Saturday, May 23, 2015

Excerpt from What Teachers Can Learn from Sports Coaches - The Game Has Changed

Below is an excerpt from my newest book, What Teachers Can Learn from Sports Coaches, to give readers an idea of what the book really is about. I hope you enjoy the excerpt and I hope you'll consider picking up or downloading a copy of the book.

What Teachers Can Learn from Sports Coaches
by Nathan Barber
Copyright 2014, Routledge/Eye on Education


“Athletes and people are happiest when they are improving… You are either getting better or you are getting worse… I find it really tough at any level, but especially with an Olympian that’s no longer getting any better and not improving… we have to deal with some tough stuff. We do whatever we can – with technology, with feedback, with multiple coaches coming from different angles – to keep them improving, because that’s when they are performing at their best.” Marv Dunphy, member of the Volleyball Hall of Fame, Five-Time NCAA National Champion as Head Coach of Pepperdine University Men’s Volleyball, and Gold Medal Winner as Head Coach of the 1988 Olympic Team

The Game Has Changed…

            The game has changed. What game, you ask? Well, virtually every game in the modern sports world has changed since its inception. For some sports, rules have changed, gameplay has changed, equipment has changed, scoring has changed and even the length of the season has changed. The three point line in basketball, the designated hitter in baseball, and the forward pass in football each have irreversibly changed their respective sports. For other sports, the players today are bigger, stronger, and faster than ever before, and the very nature of those particular sports have been forever altered because of the changes in the athletes. Usain Bolt in track and field, Lionel Messi in soccer, Tiger Woods in golf, Michael Phelps in swimming, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Brittney Griner in basketball have elevated the level of “excellence” to new heights in their respective sports. Additionally, many nuances of the major sports have changed.
            To be a successful in the sports world today, a good coach must understand change. He not only must acknowledge that his sport changes but also must take measures to keep up with the changes. He must be willing to change his practice approach and his game plan. He must be willing to approach players differently. He must be willing to approach every aspect of the game differently. If there is a coach today using the same approach, same game plan and same practice plan he did twenty years ago, chances are that his program ranks somewhere other than at the top. Because rules, equipment, scoring and even players have changed through the years, no good coach would stubbornly resist change and refuse to stay current. Imagine a basketball coach running the same plays he used before the introduction of the three-point line.
A good coach works hard to stay on top of how his particular sport continues to change or he simply gets passed by. An NCAA or National Football League defensive coordinator better put in extra time to understand how the New Orleans Saints and the Baylor Bears, engineered by Sean Payton and Art Briles, respectively, have changed the game of football offensively. A National Hockey League coach better work hard to find a way to approach Ken Hitchcock’s frustrating, defense-first style of hockey. Coaches who do not keep up with other programs’ innovations will become obsolete very quickly.
            As with the world of sports, the world of education has changed. Historically, education has changed very little until very recently. The stand-and-deliver model of teaching by lecture dominated education for centuries, dating back to the advent of universities hundreds of years ago. Even late into the 20th century and beyond, such obsolete pedagogy has managed to hang on for dear life in some schools even though the world outside the classroom walls has been changing at an incredible rate. In recent years however, the rules of education have changed, the art of teaching has changed, scoring and assessment have changed, the length of the days and years have changed, and even the students have changed. Imagine a teacher teaching science the way she taught it in the 1970s, or history, or art. Inconceivable! For a good teacher, these changes present opportunities to change with the times and explore new and exciting best practices.
            A good teacher understands that both teaching and learning have changed. Whereas classrooms once were cutting edge with one Apple IIe for students to share, many classrooms today have tablets or laptops in every student’s hands. Classrooms of days gone by used sticks of chalk with chalk boards or black boards, while today’s classrooms often boast interactive whiteboards. Blended classes, digital textbooks, state standardized testing, increasingly competitive college admissions, scores of proprietary curriculum choices, Advanced Placement courses and more have changed not only what teachers teach but how they teach. Similarly, what students learn and how they learn have changed. Research has shown repeatedly that the one-size-fits-all assembly-line method of educating students used so much throughout the 20th century leads to disinterest and disengagement with 21st century kids.
A good teacher recognizes that today’s students differ even from students ten years ago. Today’s students are more plugged in than ever. Today’s students have different life goals than students a generation ago. Today’s students face a future that is more uncertain than ever before and employment statistics that are far from encouraging. As a result, what students need in the classroom varies greatly from what students needed in past generations. A good teacher changes her game plan, or lesson plans, to accommodate these changing needs. Because students’ needs have changed and because the ways students’ learn best have changed, a good teacher stays current on changes in teaching and learning by reading, researching, observing others and experimenting with new approaches.
            A good teacher, unafraid to change with the times, rewrites his game plan as often as necessary in order to stay current with best practices. In terms of teaching quality, experience can be priceless. As recent research shows, however, there exists no direct correlation between teacher experience and teacher effectiveness. This largely results from career educators’ inability or desire not to change and update their game plans to give todays’ students what they need. The best teacher in any given building may or may not be the most experienced teacher. The best teacher in the building, though, will not be the one using the same yellowed notes he used three decades ago. The best teacher in the building will not be the one using the same exams he used back when mimeograph machines with purple toner were all the rage. The best teacher in the building will not be the one who has memorized all the lectures and can deliver them with no notes or outlines in front of him. As with coaches who hold on too long to the old ways of doing things, quite possibly, the game of teaching has passed some of these teachers by, thus rendering them obsolete in the 21st century classroom. The best teacher in the building, regardless of years of experience, does what all good teachers do: he evaluates his game plan often and rewrites his game plan as often as necessary to accommodate the changing needs of the students and the changing landscape of the real world and does not cling to obsolete pedagogies.
            Perhaps baseball coach John Cohen of Mississippi State University sums this up best. Having led his Bulldogs to not only the College World Series finals in 2013 but also to the most wins in program history in a season, Cohen understands that change and evolution are crucial to continued success. He says of his own coaching and teaching journey, “… the six most dangerous words in the English language: We’ve always done it this way. That’s dangerous because the world is changing. If we were doing it the same way that I was doing it as a young coach 20 years ago, we’d be doing the program a huge disservice. It’s a challenge to make sure you’re constantly evolving.” As Cohen will testify, the challenge certainly is worth it, for you and for those you teach.
Keeping mind that the game has changed, and will continue to change, the obvious question is, “Will you?”

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