We Don't Just Teach, We Learn and Help: A Look at Understanding the Impact of Our Own Goals in a School Community.
By: Euan Frew
Six years ago I was teaching a unit about the importance of goal setting to my students. Through these lessons it came to pass where my students posed to me the question of what were my goals? I took only a second and essentially spewed out the answer that had almost been programmed into me for years through exposure to post secondary education; I told the students, ”I will do a masters!”. They pushed a bit further to see what it would be that I studied, “A masters in what?”, a student blurted out and at that point I really could do nothing but nod my head and shrug my shoulders, as I had no idea.
At that point I knew ultimately what I wanted to do, a masters, but not the subject matter in which I wanted to place all my efforts in for two to three years. Several different programs seemed to jump out at me, but none ever truly hit the mark. I even went as far as being accepted into a program, but as it would play out, almost by divine intervention, the bottom fell out of the program as there were not enough students enrolled to make it viable and proceed. In hindsight, this was a very good thing as the subject matter only partially interested me and the fact of the matter is that in order to endeavor in a Masters to me was always about the subject matter, not about the money or status gained by obtaining it. Therefore my search continued…
A couple of years passed and then one day I was engaged with a colleague deciding on ways that we could get rid of paper in the class and utilize more of the internet and technology available at hand. At first I did quite well and sought out many new technologies and found it all to be rather rewarding. This was great, but I soon felt that there was stagnation in my professional growth. At the same time I was immersed in a culture that put little emphasis on the importance of physical well-being not seeming to understand the value in the connection between a healthy body and mind. I started to look for more and out of the blue I came across the Master of Arts in Education Program (MAED) online through Michigan State University (MSU) and it was as if angels started to sing to me. Due to the nature of the program two areas of concentration were to stand out to me; Sport Leadership and Coaching and Educational Technology. To many this could have been a deterrent, however, as a coach, Health teacher and physical education instructor the choices matched my areas of desired professional growth and interest. I really was flabbergasted at first in the good fortune of finding such a program. The only thing left to do was apply.
Being able to seek out professional growth in the two fields that as I saw and see today, work so well together, made for a dramatic change in my perception as to what could be done with the curriculum offered. Educational Technology and Sport Leadership and Coaching, perhaps does not seem a fitting pair, but as I soon discovered, were destined to change my perceptions of education and my methods of teaching.
In recent years, the increased awareness in our growing obesity problem has really stood out to me. As the department head of my former schools Physical Education program, it became the department philosophy to promote enjoyment and a life-long love for sport. This meant that the focus shifted from learning skills and doing drills to the idea of introducing our students to a variety of different sports and strategies to maintain a healthy lifestyle. This meant someone of a philosophical shift for many of us, but ultimately at the end of the day we are educators for the benefit of the student, not ourselves.
The idea of creating a life-long love for sport is what has guided and focused my teaching when it comes to Physical Education. For that very reason KIN 857, Positive Youth Development in Sport, seemed like a marvelous fit and in the end turned out to be one of my most influential courses in the MAED program. Starting the course with the book Game On: The All-American Race to Make Champions of our Children, by Tom Farrey (Random House Publishing Group, 2008) was absolutely fitting in supporting this idea of building a life-long love of sport that encapsulated the majority of the populace instead of concentrating all our resources and efforts to building a few successful competitive athletes.
For several years now, Morgan Spurlock’s 2004 film Super Size Me has been part of the nutrition component in the Health curriculum in the various schools in which I have taught at. The film focuses on the power of advertisement and how society is in this terrible free-fall sinking into an increase in obese citizens and increased burden our health services, all of which could be prevented with proper education and the promotion of healthy active lifestyles. Simply looking around it becomes apparent that our youth are no longer inspired to play and be active. As for the reasons for this, Farrey accurately portrays it throughout his book that kids today are simply forced out of physical activity because of the competitive, business influenced model that our society has seemed to embrace. The AAU now has competitive basketball tournaments and national rankings for under 8 years basketball players and teams. No longer are kids able to simply pick up a ball and play around, but rather they are forced to join leagues and teams where they may not even get to play depending on their skill level. This is an absolute shame and further contributes to our ever-burgeoning sedentary society.
Understanding the value of physical activity is one thing, promoting it and understanding best practices and how to convey the value of these best practices to our youth is something different entirely. As KIN 857 gave me the inspiration and guidance for facilitating the promotion and value in physical health, KIN 856 The Physical Bases for Coaching gave me the practical knowledge and information needed to support these practices.
Throughout the course the inspiration to thoughtfully consider how to build and nurture physical well-being was introduced and examined in some depth. Understanding how the body functions under different conditions and how best to serve the athletes was paramount in building a strong athletics program. As my knowledge base grew, so did the effectiveness of the program and the curriculum delivery. Part of the greatest value in the MAED program that I feel was utterly a reason unto itself for embarking on the journey, was how well it related to everyday teaching and the courses’ immediate application into the day-to-day class setting. Not only were the course teaching applicable in the curriculum, but within the context of my extra-curricular programs as well. This became incredibly obvious when I coached for the first time under 12 girls Volleyball.
I began the season with some knowledge of the game, superficial at that, but a small set of goals that would at the end of the season prove to have been thoughtful and fit well into the SMART Goals concept. (For more on what SMART Goals are please click here.) By understanding ultimately what I want to achieve in the overall program and identifying key components to get there, the rest became a simple matter of thoughtful planning.
There were two main influencing goals that became part of my coaching credo that carried over from my teaching the Physical Education curriculum; promote fun and positive growth and learn some new skills along the way. Simple, yet in the numerous games we played against other teams was apparently a difficult concept for many to understand yet alone achieve. From day one it was stated and clear to these enthusiastic girls that as long as they had fun and did the best they could, there was nothing else that we needed to achieve. Winning, but playing poorly became ingrained in the girls as something we would not be happy with. Playing our best and losing was awesome in that we were able to put forth our best efforts and that is what we would strive for each time.
Parents and kids bought into this wholeheartedly and it showed. Everyone was all smiles win or lose. Other Coaches, players and parents noted how positive the kids were and that they seemed to be simply enjoying being out playing. In the finals for first place in our end of season tournament, the girls played their best volleyball of the year, clearly putting everything together. The opposition on the other hand fell apart with girls crying and the coach yelling at them. This was a horrible thing to watch, however before too long my girls true to form started cheering for the other team and trying their best to support and help these other girls keep it together. At the end of the match, the girls did not run around celebrating their win, but ran to the net to thank the other team for the game and the fun experience. After, the first words that came from the girls’ mouths when we huddled together were not “WE WON!” but rather, “we played our best and it was fun!” That to me was incredible and to further this joy, we also won the award for most sportsmanlike, the award that I think best reflected our spirit of enjoyment and fair play.
Due to the background and knowledge gained from KIN 857 and KIN 856 building this program and awareness of positive development and how to attain it, was possible. The theoretical understanding coupled with the practical knowledge made for a wonderful season, but to this day the bond with my girls from that team is as strong as ever. Every single one of the girls has enrolled in volleyball camps as well as clubs because they simply have developed a love for the sport. As this was my initial objective, I could not ask for anything more. The post-season survey to the athletes and the parents further supported my conclusions. Having the insight to send out a post-season survey was something that despite coaching for the past 18 years I had never done, but due to KIN 854, another invaluable course taken, I was exposed to the values of such endeavors.
As a future professional goal of mine is to take on the responsibility of an athletics director, understanding the administrative side of athletics programs is critical and imperative. For this reason KIN 854, Legal and Administrative Issues of Coaching, was a critical piece in this overall puzzle. The practical and vital information and lessons learned in this course burgeoned my understanding the role of a coach as well as in the future of an athletics director. There are so many components to a successful program and without such a course, there is really no way to learn and understand the impact of decisions and courses of actions taken in a safer and practical environment. As I soon found, the role of a coach is more than simply showing the athletes how to hit a ball or get fit; there are the logistics of practice schedules, waivers, away games and tournaments and so much more that need to be taken into consideration that if not properly planned and taken care of could result in very serious repercussions or injury, where legal actions may be taken. Understanding how to best protect the athletes as well as ones self is a valuable asset to attain and understand.
As mentioned before, these lessons helped to further my understandings of how to build a successful program, ensuring that all aspects of it would be auspicious to my future as a coach and later down the road as an athletics director. These lessons have contributed to my ever-deepening philosophy, which encompasses and reaches to the Physical Education department credo. This ethos has been developed over the past few years informally and has now been indoctrinated into the program formally. As I am heading as department chair, I have assumed the responsibility of putting this forth and ensuring through consensus that it is practiced and believed wholeheartedly. I have slightly modified the goals to include and encompass a few more aspects of building a life-long love of physical fitness, however, the essential underline theme of being active and enjoying sport is at the forefront of it all.
At the start of the MAED program, such a notion and understanding of leadership skills were lacking and very raw. From the onset, it seemed logical to assume that when you are leading a team or division they simply listen and enthusiastically follow what you say. This is just not the case in most instances. People need confidence in their leaders, a faith that the overall well-being of the team and people are at the forefront of intentions. There also needs to be a vision with a clear and defined plan on how to achieve it in effect with a notion of transparency throughout evident. These skills come from a learned understanding of what it takes to be a strong leader. The necessity of understanding ones own strengths and weaknesses are also imperative in the journey to become a successful leader. CEP 815 Technology and Leadership, heavily influenced and deepened my understanding of such concepts. Realizing that a strong leader is aware not only of their strengths, but more importantly, their shortcomings is essential. With this understanding, leadership skills can grow and ones potential for success is greatly increased.
CEP 815 Technology and Leadership, was designed to facilitate the inclusion of technology into a curriculum and how to get people to embrace this, but the greater lesson learned was that of how transferable these skills are to other areas. The course examined the Harvard Business Review’s, Ten Must Reads on Leadership, a wonderful read in any case, but critical in the overall understanding of being a successful leader whatever the scope. This transference of skills has also opened new ideas that have already been implemented into the Physical Education curriculum. This can be seen in the development of a course site, student sites on a secure Google server transparent and accessible information for students and parents alike to utilize, online lessons and testing and as one can guess the list goes on. The larger accomplishment was not so much the creation of these wonderful resources, but rather the participation by the teachers, old and new, embracing technology despite fears they may have of it.
The task of learning and utilizing such technologies is and can be quite daunting, but with a critical look at my own abilities and understanding of how to approach my colleagues, I have been able to get everyone on board. For many it was something already practiced, but for the older teachers, a little more set in their ways, the objective was a little harder. In such a case, the practical application of the information learned was applied. Offering one-on-one help sessions, not organized, simply impromptu, were critical in succeeding. Having these what I term, “technology resistors”, able to ease into the inclusion of technologies such as web design, online tests, etc. without fear of the technology was paramount. Allowing them to see that it takes a little bit to get used to, but once started, it is fun and makes the overall experience for students, parents and teachers alike much more enjoyable and conducive to success. Realizing that it is easy to fix mistakes and change aspects that perhaps are not working for them with a few clicks here and there was a soon very much appreciated asset to the endeavor. Obviously there is a continual learning curve, but when everyone is taking part in the process and helping one another along the way, everything becomes much more enjoyable and in a way, easier.
The next piece in this puzzle is the inclusion of students. Introducing them to the new technology was simply not a difficult task, this being a direct result from the lessons learned in CEP 817 Learning Technology by Design. As the course undertook from start to finish, the importance of understanding what you are doing, why you are doing it and how best to do it, was seen through TPACK (Technology, Pedagogy and Curriculum knowledge). TPACK had a reoccurring relevance throughout the MAED program and from two and a half years ago when the concept was first introduced until now, has continued to dominate the inclusion of technology into my curriculum.
Understanding how technology, pedagogy and curriculum all come together and interact with one another directs and guides educators in how to best propagate learning. This process is essential in finding professional growth and understanding best practices. The idea being and something that I have come to argue vehemently in favor of, is that one does not teach the same day in day out because it is what is best for them, but rather understanding that ultimately we need to have the learners best interests at heart. To do this we need to understand how they learn, not how we learned. Technology and the world we live in has and will continue to rapidly change. TPACK helps us as educators, as well as learners understand our roles in education. From this the developments in my Physical Education department have been for the benefit of the students. This in effect has become clear to all the members in the department and influenced us all in a very positive and effective way.
In the big picture of education, the experiences and practical knowledge acquired from the MAED program have shaped and molded my every dimension as an educator and coach. Understanding why and realizing the great impact that we all have is something that creates a desire to be more effective and through this a life-long learner. The skills and understanding gained in what has been discussed, read and written about for the past two and a half years is evident. Although, my journey through the MAED program is drawing to a close, my desire and enjoyment found in professional and personal development has now only just begun. As I wind down with this Capstone course I am realizing just how much this program has impacted and affected my outlook on specifically enhancing and promoting a life-long love for sport within the context of my curriculum, but more encompassing, my overall view of education and how to enhance my own teaching to serve the needs of my students, colleagues and school community best. I look forward to continuing my engagement in my coaching endeavors, teaching practices and administrative aspirations armed with the knowledge and guidance learned.