Saturday, March 24, 2012

Autonomy in the Classroom

So far, most of the posts I've published here have focussed on coaching. In this, I'm going to focus in on my "real" job - teaching. I say "real" as in the one that actually pays the bills. Luckily, over a number of years at the same school, I've been able to develop a few courses that are enjoyable and challenging to teach.

This year, in my Sport & Society IDC (interdisciplinary studies) course, I tried to follow Daniel Pink's idea of autonomy in the classroom. At the beginning of the year, I asked the students to plan their class for the semester which they did and quite successfully, too. It's been a bit crazy keeping up with the teaching of a course that I didn't actually plan, but I felt comfortable enough to try it since there is quite a bit of relevant material on my computer...and Google has been rather helpful as well.

Yesterday, on a bit of a whim, I dug out E.B. White's essay entitled "The Decline of Sport." We are currently looking at a unit that the class developed called Sport (R)evolution. White, mostly famously known for penning Charlotte's Web, wrote this satirical essay in the 1950s and speculated that the constant bombardment of sport would eventually be its undoing. Given the prevalence of mass and social media, many of his prophesies have come true. Ironically, I think this blog my be contributing to much of that same "hype" of sport that we see...then again, commercial gain is not the primary goal here and I'd like to think that blogging is not inundating and is more or less a positive pastime.

In any case, from an pedagogical perspective, I am trying to apply the lessons from Daniel Pink's writing and his predictions for what student's will need when they leave school to survive in the fast-paced, technologically driven world.

Hopefully, creating the opportunity for students to ask questions, to think outside the box and to construct meaning from the connections hey make in the world around them will be meaningful both now and in their future!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Choosing books for a coach

There are two stories here that mesh very well on coaching, teaching and learning. My wonderful stepson, Will, just finished up his first season playing basketball at high school. His coach was a young and engagingly friendly young man who went out of his way to praise Will and his teammates for their efforts through the season. We wanted to be able to give him a gift to recognize his time and effort with all the boys and particularly with Will. We suggested that Will choose from several of the leadership/coaching books that I have kicking around the house. Lest we were to be choosing forever, he suggested that I pick three books and then have Will pick one from the three I chose.

It's often been said that I enjoy reading and I've undergone a complete transformation in what I read over the past five or six years. Whereas I used to exclusively read non-fiction I have now done a complete 180 and gone almost entirely with fiction books. Several of these books can be seen to the right --> on my Shelfari bookshelf which is a neat little widget you can add to a blog. I usually have two or three of these books sitting on my bedside table, waiting (somewhat patiently) to be read. I had a very hard time narrowing the choices to only three! In the end, I wanted to make sure that the books wouldn't be chosen by their cover - they needed to look somewhat similar so that one book wouldn't win because it had an entirely different jacket design than another. That meant that Daniel Pink's A Whole New Mind was out since it's cover is bright orange and differs significantly from the books below. It also had to be accessible in Canada (sorry, which meant that Character in Coaching: Building Virtue in Athletic Programs was also out. Both of these are books which I would not hesitate to recommend to both teachers and coaches and teacher-coaches, specifically in the later instance.

The three I chose for Will to choose from were mainly recent reads and the content of each book is something that I think about quite often in relation to both teaching and coaching. I've had several conversations with coaching and teaching colleagues on all of the books below related to teaching and coaching. The content provides incredible food for thought and definitely cuts into my REM sleep since putting these books down is a tough task. Below are the three books I chose:

One, Drive by Daniel Pink. By the way, Daniel Pink also has an amazing blog on all things from his books and more - it's a very interesting read and worth checking out whether you have read his books or not. Drive talks about how we should be motivated by autonomy in both business and education. In my understanding, if something relates to education then it likely relates to sport. I've found that when I have given both students and athletes autonomy in choosing what they learn and how they learn it (within, of course, the confines of the Ministry of Education or the sport season) their learning becomes almost exponential. This takes equal parts knowledge, trust, work and dedication to the task at hand. Of course, Drive talks about other types of motivation and many other parts of 21st Century learning, however, this is the one area which I feel is most applicable to coaching and teaching.

Two, The Talent Code by Dan Coyle. Coyle also has a blog filled with riveting and intellectually stimulating information. His book talks mainly about how purposeful, deep and focussed practice creates an expert. This is, of course, understating the scope of Coyle's writing, however, I believe it to be the crux of the novel. An expert, in Coyle's book, can be a teacher, performer, coach, athlete or musician. In my mind, I believe all of these professions have impacts on people that society mainly hopes are positive. Becoming an expert here can only benefit the small slice of humanity with whom each person comes in contact.

Three, Mindset by Carol Dweck. Dweck has a website called Brainology that is extremely helpful to coaches and educators. In a future blog I will speak about some of the ideas she mentioned in her book and how I used them in my classroom to promote self-belief and student achievement. In this book, Dweck talks about the two mindsets, "growth" and "fixed". The premise is that choosing the growth mindset allows a person to continue to grow though failure, risk-taking and a genuine love of learning while the fixed mindset sees learning as a chore and that one who does not need to work is successful and one who needs to work or to take risks is unsuccessful (ie, people in a fixed mindset are naturally talented). The book allows the reader to glean insight into the growth mindset through numerous studies and could even change minds about the mindset that is chosen early in life.

I'm curious which book you would have chosen...which book would you have picked and why? I'll share the final choice in my next post.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Old coaches

We had an excellent morning practice on Thursday with the Queen's Women. Even more, I was thrilled that two of our former players Jocelyn Poirier and Kait Pasic, were able to join us. As grads, it can be hard to come back and coach the players who were teammates the year prior, but these two women didn't have any issues as their teammates were happy to have them back, albeit in a different role.

One of my personal beliefs is that it is important for me to impress upon the players I coach that getting involved in the game as a referee or coach is just as significant as playing the game. Both Joce and Kait took this to heart and completed their NCCP Introduction to Competition training back in 2010 and were certified within the year. They have both stepped up and coached with the mini-rugby program in Kingston with the Panthers club and have also coached high school rugby. The best part of it all? Getting to watch them coach my daughter, Hannah. To watch these two tremendous women coach my daughter was to see why I coach in the first place - loving the people and loving the game.

Back to Thursday's practice - basically, the practice was entirely game sense focussed. We played, we changed conditions, we played, we asked questions and then we played again. It was great to chat about why and how we were doing the things we were doing with all three coaches and to have them contribute what we were all seeing.

Moral of the story? Coaching doesn't end when your players graduate...sometimes it's just the beginning :).

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Coaches new to the games sense approach...amazing!

Wow! I have the privilege of being able to teach and evaluate coaching courses with many other amazing Rugby Ontario learning facilitators. Tonight, I was able to do one of my favourite things in coaching and attended a practice with coaches who were finalizing their NCCP coaching certifications by actively coaching a session and by being evaluated.

Firstly, it was a super experience since all three of the coaches were in a course that I co-facilitated last year. Secondly, they all did an incredible amount of learning in the games sense approach between the course and the evaluation. Finally, and most importantly, they totally bought in to a new and sometimes uncomfortable method of coaching due to it's unfamiliarity for most coaches.

The three coaches all had significantly different experiences in rugby going from one year of experiences right through to 30 plus years. They all had been coached by coaches who coached the typical way...warm-up, do some drills, finish with unopposed or semi opposed play. The typical "lots of talk by the coaches and not much work by the players" type of practice....that just isn't athlete-centred, fun or result-producing.... So, they turned the practice upside down, started with a game, asked questions of the players to set the goals of the practice and skill, broke the skill down to key points and mini practice, and then put it all back into a high intensity and extremely fun game. And, believe me, the players had fun - they were also looking forward to leaving for an overseas tour in just about a week's time. Intensity was solid and high quality work by all athletes occurred for 90-95% of the practice.

What solidified this whole experience was hearing a 30 year veteran of the game say (and I'm paraphrasing here), "This approach works. Why wouldn't I use it all the time?" And, "it's what we do in soccer...when I came back to playing rugby I went back to how I was coached long ago...this games sense approach is what we should always be doing!"

Makes my heart happy to hear this stuff. What a fabulous day in coaching!