Why classrooms need to be more like sports fields

Before I start, it is very important to point out that I have zero experience in coaching a sports team, have only a mild interest in sport at all. I also have almost no experience in teaching in elementary schools. What I do you have is a fascination with improving the school experience for all learners.

The reason it is important to point out my complete lack of experience in these scenarios is because I present this as a serious argument from the unbiased perspective not available to elementary teachers, physical education fanatics, or even sport fans.

Genuine learning?

My main point here is that sports coaches prepare individuals and teams to go onto the field without the coach. Sports coaches have to teach knowledge and skills based on the idea that coach will not be able to help you in the moment when you are challenged. But unlike school assessments, these moments will be unpredictable with 100s of possible scenarios and vast options open to you – you have to be skilled and knowledgable in a genuine sense, not abstract.

Although many school visions for graduates contain words such as connected and independent, it is too easy for many high school teachers to fall into the trap of designing the learning experience based on the fact that they will be in the room to help and guide every step of the learning process, especially when learners are significantly challenged. The common thought that “I will help them if they get stuck” leads too many teachers to not design activities for the long term, developing strategy and independence in students but for the short term pre-planned assessment. In regards to learning design, it is this habit I hope more teachers can find a way out of.

Authentic experience

Sports coaches do have an advantage that in most cases there is a weekly event, the competition, where an authentic moment of challenge is created demanding their learners invest all of their energy and absorb all their senses in the moment, testing their individual skills and ability to collaborate for the sake of both themselves and the team. The authenticity of these learning moments is generated by their unpredictability and demand for collaboration. The idea of building learners towards regular authentic and collaborative events should be a key focus for teachers in their learning / school design.

The authenticity of these learning moments is generated by their unpredictability and demand for collaboration.

Richard Wells @eduwells

Develop the person

It is here though that I would like to share support for elementary teachers in that the school system does still expect elementary teachers to focus on strategy and developing the learner to cope with situations. When both my daughters learned to read, they would frequently have three strategies to try if they ever got stuck on a word. It is only at high school where teaching tends to become more formulaic and centred on the idea that the teacher will get you through this by preparing you for what should be a predictable assessment. In high school it is less a matter of strategy and collaboration than it is repairing exact and correct answers. Ironically, this generates a culture of what seems like bigger demands on the teacher, leading to higher stress levels and/or a feeling that they simply don’t have time to genuinely care about each individual learner’s success.

No correct answer = better answers

On a sports field, there is no correct answer. This is why sports coaches apply their energy into developing the person and the team. If teachers and classrooms behaved more like coaches and sports teams, we would develop our learners more successfully towards what I assume is the vision your school has for them.

It’s amazing how so many teachers don’t see sports coaching in the same way as ‘proper teaching.’ Most teachers respect sports coaches but don’t think hard enough about what they can learn from this ‘other’ learning environment. It is time for more teachers to create authentic Learning experiences by making them less predictable and more collaborative, knowing this will produce better students far more prepared for the more predictable assessments.