Whose Problems Matter?

I have almost a semester of full time teaching under my belt. I have learned a lot, made some mistakes, achieved some victories and have a clearer understanding of where I want my career to go (likely a leadership position). I am starting to plan for my next semester with one major goal in mind.

Many teachers often wish they had more time to talk with each of their students. Teachers are often in a position where they are expected to “teach” so much that they can’t have meaningful conversations with their students.

I have been able to cut down on a lot of “teaching” time with the use of stations. Next semester I am planning for these stations to be more skill based but the main idea will still be the same. Little to no talking from the front of the room; students will be responsible for their own learning while producing deliverable for me.

I had a lot of time to wander the classroom and help students because of this model, in the first semester. However I do not like how much of the time I spent micromanaging the students. I had a good conversations, scattered throughout my days but next semester I am planning on being purposeful with that time.

I plan on scheduling a 10 minute conversation with every one of my students every month, or maybe as often as every two weeks. I plan to ask the students what their most pressing problems are in my class, as they see it. I want to address what they see as issues.

Too often do we identify problems for students, and offer solutions. This doesn’t work. Students just listen and nod, they aren’t engaged because they don’t own the problem or the solutions. I plan to change that.

I want to know what they see as a problem and then as them to run through what they see as the causes, solutions and outcomes. As Susan Scott puts it in “Fierce Conversations”, I want them to interrogate reality. I want them to take ownership of the problems and solutions. That is not possible if I dictate the problems and solutions.

“Action springs not from thought, but from a readiness for responsibility.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Coach K

Posted in Growth, Leadership, Strategies, Teaching | Leave a comment

Teaching and Leading

It has been a while since I last posted. I would say I have been too busy; looking back at my schedule over the last 6 months or so I have been busy fishing, working at Shad Valley, and adjusting to life as a full time High School Teacher. However, I have just been ignoring the blog, I have time for this.

This Fall marks my first as a full time teacher. I have been enjoying it. The part I have enjoyed the most has been my experimentation with turning my classroom into a leadership environment.

I started the year pretty traditionally. I spoke a lot from the front of the room, gave a couple of tests, and coached football. Since football season ended I have been doing work that I have been more proud of.

I have set my classroom up (grade 9 social studies and english) in learning stations. I speak to my students from the front of the room 2-3 times a week, for about 20 minutes each time. I am either giving them an introduction to a new subject or setting clear expectations for the next project/activity. The rest of the time students work on completing each stations mini assignment and/or the units major assignment.

I spend the bulk of my time in conversation with students. Sometimes its the normal “Get to work Sally” type of conversations. Other times it gets a little deeper into analyzing bad habits, probing into the learning or just sharing frustrations.

I have made a lot of mistakes, and the work the students are doing, aside from there being a TON of it, isn’t anything innovative. But I am proud of the environment I have set up.

Students are collaborating. I see them frustrated, with screwed up faces, and declaring their frustration then tackling the work with whoever is at the station with them. They are stressed, overworked, well out of their comfort zones and have no choice but to work together or sink.

I am proud that I don’t rely on my own knowledge for the basis of my teaching practice. I base the classroom environment mainly on collaborative work keep my foot on the gas pedal. I have created something that makes the student responsible for their own learning.

I am excited at the mere idea of planning a new unit that will frustrate and challenge every student in my classroom. I am also excited about planning out how I can A) have more meaningful conversations every week with each student and B) get students involved in the leadership environment I have created for myself.

Coach K

Posted in Experiences, Teaching | 1 Comment

Why Organizations Lose Young People

Working with teenagers and people into their early twenties is not the same as working with adults. Many people say that in the context of biological and mental development. I am saying it in the context of experience.

When talking about values, ownership, buy-in and commitment a 40 year old woman has experience with those things, both personally and professionally. She can choose employers, religious institutions, brands etc. based on her own values. When she presents these things to one of her peers they can agree or disagree with her. They can listen to her or walk away. They can grow together, learn together or move on.

When working with young people they have not lived through enough experiences to understand how values are formed. They don’t know who they are yet and therefore are not ready to commit.

When working with younger people you need to change your perspective. If you present them with your value system and beliefs and expect them to take ownership and buy in you will be confronted by a wall. They will not want to do what you want them to do. This is not because what you are presenting to them is bad, it’s because you have not allowed them the opportunity to develop themselves.

Everyone needs to come to their own understanding about who they are and why they will undertake future challenges. In order to retain young people you do not need them to buy-in to what you believe, you need to lead them through a process of self discovery. They need to make their own decisions about what they believe and what they will do.

If you are not willing to let young people set their own values, beliefs, and goals you will not successfully develop and retain exceptional young people. 


Coach K

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Transformational Experiences

Many organizations that work with people, youth groups, schools, coaching organizations, sports teams, HR departments try to offer opportunities and experiences that transform people’s lives for the better. Working with teens the most common and lauded ways to do this are weekend conventions and summer camps. Whether these are academic, religious, sports etc. centered experiences they are usually good things. The people attending them have great experiences and have great memories and may even learn a thing or two. However there is always a kind of hangover and regression back to the norm that happens when everyone leaves.

                No matter how “good” these experiences are we cannot deny that we have failed to transform lives. You can provide great speaking, loads of fun, accurate teaching and whatever else you want, but if everyone just goes back to normal, you aren’t providing a transformational experience.

                Weekend conventions are simply too short and most summer camps provide more fun than whatever they claim to be peddling (spiritual growth, academic learning, leadership development). Transformational change requires a lot of work, complete dedication, emotional experiences, rational decisions and a serious helping of relationship building.

                If your organization wants to change lives, you need to get people out of their comfort zone, away from their friends and into a new environment. You need to keep them there and work them to the point of exhaustion.

                If a person has a great experience for a weekend/week (no commitment) with their friends (no new perspectives) and is provided a comfy chair to learn from (no struggle), they have not gained anything new. They will still be themselves when they go back.

                Create a program where they cry, sweat and bleed. Create a program where they can’t rely on anything familiar. Create a program they will never forget, not because it was an unforgettably “good”, but because it changed who they were. 


Coach K

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Fear: Game Time

When confronted by fear you really only have two major options. Step up or get out of the way. I am scared of heights and this fall I had the opportunity to supervise a camping and rappelling trip for high school students. There is a lot going on in this video. Encouragement from teenagers, huffing and puffing from a terrified grown man…. a bark. I will expand on it once I learn more about posting videos to wordpress.

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