of his "Big Misses," he made costly mistake after costly mistake trying to compensate for the "Big Miss." Do I even need to tell you that those two holes inflated his score like a balloon?

Even when I have on my dad hat, I often have my principal hat on at the same time. The two "Big Misses" and the helpless feeling I had sitting on the cart path today reminded me of teachers and the possibility of teacher-style "Big Misses"  during the school year (i.e. poor choice of words with a student or class, an ill-advised email home, poor preparation and execution of a parent conference, poor judgment with grading, poor execution of a unit, failing to reteach when necessary, etc.). Thankfully, I know reasonably more about teaching, learning and school than I do about golf. As principals, we must. Like other principals, my job centers on making teachers better and helping them avoid not only the "Big Miss" but also costly mistakes that can follow in the wake of a "Big Miss." Principals do this through meaningful professional development, strategic and intentional conversations, suggesting reading(s), encouraging collaboration, providing meaningful feedback after observations, and more. Even with great coaching, though, teachers occasionally suffer the "Big Miss." Principals see "Big Misses" most often from new or inexperienced teachers but, like golfers, no one is immune to the "Big Miss" (principals included).

The major difference between my position this morning and the position of principals is this: while I had no way of calling a timeout to help after a "Big Miss" on the golf course, a principal has the opportunity and, in fact, the obligation to stroll calmly onto the proverbial golf course and do whatever is necessary to help. It goes without saying that if a principal is to coach the teacher out of the jam, he must first be able to identify not only the "Big Miss" but also the mistake that caused it. A principal may need to give a teacher a do-over with no penalty. A principal may need to talk the teacher through what the next step or steps need to be. A principal may need to carry the teacher's clubs for a while (figuratively, of course). A principal may need to spend time one-on-one with the teacher on the fundamentals, the approach, the mental game or some other issue. Truly, there's no limit to what a great principal will do to coach and support a teacher. The important thing is that a principal never sits in the comfort of the cart on the shaded cart path and mark penalty strokes on the scorecard.

**The Big Miss serves as a great analogy for life as well as for golf. The book chronicle's Haney's experiences with Tiger Woods, but Haney offers both golf lessons and life lessons in the book. I recommend it for golfers and non-golfers alike. Great read.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Anson Dorrance on the Importance of Reading for Professional Growth

In my research for What Teachers Can Learn from Sports Coaches, I heard over and over from some incredible coaches how much they value reading as a means for personal and professional growth. Perhaps none of the coaches I interviewed talked about reading more than Anson Dorrance, Women's Soccer Coach at the University of North Carolina. His list of accolades truly is too long to list, so I will just mention that he has won the NCAA national championship in women's soccer 22 times (no typo, twenty-two). He attributes is own personal growth largely to his voracious reading. If he can grow through reading, how much can you and I grow?

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Don Meyer Quotes That Have Meaning for Coaches and Teachers Alike

In my research for What Teachers Can Learn from Sports Coaches, I discovered numerous quotes from successful coaches on the topics of teaching and learning. Below are a handful of thoughtful quotes from the late Don Meyer, who is widely known as a master teacher. Some of the quotes below appear to be about basketball only. However, each quote below holds significant meaning for the classroom and the classroom teacher, for teaching and for learning.

It is foolish to expect a young man to follow your advice and to ignore your example.

You have to learn things in every game... the games have to be the ultimate learning experience.

Your program must have an overriding purpose, which is clearly visible, which teaches lessons beyond winning.

Treat everyone with the utmost respect, and most of all have patience when you teach.

Every situation is an opportunity for growth.

Our example isn't the main thing in influencing others, it's the only thing.

It's not what you achieve, it's what you become.

Attitudes are contagious. Is yours worth catching?

Shout praise and whisper criticism.

A rock never shines because it absorbs light, but a mirror will because it reflects it. Are you a rock or a mirror?

Be who you are... everybody can spot a phony.

What you accept in victory, you must accept in defeat.