Sunday, 26 October 2014
Tuesday, 7 October 2014
I love learning. I love learning about getting better at the things I love to focus my energy on. I've recently picked up a book - Richard Hattie's Visible Learning for Teachers (2012, Routledge, NY). Its amazing really, when you find some reading that speaks to you on many levels. This book speaks to me about what is really important when teaching kids how to learn a motor skill. Hattie did a meta-analysis of meta-analysis studies examining teaching and learning influences on student achievement in schools. His research aims to answer the question -what effect does a type of learning influence (such as giving feedback) have on the level of student achievement. His writing has been described as 'the holy grail' of education research books by some reviewers. He points out early and often, that simply having a positive impact on learning isnt good enough because there is very little that a teacher or coach can do that will not result in some learning.
For me, Hattie's work speaks to the important pieces of structuring learning - which is of course completely relevant to effective coaching in a sport context. The fact is that coaches can choose to focus on so many different things while helping kids to learn. What Hattie's research does is measure teaching and learning influences using effect size (e.g. d=.40); in doing so, it makes it possible to compare some types of teaching and learning influences compared to others. Not all things that that teachers or coaches do have an equal effect. Some are more potent than others in helping learners achieve more.
In his writing, Hattie points to six signposts that identify excellence in teaching and learning. Here they are:
1. Teachers (Coaches) are the most powerful influences in learning.
2. Teachers (Coaches) need to be directive, influential, caring, actively and passionately engaged in the process of teaching and learning.
3. Teachers (Coaches) need to be aware of what each student (athlete) is thinking and have sufficient knowledge of content so they can provide meaningful and appropriate feedback.
4. Teachers (Coaches) and students (athletes) need to know the learning intentions and criteria for success. They need to know where they are at, and where they need to go next
5. Teachers (Coaches) need to move from a single idea to multiple ideas - to extend these ideas so learners can construct meaning.
6. School Leaders (Head Coaches) need to create a culture where 'error' is welcomed as an important step in developing more complex understandings and abilities.
As teachers and coaches we need to recognize that everything we do and say is important. How we present ourselves matters. Being passionate about what we teach is one of the most powerful influences we might have. Instilling a love for something is a big piece of the work we do. We need to have enough knowledge about the subject/sport so that we can give meaningful feedback. As teachers and coaches we need to help kids see where they are at and where they need to go next. Learning intentions need to be clear to the learners - if not - no wonder they dont learn very quickly. Developing conceptual understandings of how physical skill builds and why we learn to perform a skill a certain way is key in helping to develop mastery. Finally, error needs to be embraced as healthy and an important step towards achievement. Error is how we learn - not something we should feel badly about. How many times I have provided that explanation when coaching volleyball I couldn't tell you. Volleyball is a game of errors - a team gains a point only when the other team makes an error.
As coaches of adolescents, we need to remember that much of what we are doing is teaching - teaching motor skills, habits of mind, attitudes, and developing a love of skiing. Not all teachers are created equal - some teachers have a little something extra - something that engages the kids they work with in a meaningful way. I encourage you to find out more about what those coaches are doing - cause its worth replicating.
Saturday, 4 October 2014
There is something to say about splitting my life between coaching and teaching. Noticing the stark contrast between the education world and the coaching world in the willingness of professionals to share out best practice with those less experienced and knowledgeable. One only has to look to twitter to see the vast volume of the sharing of best practice ideas in teaching, and the almost complete lack of any sharing of best practice in coaching. Why is this? Why is that experienced, knowledgeable, seasoned coaches in cross country skiing do very little to no sharing of their work, their insight, or their resources with other coaches? I'm not saying it doesn't happen, because it does. Experienced, seasoned coaches, do share their wisdom or expertise. It just doesn't happen very often, at least as far as I am aware of.
Maybe it is because of the proprietary nature of cross country ski coaching in Canada. Seasoned, knowledgeable, experienced coaches are motivated to deliver their expertise to those employing them. Often the boards of directors of the clubs that pay their professional coaches include stipulations in their contracts that their employed coaches may not do work for other clubs. Rightly these clubs who are paying alot of money to employ a seasoned, experienced, knowledgeable coach want these coaches to serve their membership. And so, the rich get richer, and the poor stay where they are or struggle along.
Contrast this with the world of education in Alberta. In education, teachers are publicly funded, and a set of professional competencies is expected from these teachers, including constant professional learning and the explicit directive to create a collaborative culture where mentoring occurs, where sharing of best practice is an obligation. Sharing of everything you know as a teacher is expected to serve the common good of children in Alberta. What a refreshing and positive environment for professionals - a place where ready access to expertise is available, a place where those who know share with those who don't. You just have to pop onto Twitter to see that that platform is widely and immensely used by educators across North America. The notion of a Professional Learning Network is a broadly embraced idea in teaching. My own professional learning network includes over 1000 other educators where everyday I both share out my work and learn from the work of others.
This morning I had a conversation with a coaching colleague about the state of our sport in Alberta. There is lots going on that is working really well. But the reality that surfaced in our conversation is that the ecology of our sport is maybe not functioning as smoothly or as synchronous as it might. A theme from our conversation was that so much of what occurs happens in isolation of other links in the (to use the American phrase) athlete development pipeline. And maybe the reason this happens is because of the proprietary free market nature of coaching in Alberta. There is no motivation for clubs or coaches to share out their best practice. There are no structural professional obligations to build capacity in colleagues. Perhaps there should be. Don't get me wrong, I am a free market driven dude. But I think there is a role in advancing our sport through incentives for knowledge sharing and capacity building.
Its time to change the culture of our sport. Change it to a place where there is non proprietary sharing of best practice. I started this blog with the express intention of moving our coaching culture in that direction. The purpose of this blog is to share out best practice ideas, provide a place to stimulate some conversation about what best practice looks like, and share out my own ideas about things I have done and the reasons I have done them. Its been two years since the inception of this blog - and I'll be honest, I have been very surprised that almost 1500 people every month have read this blog. But it speaks I think to the interest and need for greater sharing of ideas and best practice exemplars. I for one, would love to follow coaches from clubs across all of North America, where I can begin to expand on my professional learning network in the world of cross country ski coaching.
Imagine how much better off our young athletes would be if clubs and coaches were much more willing to share out their ideas about what is working and why. I encourage you to start a blog and share. I'll be one of your first followers.