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Saturday, November 29, 2014

Why You Coach (Dear Katie V3 #13)

Dear Katie,

About 20 years ago, I ran into a college buddy of mine who was a basketball coach. He had the recent honor of spending an hour of one on one time (talking, not playing) with who many believe to be the greatest coach in any sport of all time, John Wooden, UCLA basketball coach and winner of 10 national championships over a 12 year stretch.

What did he talk about?  Why Wooden employed the 1-4 High Post Offense?  Pivotal decisions he made during the course of a championship game?  Insights in how to train and preparation?

None of these things.

My friend said he didn't talk about basketball at all.

Coach Wooden talked about his players.  What they were like as boys who played for him and the pride he had for the men they had become.  He even played a tape for my friend of a song performed by one of his players.  Wooden closed his eyes and my buddy noticed a tear rolling down his cheek.

They were not just basketball players that were 
cogs in the UCLA championship machine.
They were human beings.  
And what made Wooden such a great coach 
is that he emphasized that.

(In fact the basketball great Kareem Abdul Jabbar -not his birth name, he changed after he became a pro to reflect his conversion to Islam- has said that there were only two people he respected too much to ever correct if they called him by his birth name Lew Alcindor, his Mom, and Coach Wooden)

Envision your class as your team.  In a digital age where students are becoming identified for their test scores and where companies are rushing in to discover ways to monetize them, we as teachers must take extra care for the children placed under our charge.

We must stand in the gap for the sake of the students.
 They are not automatons but children 
to be nurtured and guided 
because it is for their best
Not because it will increase their test scores.

Yesterday, I was at a friends house and I ran into some residents of the town where I coach junior high soccer.  They recognized my face from a picture that was taken of our team for winning the county championship.  They said, "That must have been some great team you had this year."

My response that I said with a smile remembering those kids:

They were a bunch of great boys, 
even if they didn't win the championship.

Uncle Kevin

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thankful 2014

1 Thessalonians 5:18
Give thanks in all circumstances; 
for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

I am Thankful for being raised in a loving FAMILY who sacrificed for me in order that I may have the preparation I needed both in my professional career and personal life.  

I am Thankful for marrying a WIFE who loves and accepts me for who I am and the years of laughter and enjoyment we have shared and for my In-Laws that raised her well.

I am Thankful for energetic CHILDREN whose path in becoming my daughters are just as amazing as the girls that they are becoming.

I am Thankful for FRIENDS both new and old, currently a part, or once a part of my life, who have endured my immaturity, helped me to think, and always made me laugh.

I am Thankful for my STUDENTS, both current and former, who have given me a treasure of memories that has no price.

I am Thankful for a sovereign God who is with me in times of joy and sorrow, riches and despair.  And for Jesus whose life showed us people are more important than things.


Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

EdCampNJ--The Take Away (Dear Katie V3#12)

Dear Katie,

I hope you enjoyed your experience at EdCampNJ yesterday.  After attending two Padcamps, it was my first time experiencing an EdCamp and I was impressed for the amount of coordination and effort that the planning team displayed in how smoothly things ran.  A huge kudos to those who sacrificed their time so many teachers could benefit.

For a student about to enter the teaching profession, listening to teachers share their experiences and expertise must have been like opening gifts at Christmas.  Each idea a new valued tool to place in your educational toolbox.  I hope the excitement your presenters showed and the amount of teachers who sacrificed a Saturday without pay to learn and share taught you this...your college preparation is not the end of learning and implementing new ideas for the classroom.

The Master Teacher is a never ending learner.

For me, there was nothing earth shattering that I learned.  My classroom approach has always attempted to be unconventional (b/c I believe that student's minds will be engaged due to the difference experience in my class) but since teaching is such a solitary profession (you spend most of your day with people outside your peer and professional group) you are not quite sure you are doing things right.  The other problem is that you get stuck within your own ideas and become comfortable in your own ways of doing class.  

If you want to continue to grow in your profession
Hearing the ideas of other teachers
 helps defeat the tyranny of classroom monotony

The one session I went to called Velcro: Making Your S#$! Stick confirmed many things that I am doing right as well as giving me fresh ideas for further development of my classroom.  My goal is to further extend moments of movement for my classroom.  I already have a "Video for a Blue  Monday" to help my students in a small way to get over the depression of a start of a new school week, maybe I'll bring my Wii in and take your cousins' Kids Dance game to get my students over the hump of midweek.

The other session that gave me a lot to chew on was Next Level: Gamification.  Although the presenter runs a different classroom game than my own (his is an adventure game based on games such as Zelda, while my concept is that each group is a team in a Baseball league) there were still ideas that I could take away.  For me it was trying to figure out a way so instead of teams earning "Wins" through the games and projects they complete, that they can also gain points that can be used to cause other teams to go into "slumps".  You may be thinking, what does that have to do with history, it doesn't...directly, but what it does do is motivate the student to study and perform classroom tasks in order to help their team.  It also engages the mind on my class, that will help them to peg the content information for my class into their memory. 

These two takeaways help support one of the major tenants of my educational philosophy:

I don't want my students to just be discussing 
the ideas of my lessons in my classroom
My desire is that they are discussing 
the ideas of my lessons in the halls, bus, & at home.

Anything I can do to motivate that is worth investigating.

I have to say though the best part was debriefing about the experience with you.  It is amazing to me that the little girl that I held in my arms as her godfather at her christening is now a young lady with a bright future ahead of her in the world of education.

See you on Thanksgiving (If we don't get snowed in)

Uncle Kevin

Friday, November 14, 2014

Novelists & Tweeters (Dear Katie V3 #9)

Dear Katie,

I will never play Pictionary with your aunt as my partner ever again.

A few years ago, we were playing Pictionary at a friends house, and it became a very frustrating expereince.  I was a good Pictionary player.  I remember a time in college that myself and a bunch of male friends defeated a bunch of girl friends and that even though I was a horrible sketcher, my friends easily could pick out what I was trying to draw.  Actually, we all were very horrible sketchers and the girls were in constant amazement that we could even identify what they other guy was drawing.  It seemed like every picture the girls drew were worthy of A's in any art class.  We chalked up the difference to the fact that several of the girls were Elementary Ed majors and of course that meant they had to be good at artsy things to fill their classroom bulletin boards.

In the game that winter night many years later I had no such luck with your aunt, either in getting her to know what I was drawing or me guessing what she had drawn.  What I saw as a very simplistic drawing, your aunt had difficulties guessing it.  When it was my turn to guess, your aunt would draw very detailed, well drawn and thought out pictures.  Yet I had difficulties coming up with the correct answers in time because it took her so long complete it.  Being a competitor, I hate to lose, thus my frustration bubbled over and caused some tension (Like I said, I hate to lose).

And the other day, I learned that there was nothing wrong with either your aunt or me.  We were just thinking like the men and women we are.

I was watching the show Brain Games on the National Geographic Channel hosted by Jason Silva (actually I saw it through Netflix).  The episode was discussing how men and women think differently.  Here is what I learned...

Women remember more detail thus share more details when telling a story.  
Men remember less details and need less details to understand the same story.

How do we take that fact and apply it for the classroom...

Boys are "tweeters", girls are "novelists".

As teachers, we need to remember to encourage boys to be more descriptive in writing longer pieces. What other facts could you include to support your thesis?  What adjectives can you add that will peak the readers interest?

In writing summations, we need to encourage girls that sometimes brevity is necessary.  Is that fact really necessary to advance your point?  Are the amount of descriptive words distracting to the main point?

Obviously they are valuable questions to ask all students, but maybe it will allow us to be more focused on where it is most needed.

So if you and your brother ever come over to the house with the game Pictionary, I'll be on Bobby's team.

Uncle Kevin

Sunday, November 9, 2014

The Wall Came Tumblin' Down (Dear Katie V3 #11)

Dear Katie,

Sometimes there will be days when you teach that you will have to throw away the lesson.  Some days will be because of tragedies such as 9/11 or ones on a more local level.  Other days will be due to uplifting moments in history, such as my first encounter with "ditching the lesson" when I was a student teacher.

You have to remember that by the late 80's, CNN was the only 24 hour news service and social media was regulated to a wall outside our college's bookstore where people could post opinions and ideas (usually rants and complaints, so nothing has changed).  My school did not have cable hookup in the rooms so the only TV we received were the channels coming out of NYC through our TV's antennas.

November 9 was a typical school night in college.  A bunch of us would spend time talking in my friends Bill & Tom's room on the 7th floor to end the night.  As the clock went past 11, and being a school night, it was time for us to get some sleep.  For me, I needed to get ready for student teaching at Blue Mountain Middle School in Montrose, NY.

I headed off for my dorm room, turned the TV on to catch the beginning of the Tonight Show before I went to bed.  I caught the very end of WNBC-NY 11 o'clock news showing people dancing on a wall & thought to myself,

"It looks like the Berlin Wall, but it can't be, those people would be shot." 

The next morning, I woke up, showered, and headed down to the cafeteria to have breakfast.  As I usually did, I walked through the mailroom to check my mailbox before getting to my car.  In the middle of the room was a USA Today newspaper box, and the headline confirmed what had happened.  The Berlin Wall, the symbol of the Cold War's animosity between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, the Wall that many of us would be brought down by mortar shells, was being taken apart peacefully with picks and sledgehammers.


Needless to say my cooperating teacher & I threw out the lesson for that day.  

It was a great class period.  First my cooperating teacher and I shared with each other what we heard on the news or read in the paper before the students came in to class (remember, no Internet).  The class period we shared what we knew (it was sketchy), the history of the wall, and just took questions as the kids were absorbed and taken with the history they were living.

For the first 5 years I taught, the Fall of the Berlin Wall was a great lesson.  For me, it was one of those moments of knowing "Where you were when you first heard about..." along with the Space Shuttle Exploding, President Reagan getting shot, and the ball going through Bill Buckner's legs.  My students were into it because for them it was relevant history.  They remembered the Cold War and saw this as the symbol of the beginning of the end of that time period of history.

Growing up we never thought the Soviet Union 
would end without a Third World War.

As the new millennium hit, and I was now teaching students born after the Cold War, I realized that for them there was no context to the Fall of the Berlin Wall.  I remember showing them a video of people racing from both sides of Berlin through Checkpoint Charlie, embracing people on the other side.  For me, a moving scene, for my students born in the 90's it led to the question, "Why are they so happy?"

Remember this as you teach.  For you September 11, 2001, was a traumatic day.  You can remember where you were with vivid detail.  Your students were not even born when it happened.  It means little to them, so you need to deliver in rich details to provide the context.

How are you going to make events 
outside their sphere of experience relevant to them?

Uncle Kevin

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Coaching Champions (Dear Katie V3 #10)

Dear Katie,

The other week, I had the honor of coaching a great group of middle school boys to a county championship in soccer.  When you get your first teaching position, I highly recommend taking on a coaching position or becoming a sponsor of a school club.  Not only will it bring you added revenue as a part time job, but it allows you to see your students in a different light...and allows them to see you in a different light as well.

I had two young men on the team this year who were very quiet in my class last year.  Spending the season on the soccer pitch allowed me to see great senses of humor that they both have.  Laughing with them was one of the fringe benefits this year.  You will see students who may struggle academically excel in the sport or club activity you are leading.

Coaching makes you more sensitive in the classroom that you are teaching the whole child, not just the facts and skills of the subject you were hired to teach. 

Over the years you may have heard your grandfather talk about me and baseball.  You may be wondering what do I even know about soccer, I think some of my players wonder that as well, and even I do at times.  You do need to know something about the game for sure, but their are some universal coaching philosophies I use on the athletic field as well as the classroom.

1) If you want your players to "Play Great" treat them as "Great Players"

I always ask my players opinions on what we are doing well on the field and what we could do better.  In this way I am demonstrating that I trust and value my players' judgment; that I am a coach willing to listen.  In the classroom, ask for their opinions on your teaching and lessons.  It will give them a feeling of ownership; it is not your classroom, but OUR classroom.

The team isn't "MY TEAM" but "OUR TEAM".

It is also important to make your players believe they are better than they think they are.  It is not making them believe in a lie, but it is to encourage them to play at their very best every moment they are on the field.  On the sports field, it is to motivate them to believe that no obstacle is to large for them to move.  

Why Not Us?

Our battle cry for this year was, "Why not us?" First, it focuses on the fact it would take a team effort to win a championship.  The second is to get in their minds that one team has to win the championship, so what makes other teams more deserving or capable than us.  Why can't we be the ones who win the whole thing.  

You would be surprised how many teams lose the game before it begins 
because they BELIEVE they are supposed to lose it.

In the classroom, too many teachers state, "This is test is going to be difficult" rather than "This is a tough test, but I know you are ready and able to do a great job on it."  


2) Sometimes not being an expert makes you a better coach

I am a baseball player, played it through college.  Was All-Conference First Team in High School.  I come with a wealth of baseball experience to the boys I coach, yet my record in the county tournament for baseball over the past 11 years is 7 wins and 11 losses, while in soccer over 7 years it is 10 and 5 with 2 county championships.  Makes you wonder what sport I actually can coach better. (BTW I did play soccer up until sophomore year in high school, so it is not like I never played the game).

Many of the men who are in the Baseball Hall of Fame as managers were not the best players (some never even played in the majors and if they did, they were up in the Big Leagues just long enough to "enjoy a cup of coffee).  The list includes Tony LaRussa, Tommy Lasorda, Sparky Anderson, great managers, not the best of players.

It is said that the best players tend to make bad managers because they expect their players to do the great things they did naturally.  And because it came naturally to them, they find it difficult to explain how to do it better. 

As a soccer coach, I have to ask questions of soccer minds (thankfully I work with a top notch soccer player and another person who is engrossed by soccer and knows the game) to better understand the game.  I have to break things down rudimentary to my team so I understand what I need them to do, thus being clear in my instructions,  In baseball, I think I rely on my own knowledge too much and find it more difficult to break down the steps of a proper swing.

As a teacher, it is something to remember.  The concept you are trying to teach may come easy to you, but may not come easy to your students.  Don't assume they understand what you are trying to teach them.  Break it down.

The best teachers are NOT those who can spout complex ideas using big words.
The BEST teachers are those who can break down complex ideas into bite sized chunks.

3) Mistakes Happen

When I coach, I do not hold mistakes over a player.  Errors and turnovers will occur.  If they didn't, I wouldn't be coaching humans.  If a coach belittles a player for a mistake, that player will begin to play too cautiously, never taking calculated risk.  And your team will never play to their full potential if they are not willing to take risks.

If a player believes a mistake will place them in your dog house
They will play beneath their ability in order to avoid mistakes

You should point out mistakes, it is how we learn, but you need to allow the player to get out there and try again or they will learn NOTHING.

In order for a student to grow, they need to feel comfortable taking risks in your classroom.

As a teacher, you must point out if a student answers incorrectly.  However, praise the effort, thank them for the attempt.  Let them know you would be more happy with them to try and fail rather then to never had tried at all.


As the last whistle blew, my team charged the field hugging and jumping on each other.  We received our trophy and met their parents at midfield.  I had them stop celebrating for a moment and asked them to take in the moment because after we left the field that day, that team would no longer exist.  In silence we all looked at each other, coach, players, parents.  All beaming, all proud.  It was a great memory.

Also a bittersweet moment, but I made sure I looked into each boys' face to remember the effort, talent, and fun they brought to make us the best team we could possibly be.

Remember, you only have your students for a brief season of their lives.  
What do you want to instill in them?
Can you both beam with pride when it is over?
That is how you coach Champions.

Your Favorite Soccer Coaching Relative,

Uncle Kevin