Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Teach Like JJ Redick

A few weeks back, I commented on an article by Fullan and Hargreaves at the Guardian, about teacher talent:  Teacher Talent.

Chief among my concerns is the idea of preternaturally gifted teachers, born to inspire with the magic of their words, their methods, and maybe their jumping up and down on desks, a la Dead Poets Society.  Some people may be “born to teach”, with enhanced powers of empathy, amazing abilities to explain, and the ability to make any subject the most interesting in the world.

For the rest of us, though, it’s just hard work.  We get knocked down, we deliver dreadful lessons now and again.  We miss hitting the sweet spot of student motivation.  We practically watch tumbleweeds float across the room as we have yet another “Bueller, anyone, Bueller” moment because we weren’t experienced enough at asking the right questions.  We might feel bad, but then we just get right back up, and do it again the next day. That describes my first few years, anyway.

“Fall seven times, stand up eight,” as the Japanese proverb goes. But for teaching we might be talking more like 80, or even 800 times.  Perhaps it takes something like Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours of practice to truly master teaching.  Or perhaps there is just simply no such thing as mastery at all, just slow, steady improvement, and making adjustments as we go.

I was inspired to use a sports analogy by this video about NBA sharpshooter JJ Redick: Shooter's Hop

It talks about how he’s a developed a way of limiting the amount of time it takes to square up to the basket and take a shot, thus saving precious milliseconds, and allowing a shorter than average player to get his shot off against NBA competition. If you care about basketball, watch the video, it’s poetry.  If not, just note that that one thing, that looks so simple, probably took hundreds of hours in the gym and in games, thousands of jump shots, and maybe even years to perfect, and it looks so automatic we don’t even really notice it except when the video is slowed down to half speed.

We could all learn from this video.  We should keep making subtle adjustments to our “game”, that keep us ever improving.  We should make in-game adjustments that allow us to maximize our talent.  Sometimes it's the tiniest little tweaks that make a big difference- a new entry point to a lesson, or a new question to open up discussion.  Most of all, we must practice, practice, practice.  The thing about JJ Redick is, his own thousands of hours of practice had already paid off-he's the leading NCAA basketball scorer of all time.  But he's never stopped adjusting and evolving.

We should teach like JJ Redick.

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