Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Do you trust yourself?

I went golfing today with a friend, and as you can see by the scorecard (generated by Golfshot GPS), we played horribly. Now 45, or bogey golf, is not a bad score for me but we played a scramble format which means this score was a result of our best shots throughout the round. Let's just say we have played better. 

What does this have to do with the Virtual Conference's Prompt? I know that part of my problem today was that I was not trusting myself as a golfer. On almost every shot, I hit harder or softer than I knew I needed to because I was over thinking based on the previous shot.  This is a poor way to play golf. And after reading Golf and the Spirit, I know that these lessons can translate to other aspects of my life, like teaching. So my answer to, "What is at the center of my classroom?" is two-fold: reflection and trust.

In Golf and the Spirit, M. Scott Peck writes:
Forgive yourself each and every bad shot - as long as you have learned what it had to teach you - and then get on with it, free and unencumbered. (p. 266)
As a golfer and a teacher, I spend a great deal of time analyzing my practice, but I struggle with the letting go of mistakes part. This past year I created the following qualitative graph to remind me of my issue.
Personal reflection certainly improves my professional growth but there is a point  where it seems like more reflection actually causes me to go backwards professionally. The extra reflection sucks my time and my confidence. I was convinced that I needed to find that reflective sweet spot and then stop.

Fortunately, I shared this visual metaphor with one of my teachers in training, who asked, "Does that mean I get to a point where I never get better?" To which she quickly responded, "I don't think that's true." (Have I mentioned how great our teaching candidates are at GVSU?) Instead, we thought about how adjusting the graph from a quadratic to a cubic might make better sense.
The idea is that when I find myself questioning my ability as a teacher, I need to be aware of this, accept it as part of my nature, and then adjust by letting go, moving on, and trusting myself (the Yoga Story strikes again). Essentially, I want to identify what I am doing instinctually well and make it intentional.

I have been thinking about this a lot this week because I am putting the finishing touches on a new course that begins next Tuesday. While I worked hard with my colleagues to design this course (see the Understanding by Design plan here), I am now second guessing myself and thinking about ways to do things differently. I almost skipped golf this morning to put even more work into the course. Lucky for me I trusted my instincts instead.

If reflection and trust are at the center of my classroom, then it must begin with me (Jason was right!). My learners will look to me as a model whether we are talking about doing mathematics or teaching. Therefore, it is important to demonstrate a reflective practice that is built on trust - trust of my learners and trust of myself.


  1. Have you ever read "The Inner Game of Tennis"? I think you would get a kick out of it.

  2. First: I wish I had your job. Someday. :)

    Second: two super resources for more graphing fun.

    Lastly: a poignant comment on trust in schools.

  3. Andrea May and Dina,
    Thank you for sharing these resources. I am unfamiliar with them, but I will definitely look into them.

    Andrea May,
    It occurs to me that the most authentic learning that happens around schools is extracurricular. And it's not just sports. There's music, chess, science olympiad, art ...

  4. By the end of my time teaching drama I had come to think of it as the most important of my classes. As a group we were constantly reflecting on what we were doing and how we could work together to do it better. In a performance, everyone is dependent on everyone else and that holds each member accountable to each other member of the group. I saw students willing to look at themselves and learning how to truly work together. As a teacher, it never got boring - it stretched my abilities everyday and required me to be continually aware of myself in the picture.
    (which is all to say - yes to authentic learning in extracurriculars).
    There's a lot of work around mindfulness in education that focuses on the teacher's journey. Have you read much on that?

  5. Michal,
    Jeffrey Wilhelm has a book called, "Action Strategies for Deepening Comprehension," that provides examples of using drama to support the development of understanding. I think you would like it as it reinforces the points you make regarding your own teaching experiences.

    When you mention mindfulness, the book that comes to mind is Debbie Miller's "Teaching with Intention." It is a really great read. Do you have others that I should be checking out.

    Thank you for your comments.

  6. Oooh, I haven't heard of either of those - I'll look into them!

    Off the top of my head - Parker Palmer's "The Courage to Teach" comes to mind. Looking over my bookshelf I see some I haven't read in a long while so don't remember very well, but might be good:"The Heart of Learning" edited by Steven Glazer and "The Common Vision: Parenting and Educating for Wholeness" by David Marshak. I think there is also a lot to be found on the web. I'll let you know if I think of more.