Today was my long run and boy was it hot out there on the roads. This was my longest run on the schedule so far and it provided me plenty of time to think. The focus of the run was time on my feet, so two hours and forty minutes was on the plan. This run wasn’t about pace, but rather mental toughness and stamina.
When I run, I always think about the training plan I’m using and the parallels it has to education. Yes, educators think about things education when they run, shocking I know. This past week, I was sharing with my colleague some of the parallels I’m seeing between my running plan and teaching. Today, I was framing out this week’s blog in my mind and decided to share my thoughts on the connections between being #coachedandloved and teaching.
Many of you know by now I’m training for a half marathon in October and hopefully the full NYC Marathon in 2017. What you may not know is that I’ve been training for this half for years. This is my third attempt to get there, so nobody can say I’m not persistent. Twice before I’ve tried to get there and twice before I’ve crashed and burned. This time, I was determined to make it so I decided to try something different. I decided to join a running group and work with a coach. Best darn decision I ever made and best darn money I ever spent. I have learned so much about myself, running and yes, even education.
When I first started working with Coach MK, I was speaking to her about my history. I then launched into the usual self doubt that maybe I’m just not cut out to run a half. Maybe I’m too old, too physically unfit, all the usual self deprecation. Well she cut me right off and actually yelled at me. She said stuff like, “Don’t you dare start with that crap. What would you tell a kid in your school that said this stuff? How dare you quit on me before we even started working together. You haven’t even tried and you’re already giving up?” And on it went. She was definitely NOT taking any of my whining, or any of my excuses not to try. Man, she was really going to make me do this. In connecting this to education, I’d call her approach – high expectations for all learners. There was absolutely not one moment that this coach didn’t believe I could do it and she told me so. She was not going to dummy down the curriculum for me, or let me have a pass. She was going to make me work my butt off to get there or die trying. She was firm, but I wasn’t put off by it. I was motivated to get out there and try again, most likely because I knew she believed in me.
Then, I started following the plan she laid out for me. She wanted me to run within a heart rate target cap of 140. When I went out the first day, I got to my corner and I was already above 140. WTF is going on here? I remember walking most of that first run. This isn’t running I thought, this is ridiculous. How in the world is walking going to help me finish a half marathon in twenty weeks? Why is my heart rate so darn uncooperative? And, I can’t wait to get home to complain to her about this. This isn’t going to work! There’s no way I can slow down to go faster. Ridiculous. Connecting to education, so many of our teachers feel the pressure of racing through curriculum to fit it all into the ten month time span. There is hardly time to slow down because they feel they have to cram it all into their students heads. After all, they are responsible for “covering” the curriculum. Teach, teach, teach and teach. But what about the kids? Are they on the path to learn? Or, are they on the path to crash and burn like I did? I’d say many are on the path to crash and burn because there is no way they can deeply learn all that stuff in the short span of ten months. Well, not in a meaningful way that would allow them to apply it to new situations.
I remember calling Coach MK again and saying this isn’t going to work. There’s no way I can walk to improve my running. She explained to me the reasons it would work. The reasons were based in scientific research and had proven results with many runners. You see, by pushing my body to do things it wasn’t ready to do I was harming myself not helping myself. This explained my constant state of injury. I needed to work within this heart rate cap to build my foundation for running. I needed to run in the “just right” zone for my heart and my body, not run in some preconceived notion of what it should be. I needed to develop my heart and muscles and aerobic systems. The connection of this one to education is simple, kids need to be doing work that is on their level at that moment in time. Reading text that is too complex, or attempting to complete work that is too hard will not benefit students. They need to develop their reading brains and other muscles. If they don’t, they will not make progress and could likely give up.
During these past fifteen weeks, my coach has supported me in many ways. I have worked on my stamina, endurance, strength and mental toughness. She didn’t dump all that stuff on me, direct teach me up front, or talk at me. Rather, she gave me a plan to follow for twenty weeks and set up a system in which she’d provide me feedback. She set up a learning community of runners and gave us a space to ask questions. Boy did we all have a lot of questions! Each question provided more information about our bodies and this journey. Had she told us all this stuff upfront, I’d likely not remember any of it. But because I got the information as I needed it, it resonated with me and I can teach it to others. For example, the first time I asked why my legs felt heavy when I run sometimes we had the nutrition talk. Fueling? You mean the fact that I hate vegetables has an impact on my running? Seriously, I’ve been to many nutritionists and none of them got me to eat vegetables. But as soon as I realized it was causing me to struggle with running I began eating more of them. When my heart rate was spiking and we had the sleep talk I realized how everything was impacting my performance. This is the critical shift I’ve been trying to get at work – responsive teaching. Teaching kids what they need to move forward not when it’s on your map, but when they need it. Not an easy shift, but one that would totally change the level of impact you have on your students. I’m living proof! Teaching children to ask questions and seek answers. But not narrow the focus of those questions to just the immediate task they are performing. Teach them to ask big questions, questions of which the answers will propel them forward. Create a plan for learning and set them out on their own a bit. Provide tons of feedback and then more feedback and they will improve.
Finally, I’m learning a lot about myself with the goal of being more in tune with what my body needs to perform. Why don’t we teach children to be more reflective? Why don’t we give them the skills they need to learn? It would be far more effective than trying to just teach them the things we know. Slow down, set up learning plans for them and allow them to muddle through. Provide them feedback on their progress and answer their questions about the process. My coach doesn’t run with me ever. I’m out there alone trudging along, yet I haven’t missed a single run. She set up my plan and I follow it independently, asking questions and getting information on a need to know basis. I truly believe there is a strong parallel here to teaching with common core learning standards. I’ll continue to reflect on this during my runs this week.