Teaching and Improvement

These are three more of my favorite shots from the Jindai Botanical Garden. All that beauty and I probably saw 25 people in 6 hours. What a treat, at least for me!

The heart and soul of my teaching has moved in the direction of striving for improvement. My goal with each student is to help that student improve whatever skills we are addressing. That is one of the things I have loved about coaching high school tennis. For ten weeks, I get the opportunity to help the players improve by putting some serious energy into repetition and skill development. This kind of focus helped us send two singles players and a doubles team to the state tourney this year. We worked hard on those fundamentals!

While working at North Eugene, I became increasingly frustrated with my schedule and the demands on my time. In particular, with the special education work, it seemed like the paperwork demands became so substantial that it became tough to balance that work with the actual "teaching" work. In addition, we struggled to implement consistent assessments. If you do not do assessments, how can you possibly measure improvement? 

If I get the job at the American School, my hope is that we will use consistent assessments and that we will adjust our instruction based on the results of those assessments. One of the most important goals is simply to see improvement.

 "I believe it’s impossible to claim you have taught, when there are students who have not learned."

 I love this quote from the great basketball coach John Wooden. I would expand the quote and state that if the students' skills are not improving, then we are not teaching.

It seems like in life, I strive for a balance between maintaining status quo and improvement. For example, I would like to live to be 100 years old. I know that I will not become a faster runner or cyclist. My goal is to maintain my good health and keep doing the healthy activities that I am doing now. On the other hand, I certainly believe there are skills I can keep improving, such as playing music, singing, photography, learning Japanese, being a good husband, and working to improve the environment. 

The irony in special education is that the field is driven by annual goals and instruction designed to address those goals. However, it seemed like we were so busy helping students meet graduation requirements, we did not have time to assess student skill levels and did not have time to make sure the instruction we provided was specifically designed to help students improve particular skills. As a result, I do not think our students experienced the kind of skill improvement that I think they should have experienced.

One of the most shocking statements came from a special education teacher at another high school. I was talking to her about reading comprehension instruction at the high school level. She said that she knows that area is very important. However, she also said that providing that kind of instruction is challenging and time consuming. As a result of this, she said she did not write goals for her students in the area of reading comprehension. She said she left that work up to the language arts teachers. 

Unbelievable! Reading comprehension is probably the single most important skill to develop in high school. Because of the challenges, this special education teacher avoids that area altogether!

In some ways, the formula for improvement is straightforward. 

  1. Determine what skills are important.
  2. Assess those skills.
  3. Set realistic but challenging goals.
  4. Provide instruction to improve the skills.
  5. Assess for improvement.
  6. Change instruction as necessary.
  7. Repeat these steps until the goals are reached. 

It just occurred to me that the best example of how this process should work is from my former Eugene physical therapist, Jeff Giulietti.  We started with my back rehabilitation after surgery. Over the years, Jeff worked on my Achilles and my calve muscles, both shoulders, my leg muscles, and my right elbow. The process was always the same. Assess the injury. Check for strength and range of motion. Design a plan. Execute the plan. Consistently reassess and change the plan as necessary and appropriate. Without exception, due to Jeff's brilliance and my consistent execution of the exercises, I experienced a 100% full recovery from the injury. Thanks Jeff!



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