Recently I returned from an amazing professional development hosted by the Buck Institute for Education where I was lucky enough to end up in a group discussion moderated by BIE Program Manager Stanley Richards. It was my first time getting to work with Stanley and the hour or so I spent in his focus group was time well spent.
Mr. Richards has a wealth of experience, and during his time as a teacher coach at Envision Schools in Oakland, he came up with a brilliant analogy that he used when he coached his peers. And with MLB playoff season upon us, it turned out to be too appropriate to not share.
He said that you can play baseball if you are able to do four things; run, hit, catch, and throw*. Players of all skills levels can do those four things, no matter if you’re the next Roberto Clemente or a hopeless minor league prospect. The basics are the same for all players, but it’s to what degree you can do them that separate the legends of the diamond from simple footnotes.
I really liked this analogy, and ever since I returned from the BIE summit I’ve been asking myself this question; what are the run-catch-hit-throw for teachers? What four skills are indispensible to educators and separate the good ones from the great ones?
Here’s what I’ve come up with, but I’m interested in what other people think;
Engagement: If you cannot engage your students, you might as well be teaching in an empty room. I feel very strongly that this skill is essential, especially when one considers today’s students. The world they inhabit revolves around multimedia, technology, near-instantiations information retrieval, and a degree of interactivity that we never experienced in our own school careers. If we cannot provide something that duplicated this level of engagement, what chance do we have of capturing their interest long enough for the to learn? The approach that worked for us will not work for our students. If you cannot get your students interested, curious, or at least feel like they can understand the relevance of the subject you are teaching, what can you do?
Communication: As teachers we possess a large amount of standards-based knowledge that we are tasked by the community and the state to eventually pass on to our students. Good communications skills are indispensible if we are to do this effectively, but this doesn’t mean just choosing the right words. This includes strategies for students who are non-verbal learners such as ELL students or students with special needs. It also includes the ability to scaffold knowledge and skills effectively so that all students can understand what is expected of them and how to eventually reach learning goals.
Perseverance: Like many jobs, teaching is a demanding profession. But unlike other careers, when teachers make mistakes or have bad days they feel a greater degree of personal responsibility for their failure because they know their shortcomings short-change kids. Studies conducted recently show that 1 in 10 teachers will leave the profession in their first year and nearly 20% will be gone in the first 5 years. It’s not easy to get through this “disillusionment phase” when you are dealing with low pay, personal responsibilities, and students who sometimes test the limit of your patients. For all of these reasons, if teachers don’t have the ability to overcome setbacks and redouble their efforts, they won’t make it far as career educators. It’s also an important skill for when plans or activities you are sure are worth their weight in gold that after 20 minutes become a tangled mess of incomprehensible student work.
Empathy: The ability to empathize with others is indispensable to anyone in a profession that is person-centric. Without it, there would be no willingness to try and understand the root cause of an underperforming student, or a student who misbehaves, or a colleague who doesn’t seem interested in trying to improve or refine his or her own practice. We would just dismiss them as not our reasonability. Empathy is also essential for educators committed to equity in their classroom because it is through the lens of empathy that we recognize that the experiences of students whose background is not shared by the majority and make a conscious effort to include those who are routinely excluded.
Although this is my list, there are many other skills that could also make the cut. What are the hit-run-catch-throw for you and your practice?
*Note: Stanley’s original analogy included only three skills, but my wife, a baseball aficionado, suggested adding throw as a fourth one saying it was a core skill without which games wouldn't go very far.