Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Principal Becomes the Student

I recently read a blog post (which I cannot locate now, anyone know?) about a principal who took up surfing lessons and his reflection of that learning process. In response and honor of his efforts, I chose to give it a try as well.

I should begin by saying that I am a pretty good skier. It has been a while, but I’m the kind of guy that would go a whole weekend without falling regardless of the difficulty of the slope. So it was a huge deal for me to agree to learn how to snowboard. The experience was amazing, though. It has been such a long time since I learned something with little to no background knowledge/experience.

This endeavor took place on our school’s annual ski trip to the WinterPlace Ski Resort. My “schooling” started with a few high schoolers who agreed to take me out and show me the ropes. After about 20 minutes and 50 falls just to get to the ski lift, I decided a formal snowboarding lesson was in order.

The group lesson itself was a spattering of educational concepts (perhaps another post coming about that later), but it provided me with the basics I needed. The objectives of the lesson:
  • Name the parts of the board
  • Attach yourself to the board
  • Move around without taking the board completely off
  • Cross the slope on both my heal and toe edge of the board
  • Stop moving
I accomplished all of these objectives in the span of the lesson. Now on to the practice phase…

While the lesson provided me with about 45 minutes of guided practice, I spent the rest of the day on independent practice. Even with the 90 minute lesson, I felt like I was left to trial and error. Watching other snowboarders was little help because they were moving so much faster than me. Any time I tried to imitate a proficient (or better) snowboarder, I flew wildly out of control, usually bruising the posterior region of my body. So what do you do when you just can’t get it? I found a tutor…

I recruited Lindsey, a 9th grader who seemed well adept at boarding (I mean she owned her own pink board with matching boots, she had to be good). She took me and one other student under her wing. It was amazing to see her teach me with skills that I don’t think she realized she was using. We went down the first slope and she just watched me. As we rode the ski lift back up, she told me what she saw me doing. Then she explained what I should be doing and what I needed to change to make it happen. We repeated this about 4 times. Every time we went down a slope, she was right there encouraging me. I can still hear her saying, “Oh you had that! You didn’t need to fall. Trust yourself, you’re doing it…”

Well my confidence grew and I started picking up some steam. Of course, just as I gained confidence, my bell got rung on a big fall. I swear it was like one of those Bugs Bunny cartoons where the little guy is circling around his head after getting hit with a frying pan. I was seeing stars…time to take a break…

I spent the next few hours in the ski lodge licking my wounds. I had enough Ibuprofen to open my own pharmacy. What this really did was give my brain some time to sort out and process the experience of the morning. This would have made Kevin Washburn and his “Architecture of Learning” model very proud. I felt refreshed and ready to give it another shot.

The rest of the day was spent in independent practice again. I felt good. I ended the day making it down the longest “intermediate” slope with only 3 falls. Day two was even better. I made it down a beginner slope with no falls. I recorded my “Final Exam” run down the mountain to assess what I had learned over the past two days. Take a watch and see what you think. Remember, I had never touched a snowboard before in my life…

Snowboard Exam

Reflecting back:
Probably the greatest emotion I had during all of this was the urge to quit. I kept asking myself, “Why am I doing this?” The battle in my head kept saying, “You’re a great skier. You would have so much more fun doing what your comfortable doing. Trade in your board for skis and go hit the black diamonds.” In fact, it went through my mind that the students would think I was so much “cooler” if I was good at skiing. I wanted to impress people with what I could do already, not with what I was accomplishing.

I am afraid these thoughts are all too similar to the thoughts of my students. We inundate them with new skills and concepts every day.

  • When it comes down to it and students get frustrated, do they have what it takes to push through?
  • Does every student have a “Lindsey” to come along side them?
  • Do my students insist on sticking with the mastery of less complicated skills in order to look “cool” for their friends (or teacher, or parents)?
  • Am I creating a school environment where students want to learn the "hard stuff" and are willing to do what it takes?
  • What do you do to get your students from skiing to snowboarding?

Photo Attribution:
Romain Vignes, “Super G” Mar 13, 2009 Creative Commons Attribution.

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