Friday, August 16, 2013

How Being a Coach Made Me a Better Teacher

I love sports. I have been involved in sports since I first started playing t-ball in the late 1970s. I played sports during every season of the year. Sometimes, I played on multiple teams in different sports during the same season. I honestly do not know how my parents did it. I love the competitive nature of sports as well. I love how it makes you focus on improving your skills. Along with having a pet, I believe every kid should be on one sport team during their lifetime!

Not only do I love playing, I love watching sports as well. I will watch any game that is on television. ESPN has made this easier for me since they have about six different channels with games on all of them! I would prefer to watch a game over a drama/comedy any day.

I am thrilled that I get to continue my love for sports since both of my kids are very athletic. I have enjoyed helping to coach their teams for the last six years. We do soccer in the Fall, basketball in the Winter and baseball for one, Soccer for the other in the Spring. On the occasional free weekend, I honestly do not know what to do with myself.

Now, how has working with these kids on the playing field improved me in the classroom? First, teaching the players a particular skill requires breaking down the movement into steps they can understand and replicate. It may be dribbling a soccer ball, completing a layup in basketball or turning a double play in baseball. Each of these have several smaller steps involved in them. Missing one step makes it difficult to compete at a high level.


This is exactly the approach I take while explaining a complicated topic in my math classes. When covering polynomials with my 8th graders, I simplify the steps to make sure that everyone can follow them. It is the best way I have found for students to succeed.

What do you do with a player that is not doing something correctly? What do you do with a player whose missing something with his or her fundamentals that it is keeping them from raising their play to the next level? Of course, you tell them: "That's too bad, I showed you. Now you are on your own!" No, you watch them complete the skill. As long as it takes to see what the problem is. Once we find it, I need to be specific with how they can improve. I just can not say, "You need to start making your jump shots." Instead, I need to inform them that their elbow is sticking out when they shoot. It really needs to be tucked in before you release the ball.


I know this is the one area I really need to improve on in my classroom. I typically wrote "Good job!" at the end of a writing assignment. There might be some suggestions from me about writing a better opening, but that was it. I have realized recently that I need to be specific with my feedback while in the classroom. I need to tell them that they are getting the equations wrong because they are confusing the Distributive Property, not just put an 80% at the top of the paper. I need to challenge my students and tell them that there are 5 incorrect problems on the paper, without showing them which ones they are!

In sports, you can not remove a position from the field if no one can play it well. In soccer, we can not remove our goal because we do not have a person good enough to play that position. In basketball, we can not ignore the fact that we do not have a good point guard. As a coach, I need to make sure I give extra attention to the players who want to play that position, but struggle initially. I need to be extremely patient while we work and work until we have a quality player at that position.


I apply that same concept in my classroom as well. I know I am not the smartest person in our building. I know there are a lot of teachers that are more creative, more organized and better with tech that I am. The one thing I can give my students is my time. I work with them during any free time we might have: free periods, lunch time, recess time and/or after school. My students know that I value hard work because they see me walking the walk everyday as I work right next to them. I see each class I teach as a team, and I am not happy until the entire team is working at their highest potential. My job is to constantly challenge them, push them, make them better. I have been known to push too far at times, but they see me pushing myself just as hard as I am pushing them!

I had a great mentor with coaching: my Dad. I realized one day that my Dad coached me in every sport but basketball between the ages of 8 and 15. I have modeled a lot of how I coach after what I saw my Dad do. People often commented that he got kids to play at such a high level. Those same kids did not play that well for other coaches. My Dad had a tremendous ability to get everyone playing well, even the not so athletic players. He never yelled. He never screamed. He just expected hard work and fair play. It took the adult me to realize my best teacher was my Dad!

I am not nearly the coach my Dad was, but I am improving. I enjoy being involved in coaching my kids because it has made me an improved teacher. But, the biggest win for me is I get to spend extra time with my kids. It's a win all around!

How has your hobbies/interests improved you as an educator? Please comment below!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

How Being A Father Has Changed Me As A Teacher

I have two children, ages 11 and (almost) 9. My 11 year old girl is heading into middle school in a couple of weeks. My son is 9 and entering the 4th grade. I can honestly say that I am not the same person before these two came along. The additional grey hairs are a testament to that. Besides, the physical differences, I believe my two children have made me a better teacher. Many thanks to @plugusin for inspiration.

When my kids started coming home with homework, I was hit with the first eye opener: we will complete every assignment that comes home, but please do not make it busywork. I do not want to spend a couple of hours battling with my children to complete an assignment that I notice NEVER gets graded or even marked as checked. Even the month long Social Studies project my child had to do one time that had no connection to what they were covering at the time!


As a Teacher, I have always been very conscious of giving my students busy work. I have never liked it, especially as a student myself. I constantly tell my students, "If you take the time to complete it, I will take the time to grade/mark it." I believe that creates the atmosphere that everything they do has a purpose. Most importantly, we do not waste time.

Speaking of grading, as a parent I find myself asking my kids about certain marks on their report cards that I use to not pay attention to as a teacher BC (before children!). I asking them why their participation in a class is just a check instead of a check plus. I ask them why didn't they get an Outstanding instead of the Satisfactory grade on the report card? Lastly, if they bring home a grade that was lower than we expected, I want to see comments to clarify the lower grade.


As a BC teacher, I was guilty of putting in the obligatory Satisfactory grade in behavior or organization for the entire class, knowing not everyone was really on the same level. Now, I spend probably way too much time providing comments for parents either on the report card or through email. However, I honestly believe the parents want to know as much information about the progress of their child as possible. It is my job to give that information.

The biggest realization for me as a parent was that I am not going to win every battle. Somedays, there are just too many of them. Before kids, I would mentally criticize parents for letting their kids get away with certain things. It did not take me long to after having both of mine that somedays you need to do this out of survival skills. If you do not let them win, someone may blow a gasket!


I have taken this slogan to heart in my classroom since having my kids. I now handle interactions with students very differently. Before children, I was determined that the student was not going to win. I had to "win" every disagreement or discussion. Period. It took the addition of my own children to realize how bad this strategy actually is.

Now, I am able to address students with the a lot more patience. Do not get me wrong, our classroom is a well-run environment. Nowadays, I believe it runs this way because of the mutual respect in the classroom between myself and my students than their fear of getting yelled at. I talk to them constantly about trust. I can handle a lot of things: forgotten homework, accidentally breaking materials, even an occasional foul word muttered out of frustration. However, do not break my trust. This is nonnegotiable! I tell my students that if this happens, I will still help work with you when you have questions, but I will not trust you. So, if you want to leave the room, you will be escorted by a responsible student. Trust can be repaired, but it takes a while. My students (and children) are aware this.

I am a very different teacher now that I have children, and I believe my students are better for it!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

If I Could Go Back in Time

I wish I could see a video of myself from my first couple years of teaching. I honestly think I could have won America's Funniest Home Videos. I remember feeling as if I was making everything up. Fortunately, I had several great mentors along the way. I had four years of college preparation classes in Education, and I still felt like a nervous wreck. If I had a chance to travel back in time and give myself some much needed advice, it would be this:

1. It is far better to be respected than liked. Your students do not want a pushover. They really do want someone who will respectfully challenge them to improve.
2. Ask to be observed more. By anyone that will take the time. Have people come in your room to see what you do and discuss things with you. This is the best way for you to improve. I do request more observations from my Principal every year. It never happens, but I request it.
3. To go along with that, get in other people's rooms. If no one will watch you, go watch other people.  This will serve possibly two purposes: you may see things you won't do, or you'll see things you want to replicate.
4. Read as much as possible. Read anything you can get your hands on in regards to teaching and instruction.
5. Ask questions. To as many people as possible. You may think you are being annoying, but veteran teachers enjoy sharing their wisdom.
6. Avoid negative people. Surround yourself with positive, hard working people. The "Negative Nellies" will deplete all of your energy. They thrive on this. Fight the urge to join them. This may mean eating lunch by yourself, but you have papers to grade anyway.
7. Find a way to incorporate your passion into your classroom. Love to read? Start a book club. Love playing guitar? Teach kids during your lunch hour. Love to run? Start a running club. One way to love what you do is to do what you love.
8. Making a mistake is not the end of the world. Apologize, correct it, and move on. Your students will like the fact that you do make mistakes. They will learn how to handle them by watching you.
9. Handle all parental conversations with professionalism. Do not get caught in criticizing another teacher, the school or a program. Never criticize the place you work in public. It can not be that bad, they hired you, didn't they?
10.Try not to let what happens in your personal life affect the environment in your classroom. Do your best to mask the drama. The students are there to learn, not listen to you rant.

If I only knew this in the beginning of my journey. I probably wouldn't have listened anyway, I thought I knew it all!

Did I forget anything? Please continue to conversation by leaving a comment or reach out me on Twitter: @jcordery

Monday, August 5, 2013

What the CCSS taught me...No, really!

For the last few years, an acronym has been dancing around every school in the country. This acronym has created great excitement or tremendous skepticism, depending on your exposure to it. I also believe the level of anxiety one feels towards this collection of letters is directly proportional to the professional development supplied by your district on the topic. This change in curriculum is heralded as "the great leveler", so students can get an equal shot at mastering content from Washington state to Florida. This is the solution to all of public education's problems, just give it time. So they say.

No, I am not referring to HIB, AchieveNJ, SGOs, SGPs, RTTT or ASK. I am actually referring to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). In short, these new standards are going to change what students need to know for each grade level by changing from the old way of "A mile wide and an inch deep" to "An inch wide and a mile deep." If it works, we shall see. That discussion will be left for another day.

What made me sit down to write was how the above two statements mirrored how I have been feeling in my classroom lately. I have started experimenting with a lot of different methods/techniques during the day: from project based learning to flipping classes to bringing technology into as many lessons as possible. Add to that my extreme interest in continuing to blog and learn from the great educators on Twitter, and I feel like a highly skilled juggler trying to keep everything in the air. By the way, I am a horrible juggler. No, it's bad!

That is when it hit me. Be like the CCSS. Focus on a couple of things this year (inch wide). I am going to pick what interests me the most and allow myself time to dig deep and learn as much as I can (mile deep). After some thought, I am focusing this year on two main goals: One, I am focusing on students learning more and state test preparation less. I would like to create portfolios for my students to monitor their own learning. I think by doing this, they will become engaged more in the classroom. They control what they learn. I want to see if by doing this, I can increase the involvement of my students in their learning.

The second area I am focusing on for this year is improving as a connected learner. As I mentioned above, I am going to continue to blog and participate in Twitter chats, but I am going to involve both my students and parents on my journey as well. In addition, I would like to seek out alternate ways of reaching out to parents. I would like to use Skype and Google hangouts for conferences. I want to make it as easy as possible for the parents to stay informed about their child's growth.

Do not get me wrong. I am not abandoning everything else I do in my classroom. Also, I do not plan on dismissing the two goals above with new ones next year, but merely replace them. By the end of this school year, I am hopeful that my two goals will be established routines for me during the day. That will give me an opportunity to bring in two more goals or strategies the following year.

This suggestion may not be for everyone, but I am sick of being a "Jack of all trades, master of none." I would really like to hear from you. Please feel free to leave a comment or reach out to me on Twitter: @jcordery.