This is the last of my three part series in which I’ve shared what I’ve learned during my twenty week training plan for an upcoming half marathon. I’ve drawn some connections between this training and teaching, because as an educator these are the things I think about.
This week’s long run was twelve miles, so I had a lot of time to think. I was focused on the strategies I was using to make it through the run when the going got tough. I quickly realized my strategies were those familiar to educators, one of which I typically am not a fan of. This run gave me a new perception as to how the strategy could possibly be used with students.
Two things I’ve noticed over the past weeks are: 1) Running is easier when you find a rhythm; and 2) Visualizing and self talk can help you find that rhythm. It often takes me some time to find my rhythm on a run, but once I do it feels so natural and smooth. It’s a feeling of your body working in tandem, your legs, arms and breath are all moving you along fluidly. You often feel like you could continue on in this way forever. It’s not always easy to find that rhythm and one of the strategies I use to get there is to visualize what I’m seeking. I often picture Shalane Flanagan whom I watched intently running during the Olympics. I clearly saw an example of someone running with rhythm during her beautiful marathon run. On my long runs, I use self talk to say, “Run like Shalane” (albeit without the skinny body and lovely little shorts) and visualize myself running as I saw her do it. I also remind myself to use those darn glute muscles when I tire and find myself relying too heavily on my quads. That self talk sounds like, “Use your ass you ass.” and I visualize pushing through with those powerful glutes. Once I hit the feeling of running in rhythm I continue visualizing looking like Shalane as I run to maintain it.
There are portions of my run, discussed last week as the wall, where the going can get tough. Today it hit around mile 9 and I knew I had a long way to go to reach my target. I kept going back to these strategies and filling my mind with them. They helped me continue on by filling my head with positive self talk, essentially staving off negative thoughts of pain and discomfort. They also helped provide me with a strong focus on what I was trying to achieve.
Now, I’ve never been a huge fan of using visualization in an educational setting. Part of the reason for that was the way I often saw it used. Teaching children merely to draw what they see when reading is not enough to employ the true power of this strategy. Yes, it is a way to show children in a concrete manner that we all bring our personal schema to the table when reading and our perspectives can be quite different, but this in and of itself is not the true purpose of visualization. Through my time spent “running like Shalane”, I’ve come to understand better the power of visualization. In this context, it was about knowing what I was trying to achieve and imagining myself doing it. This process strongly focused me on the work at hand. Imagining my glutes powering me up a hill truly enabled me to feel them as I was so focused on that part of my body. Imagining I’m moving like Shalane gave me strong concrete imagery of what it should look like.
My thoughts on this run were that the rhythm of running can be equated to the rhythms of learning, which in my mind are found in consistency of instruction. When you find your rhythm during a run the movement becomes fluid. When teaching our students, we need to provide them opportunities to find their rhythm to become fluid learners. The best way I can think of to accomplish this is to be very consistent and intentional in our instructional approaches. Providing clarity to students of the learning expectations and end goals of instructional units is critical. If we constantly introduce new information, change direction, or rush through curriculum our students are deprived of the opportunity to find the rhythm of learning. Instead, they are left expending their energies trying to make sense of what they are learning and figuring out how it all connects, if at all. Keeping our instruction clear, organized, connected and relevant will help ensure they find their rhythm and get into the zone of purposeful learning. I believe it would improve engagement exponentially as well.
Two strategies I relieved heavily on to find my running rhythm were self talk and visualizing. In order to get students to utilize these strategies in an educational setting, they need to clearly know what their end goals are. These questions must drive our instructional planing to provide our students with purpose and relevance – 1) What am I learning?, 2) Why am I learning this? and 3) How is this learning relevant to my life? Providing exemplars, as in my case Shalane Flanagan did, gives students concrete examples of what they are trying to achieve. These exemplars should come in many forms including written models, visual models and whenever possible examples of people who are utilizing the learning in the real world.
Self talk can provide our students with both focus and perseverance when the going gets tough. It could help them stick with tasks that are challenging and enable them to feel the joy of that aha moment when they “get it”. I believe it would also help boost our students’ self esteem and make them more willing to engage in the learning process, which at times can seem so daunting. Positive self talk can be taught to all kids, even our youngest learners. Perhaps it can offset and crowd out those negative thoughts that fill the minds of so many today.
The best part about these strategies is they are not restricted only to use for running, or teaching. They are life skills that can be used to support you in almost any situation. Dieting is one simple example I will use to illustrate this. When you are dieting you can, and should, heavily rely on positive self talk and visualization. Focusing in on your end results and visualizing yourself there can be extremely helpful. People have always placed a photograph on their refrigerators, why not imagine yourself instead. Getting in a rhythm of food prepping and eating will certainly help you reach your goals. When you really think about it, it all feels so simple, as it should. One step and day at a time.