"Now your bottom hand is the lower jaw of the shark," Coach Oscar yelled to the players as he crouched down and thrust out his left arm. "The other hand is the upper jaw of the shark. And when the ball comes towards you, the shark gets hungry." A player threw a grounder towards Coach Oscar, and he clamped his hands together to grab the ball. "Is that clear?" Coach Oscar asked.
I looked down the row of players and saw my daughter, Isabelle, and the others nodding. In minutes, they were all crouching low and snatching up the grounders, and in that moment, the players attending the 2nd-4th Grade Baseball Clinic had become a sea of hungry sharks.
With each skill, Coach Oscar broke it down into a series of moves. He used metaphors and connections like a hungry shark so that the kids could grasp the concepts more effectively. He related everything he was doing to what the major league players do, and most importantly, he gave the students lots of time to practice.
One thing was clear. The kids were getting it. In a matter of minutes, they were throwing the ball infinitely better than they had at the beginning. The key to their success was that Coach Oscar was enabling them to learn by doing. After showing them (I do), he walked around as they practiced and gave further instructions if needed (We do). Soon enough, they were all doing it on their own (You do).
As I was watching Isabelle and the other players learn basic skills in throwing, fielding and batting in their Baseball Clinic, I couldn't help but think, where was this coach when I was a kid. After all these years, I was finally learning how to throw a baseball. I was also thinking that what I was watching was a form of a Reading and Writing Workshop.
The idea of the workshop as a clinic isn't a new one. In fact, just the other week, Sara Holbrook and Michael Salinger, our recent resident poets in 8th grade, referred to their workshops in the classroom as clinics, and now I was realizing exactly why they use that term.
The metaphor of a clinic shouldn't just stop there though. If our time in the classroom is like a Reading and Writing Clinic for our students, our PLC work together is the Coaches Clinic. This is when we share our own moves as professionals. It gives us time to map out essential skills of a unit and plan how we can best assess them. It gives us a chance to "watch the tapes" of our players after the fact and see what worked and what didn't. And it gives us the opportunity
Over Thanksgiving, a group of 25 SAS teachers and I headed to Siem Reap, Cambodia, to conduct our own Coaches' Clinics with our Cambodian counterparts from the Caring for Cambodia schools. The focus for this year's teacher training trip was science (thank goodness for Jemma H. as I was literally and figuratively out of my element). For two days, we met teams of teachers to discuss the content, try out some experiments, and explore effective teaching strategies.
We used the same methods for effective teaching (I do/We do/You do) that Coach Oscar used in his clinic, and by the third day, the teachers were ready to try the lessons out in their classrooms.
As we traveled to the five schools on that day, we were amazed at how quickly the teachers had picked up some key concepts such as having students work in groups and letting them do the experiment. And instead of the teachers always giving the answers, they asked questions and elicited responses from the students. All this with classes of 50 plus students.
When we arrived at the last school, we noticed right away that the teacher had taken our experiment of mixing water with different solids and liquids and made it better. Instead of having each group mix all of the substances with water, she had the groups do one each and then compare results across the class. What did was exactly what we do in our work. We learn from each other by taking good practices and techniques and making them in our own in the classroom.
As I get ready for another week in the classroom and look forward to another Coaches Clinic with my PLC, I'm reminded of the following essentials:
- Teach effectively by breaking the skills down into manageable steps, connecting new learning to prior knowledge or frameworks (the hungry shark), and aIlowing for lots of practice (I do/You do/We do) and timely feedback.
- View PLCs as a time for me to learn. I can pick up tips and strategies from my colleagues, and I can gain greater insight from our collective experiences.
- Know my students as best as I can so that I can help them individually and ensure successful lessons for the entire class as a whole.