Monday, 7 October 2013

Do your best...what are we really teaching kids...

Is 'do your best' the best we can do as coaches?
Somewhere along the way we have to ask ourselves as coaches - are we doing everything we can to advance athlete development?  Do we reflect on the impact of what we say and what we do on the achievement of learning outcomes attached to our work?  Are we doing the things that are important to help kids become more than what they are predisposed to do?
These are good questions.  They come from my introduction to some research done by John Hattie, an education professor from New Zealand, who has conducted some meta-analysis research on several thousand research papers focused on teaching and learning.
In my role as a learning consultant with a local school division, I explore and share this type of learning with other teachers to advance the work that teachers do with students.  This work is equally as important and maybe moreso with coaches,  where outside of a small elite group of professional coaches, ready access to ideas about best practice when it comes to creating learning environments where kids can surpass their predisposed potential as athletes and instead become more than their best may not be that readily available.
Hattie's work abounds with great ideas to improve practice as it relates to the role of teacher or in the case of most folks reading this blog, to the role of coaches.  Great learning often is attached to reflection - being able to synthesize some key ideas into practice.   It is the change in practice that is the evidence that learning has taken place.  One of the reasons I blog, is for my own synthesis of ideas that come from literature, video, mentors, or my own practice as a coach.  Hattie suggests, and with research to back him up, that it is the teachers or in our case, the coaches whose reflection on their own practice is what is of key importance to student learning.  What are we doing and how does it affect achievement?
Hattie's research examines 138 different influences on achievement.  He notes the relative importance of various influences on the rate and success of student achievement.  We all have this idea that smaller instructional groups has a positive affect on achievement.  But how does small instructional groupings compare relatively to the impact of influences such as providing a challenging task.
The essence of good teaching according to Hattie comes down to a number of important things that successful teachers do.  Successful coaches do these same things.
1.  learning intentions are clear - kids should have a clear picture of what the outcome looks like - e.g. today we are going learn to be kick-ass double polers... 
2. success criteria is absolutely obvious - kids should know what success looks like - e.g.  double poling should look like.... it should include this important piece...
3. peer work is dramatic and critical - good learning includes kids talking to each other about the learning task, helping each other figure out what to do, what it looks like, how it should feel, and how they know they are doing it.  e.g. after making the learning intention clear, kids should have opportunities to engage in peer teaching, feedback, and skill correction
4. discussion about the task - good learning includes some discussion about the learning task
5. when you achieve the task, you want to do it again - when learning has taken place, kids are excited about their improvement and seek to make further improvement
The worst thing that you can according to Hattie is to tell kids to 'do their best'.  Doing your best is too easy.  There is not adequate challenge in 'doing your best'.  Doing your best means whatever you put forth is good enough for you because that is your best.  Really good learning includes creating challenging tasks for kids.  What does that look like in coaching cross country skiing?  Some people have that figured out - you just have to look to the places where kids are successful, where they stick it out, where they are engaged as young athletes and where they are skiing skilfully and with fitness. 
These are the sort of conversations we need to be having with coaches in our own clubs and with coaches in neigbouring clubs.  If we are interested in advancing the skill and engagement of kids as young athletes, we need to be thinking about what we are doing as coaches and teachers to create challenging learning tasks that help kids exceed their potential.  We need to aim higher as coaches - to helping kids become more than their best.  We need to have those conversations with each other about what that might look like and what our role is as coaches.
These are type of conversations I love to have.  Grab me next time you see me and lets chat.
Roy Strum
Canmore, AB

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