Thursday, October 18, 2018

Being A Good Coach

Between the ages of 14 and 35, I coached some 40 different baseball and softball teams, most of which were youth teams with players between the ages of four and 14. During my early years as a teacher, those experiences greatly influenced the way I "managed" a classroom full of kids, and I can still find remnants of that coaching approach in how I play to role of teacher today.

A good coach works with individual players, of course, helping them develop their skills and adjust their attitudes, but the priority of a great coach is the team itself. As the cliche goes, there is no "I" in team. A coach's job is to shape a group of individuals into a cohesive unit that works together toward a common end, which in the world of amateur baseball isn't always winning. That translates into the classroom as "project-based" learning (in the spirit of Reggio Emilia and other play-based models) which relies upon the principles of teamwork.

"Normal" schools tend to focus on individual achievement as measured by grades and test scores, which leads to children competing against one another for those prizes. Team-based education is more likely to concentrate on collective or group intelligence as measured by cooperative problem solving, which is much more like what we find in the world outside of the artificiality of normal schools. I mean, after all, even when I've worked in corporate environments, I would spend most of my days sitting down with my co-workers to noodling out how to solve this problem or that challenge, working as a part of a project team to get things done. Sure, people sometimes competed with one another, but success always came through cooperation, even if an unscrupulous player would sometimes try to steal the credit for his own advancement. And outside the corporate world, cooperative problem solving, teamwork, is the norm, be it running our cooperative preschool, feeding the poor, or organizing a fundraiser.

It's not that I don't concern myself with the individual needs and challenges of the children I teach, it's that I tend to look at those needs and challenges in the context of our community, which is served not just by children who work well together, but also by each child having the opportunity to productively contribute her or his unique talents and perspectives. A great team is not built from homogeneity, but rather from diversity. The success of a coach in a classroom, I think, is measured by how well her team incorporates all the talent from all the children no matter what the outcome. That is why we work so hard on social-emotional development, on the ability to include and be included, on understanding emotions, and to not just make space for those who are different, but to figure out how those differences make all of us better.

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