Monday, March 29, 2010

Monday Ponderance: Finish Strong

It is dreary outside. We are embarking on our second full week in a row with the prospect of 8 more in a row before we are off for Memorial Day. The 4th quarter begins today, and our 8th graders have been admitted to high schools and are ready to go

We've all been in situations where the immediate feeling may be to coast home. You've worked hard for 3/4 of the year and for an instant you feel that would be enough to get you through the rest of the year.

But that is not what will be remembered. The legacy of a team, of a person is how they end their season, their life. It's the last stretch where you earn your reputation, develop the character.

Check out this video (full disclosure: it promotes a book entitled Finsh Strong) to see how some people were able to overcome obstacles (obstacles most of us would have understood and accepted) and accomplish great things.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Edison on Coaching

Being busy does not always mean real work. The object of all work is production or accomplishment and to either of these ends there must be forethought, system, planning, intelligence, and honest purpose, as well as perspiration. Seeming to do is not doing.

Thomas Edison

Each day for lacrosse practice I produce a practice plan and have a quote at the bottom. The overt objective is that if the boys can repeat the quote, I'll take some running off at the end of practice. The covert objective is that through the quotes I can get the boys to think about what we need to do, where we stand as a team, and what it will take to get there.

Ol' Tom would've made a great coach. I really like his quote above because he puts it plainly what it takes to succeed. First: work. But not just work for work's sake - purposeful work. We hear it over and over again about how the most successful of us put the most work in.

For coaches, his second sentence lays out the responsibilities of a coach and the responsibilities of the players when pursuing a goal ("a product or accomplishment")

Coaches' Responsibilities

1. Forethought
2. System
3. Planning

Coaches' and Players' Responsibility

1. Intelligence - be ready to think and adapt to the game and personnel

Players' Responsibilities

1. Honest purpose
2. Perspiration

My job as coach, as leader, is to set a goal, make a plan, and be smart enough to adapt to factors as they arise. The players' need to be committed to the team, be prepared to work hard (to sweat a lot), and adapt to the game as it unfolds.

Finally, we can have the kids run around, work hard, but if it is only to get excercise that is not enough. That is seeming to do. Athletics should encompass so much more and it does, when done right. It is like the lab of life:

How will you react to failure? To success?

What if you're not the fastest, strongest, or most skilled athlete on the field? What does that mean for you as a team member? How will you find your niche?

What if you are the biggest, fastest, strongest athlete on the field? How will you own that role?

What do you have to do to support your teammates in order for the team to win? Do you want the team to win or do you want to be recognized? How does that make your teammates feel?

Coaching a team may be the best example of solid pedagogical teaching strategies at work. But in this classroom, the content is character development. The buzz phrase of education currently is "21st century skills." Some of those skills, depending on who you are reading, include collaboration, analysis, synthesis, respect and relationships, creativity, symphony, and on and on. What we see is that team sports has been teaching these skills long before we were ever confronted with the 21st century. Edison knew what it would take to prepare a group to use the skills we now champion so loudly. Who knows, Ol' Lightbulb Tom could have been speaking to his soccer team!

Monday, March 8, 2010

Monday Ponderance: Ripples Contributing or Chipping Away at Integrity

We are able to choose how we act. We call it free will. This independence has been a bedrock principle of our country since its inception.

With every choice, comes a result. Some good, some bad. All choices, however, produce effects like the ripples on a calm pond when a stone is tossed into it.

Over time, our society has discovered values that allow communities to thrive - to be successful, to provide comfort, to provide safety. For Calvert, these values are identified in the Honor Code:

1. Respect
2. Honesty
3. Responsibility
4. Effort
5. Outreach

By no means are these unique to Calvert. They are common values that the larger community accepts as necessary for the common good. When all of these values come together and are applied to their fullest, we call that integrity.

As individuals we are confronted with choices within each of these value-realms on a daily basis. When we make good choices, we not only contribute to our own integrity, but the integrity of the community.  When we make poor choices - and we all do - we chip away at not only our own integrity, but the integrity of the community. We are not as successful, comfortable, or safe.

So, when confronted with choices

to respect or disrespect
to be honest or dishonest
to be responsible or irresponsible
to put forth maximum effort or coast
to reach out or be selfish

Think about the kind of ripples you'll be sending out. Will they contribute to your integrity and the community's or will they chip away at it?

Friday, March 5, 2010

Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? - Time Management

I teach 5th grade math. Today, I asked my class to work in partners on the following word/logic problem:

Patsy's Conflict

Patsy has cheerleading practice on Monday and every fourth school day. She wants to be in the school play, but they have practice on Tuesdays and every sixth school day. Assuming the first school day is Wednesday, September 5, when would she have 2 meetings at the same time? Would she ever have 3 meetings at the same time? How many times would she have more than 1 meeting at the same time before the end of December?
Now, let me stop here for a moment. Please consider that we are in an era when too many of our students are overloaded with obligations. Numerous articles, studies, and presentations use data to point to the problem of overscheduling. Many of the students in my math are just that - overscheduled. Taking all of this into consideration here was one of my student's responses to the question:

Mr. Skeen, she needs to choose either the play or cheerleading! There - I solved the problem. This way she'll NEVER have 2 or 3 meetings at the same time.

My first thought was "wrong," quickly followed by "good outside the box thinking," followed by "not so much outside the box, as just plain logical."

I believe this answers the newly popular question: Are you smarter than a 5th grader?

In this case - no.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Assessment of Guilt and Application of Consequence

I've just had a great conversation with Bob Herzog, a newly minted mentor of mine, who has worked in schools for the past thirty years as teacher, coach, and administrator. We discussed what he calls "the assessment of guilt." I found the ideas we talked about and the structure he used to present them confirmed what we are trying to do with our Honor Code at Calvert.

First and foremost, the final arbiter of guilt is a person's conscience. We can help shape and guide that conscience (the Honor Code is a great foundation for that in schools) but ultimately the assignment and acceptance of guilt lies within the person. When determining if someone is guilty of a transgression, the following factors should be considered:

1. The Act, taken objectively. It is either good, bad, or indifferent (moral, immoral, or ammoral). What does the letter of the law say?

2. The Circumstances. What are they? Did the person know it was wrong? Did they have a choice in the matter?

3. The Motive. Why did this person do this?

These factors taken together mean all instances are shaded in some sort of grey. It is not appropriate to paint all situations with the same color of guilt or apply the same consequence to an act of two people that have varying circumstances and motive. Additionally, each person's unique perspective (which is a result of varied upbringings, varied opinions, and varied convictions) will further color the way in which a consequence is received.
I believe this is the way in which discipline should be handled. I believe it is the way in which discipline is handled in schools, for the most part. I believe it is the way Calvert handles discipline.