Rising to the Occasion

Coaches often talk about the benefits of having a player-coached team. That means that players help each other improve, hold each other accountable. There’s something about hearing instruction from a peer instead of from the one in charge that can make the words stick a little better.

I felt that way as a coach but even more so as a teacher. I loved watching my students take leadership roles in working with their classmates. I told them on the first day of class that we were all students and all teachers, and while I knew that to be true, I also knew that it often took a while for my kids to assume that role for each other, when it finally did happen, I simply loved the results.

One of my favorite classes to teach was Senior Humanities. We course of study involved various disciplines, and while we did a deep dive on each, what I really enjoyed was leading my kids to find similarities among those subjects. Seeing connections made the learning more powerful. And whenever I could, I turned to my students to provide instruction. Those who were fine visual artists taught us what they knew about color and design. Musicians taught us basic theory. All of the kids had a pretty good handle on literature because our English department was so strong. And when it came to two of the other fields, I carried a little more of the load to help my kids better understand philosophy and religion. 

The one area I really had little experience with was architecture. I did a little research about basic principles of construction and design, and when I presented them to my class, I let them know  that I was basically out of my league. I would do my best, but there was only so much that I could do to explain such things. At that point, I assumed that it was up to me, but I should have known better. So, I struggled some in laying out the information, but suddenly one of my students raised his hand and came to my rescue. 

Gabe told us that he had some experience working with construction, and he wondered whether it would be all right if he shared some of his knowledge with us. Are you kidding? I was wise enough to see a life preserver being tossed my way, and so I gratefully gave him the floor. With a bright smile, he got out of his seat and walked around the room pointing out features such as the lintel across the top of our door, where the weight-bearing beams most likely were. I was thrilled not only by the information that he was sharing but also by the reception that his ideas got from his classmates. As much as anything, I got a kick out of how much fun my Gabe was having. I decided at that moment to throw out the rest of my lesson plan for the day and let him take us on a tour of the school, showing us much more about basic architecture than I ever could have done.

That day taught me to look even more often for help from my students, to encourage them to share what they knew and to teach us all in more depth. The benefits were two-fold. For one, sharing instruction with my students gave my classes a more diverse perspective both in content and methodology. For another, stepping into the teaching role gave my students a real boost in their confidence. As for me, I felt over time that I was much like an orchestral conductor, setting the tone and the tempo for my classes and at the same time providing opportunities for soloists to take the stage. And for one young man on a special day, Senior Humanities was a chance for him to blow his horn with gusto.

As you can imagine, it was all music to my ears.

Hey, Stem Unwinding is taking a short break. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving, and we’ll see you all soon!

Categories Education, Teaching

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