I am a teacher and a coach. I stand firmly with one leg in the world of academics and the other in athletics. Before becoming a history teacher at an independent girls school, I spent ten years as a collegiate tennis coach, and I have often reflected on the relationship between teaching and coaching, especially during the last few days.
A couple of days ago, a colleague suggested to me that I write something about the relationship between coaching and teaching. She made a very perceptive remark about why I teach the way that I do, and she suggested that it had a lot to do with my background in coaching. Although I am still working out the details of what she said (I will have to return to her specific suggestion in a later post), it is clear to me that there are many parallels between coaching and teaching.
I firmly believe that I am a better teacher because of my background in coaching. Why? Well, for one thing, coaching is to a great extent about building relationships. In order to get a player to change his/her game, s/he needs to trust you completely before s/he will attempt that change. Without that trust, a player will never fully embrace the changes that you suggest. To some degree, teaching is the same thing. If you can build a relationship with your students, and if you can get them to trust you, you stand a better chance of getting students to take chances in the classroom. Why is this important? It is important because if we can get students away from the comfortable model of taking notes during class, doing homework, and studying for tests, we can enhance their learning experience. If we can get students to trust themselves to explore subjects on their own, and if we can stand back to be the facilitators of learning rather than the directors of learning, students will receive a chance to prove to themselves that they can be in charge of their own learning.
During the last year, I have read a great deal about the value of project-based learning and the importance of letting students be in charge of the learning experience. Although I employ what I would call a blended approach to learning (I still lecture, but I also employ a great deal of PBL), I am often struck by the fact that many students hesitate to explore fully the benefits of PBL. Many are not comfortable moving away from the “traditional” model of learning, and this is where the value of the personal relationship comes in. Just as it takes trust to have a player change his/her forehand grip, it takes trust to have a student embark on a learning experience that they, and not I, control. If a student trusts the teacher, it is much easier for that student to try something that might be a bit uncomfortable.
Of course, this is not the only parallel between coaching and teaching, and I will return to this topic in the future. But, for now, it suffices to say that I am grateful for my background in athletics, because I believe that it has made me a better teacher.