Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Motivation – A Reflection from my Coaching Days

Motivating students can be a difficult challenge for both parents and teachers.  There are certainly no shortage of resources available to help provide advice for how to address this challenge, but I would offer some additional insight into motivation that I learned from my days of coaching baseball.

My observations are based on a few assumptions.  One assumption is that people are motivated by achievement and success.  When you think about it, this makes perfect sense.  I cannot imagine a person being motivated to continue to perform a task that they consistently fail to achieve an acceptable level of success.

Another assumption is that people are most successful when they identify their strengths and challenges, and use their strengths to address their challenges.  In other words, when people are honest about their strengths and challenges, an opportunity to grow presents itself.  Once the challenge is accepted, playing to one’s strengths puts one in the best position to achieve a level of success.

Let me provide an example from my coaching days.

A player on my team was in the midst of a terrible slump.  He had not had a solid hit in over a week and his confidence level was rapidly declining.  In an effort to get out of the slump, I told him that his strengths were his speed and ability to hit the ball to right field.  He agreed and asked what he could do to help himself.  I told him that in the next game, based on the situation, I would ask him to either try to bunt for a hit or try a hit and run (both good strategies for fast runners who can hit to right field).  In the game, we had a runner on base and I called for the slumping batter to hit and run (which means he MUST swing at the next pitch and try to hit it to right field).  The call played to his strengths and he executed the play perfectly.  When the inning was over I saw him in the dugout smiling and with renewed enthusiasm for playing.  He felt better, he achieved a tangible result, he couldn’t wait to get up again and get another hit – his confidence was returning.

For students, the same approach is worth trying.  An investment in time to get them to identify their strengths is valuable in the sense that at some point, students will have difficulties.  At those times, being able to draw upon your strengths is a great tool to help build confidence and address that challenge.

The same strategy can be applied to a developing teacher who is going through a rough time.  Even with seasoned teachers, I often remind them to take an inventory of their own skills and identify the strengths they bring to every class.  Every teacher does certain things very well, but no teacher does everything very well.  Therefore, a strategy to apply one’s strengths to the development of a challenge area sets one up for a measurable achievement that can serve to build confidence and motivate the teacher to continue with their professional development plan.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Year round school or quality over quantity?

Thoughts about Faculty Development

It is said that a company's best assets are its employees.  A reasonable association can be made that a school's best assets are its teachers.  Reflecting on this concept, I offer a slightly different assumption.

A school's best assets are its well-developed teachers.

My own personal observation is that on-site professional development often takes the form of pre-service and in-service days, a few classroom observations, and an end of the year summative review.  Budgets include line items for professional development which are spent on a small number of teachers who attend a few conferences each year concering topics of interest.  What I find missing are some important elements that take profesional development from personal development and use it to make a positive impact on students, families, and the school as a whole.

A professional development plan needs to have goals that are aligned with the mission of the school.  These goals are met by putting the professional development plan into action.  A potentially beneficial plan must be more than a line in the budget.  The plan needs to include measurable outcomes and a procedure to collect on-going feedack about the benefits of each item in the plan.

Professional development also needs to address individual teacher development as well as school-wide initiatives.  Making an investment in your best teachers to take an active role in the development of their peers is a great way to wed the individual needs of a teacher to the more universal goals of the school.

For an intersting blog post about teaching and learning, feel free to go to Jim Wickenden's Independent Minded post:  Interesting Findings on Teaching and Learning

Thursday, July 22, 2010

National study links educational leadership to student achievement

National study links educational leadership to student achievement

The story linked to above is a good read on a very comprehensive study into the links betwen leadership and student achievement. I am intersted in more of the research details and whether or not they only interviewed public school leaders. In my own reseach, I have found strong achievement in private schools as well, but little research into a link between private leadership and student achievement.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Ok, Let Us Begin

Well, here we go.  This initial post on The Art of Education explains the meaning behind "The Art of Education."  When I first began teaching and coaching, I had very little formal teacher training.  What I did have was a desire to do my best and an understanding that I was going to take responsibility for a group of students.  During that time, I began reading a number of books about leadership and strategic thinking.  One book that I read multiple times was The Art of War by Sun Tzu.

The Art of War is considered by many to be one of the most influential collection of writings on military strategy and tactics.  While I did not consider teaching class the same as conducting warfare (though some teachers may argue that it is similar), reading The Art of War helped me reflect on how to take my responsibilities as an educator and apply a strategic approach to performing my job to the best of my ability.

Today, I still recognize the benefits of a strategic approach to developing my teaching craft.  As an administrator, I am often called upon to think strategically and apply sound leadership.  I hope that you find nuggets of wisdom to take with you from this site, The Art of Education.
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