Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Teach Fit Tip: Teaching with Flexibility

April Blogging Series: Teach Fit, the "cross-fit" between my two worlds (fitness & education) in exploration of how fitness has more to do with teaching than we might think.

Teach Fit Tip #2: Teach with Flexibility

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When we exercise, we build strength by taxing our muscles and forcing them to grow. Tiny ruptures in the muscles occur when we have upped our fitness and forced our body to adapt. The medical term for that Oh my god, I can't lift my arms to wash my hair feeling after a great workout is delayed onset muscle soreness or DOMS. It's a normal part of fitness but can have detrimental results such as tightness and poor posture if we don't balance our strength training with some stretching and flexibility training. By engaging in yoga and other forms of flexibility, we not only ensure our fitness leads to healthy growth over time, but we also bring balance to our practice.

Core Training
As teachers, we face much that is rigid and inflexible. These things cause us pain sometimes, but they are not necessarily the evils of education we make them out to be. The problem is, we don't necessarily have the right flexibility training in place to balance their impact on our practice. Here are three rigid-Ed buzz words along with a flexible practice teachers can use to counterbalance them.

1. rigor: a (1) :  harsh inflexibility in opinion, temper, or judgment : severity (2) :  the quality of being unyielding or inflexible (Merriam-Webster)

Rigor must be among the least accurate words used ad nauseam to describe quality education. It's unfortunate because it translates to piling up the mental exercises so excessively as to remove any ounce of free time students might have after school. While a rigorous program may prepare students to be even more competitive and accountable in life, it can also be emotionally exhausting in its unforgiving magnification of inevitable mistakes.

Flexibility Exercise: Rapport building can counteract today's rigorous atmosphere of competition. While there is no escaping the high stakes and high stress, teachers can serve as voices of reason instead of contributing to the madness. Skilled teachers can also complement high expectations with high support and genuine care. They also have a way of lifting students up in moments of crisis.    

2. standard :  something set up and established by authority as a rule for the measure of quantity, weight, extent, value, or quality (Merriam-Webster)

Standards-based grading, standards-based learning, standards-based assessment...clearly standards are at the "common core" of our daily practice. Standards are valuable because they serve as a musculature of learning design. However, what we allow students to do with those muscles can be far more flexible.

Flexibility Exercise: Choice-based learning is like a yoga practice with many modifications in play. Anyone who has taken a yoga class can attest to the instructions being given in tiers for almost every move and the fact that in many classes individuals choose to veer into their own practice for chunks of class. I do this when we go into plow or headstand. I just don't like the idea of putting pressure on my neck, so instead I move over to the wall and do a handstand. I'm still upside down, so I get the benefits of that portion of practice, but I accomplish this in my own style. In our classes, we have several opportunities to allow students to make modifications on their own through choices along the way. The standards keep us generally in "flow" together, but allowing for variations in content based on interests or self-assessment, process based on preferred learning style, and outcome based on creative disposition, is an excellent way to allow students agency over their learning practice.

3. schedule : a plan of things that will be done and the times when they will be done (Merriam-Webster)

Schedules are necessary for school safety and learning, yet even the most progressive bell schedules still constrain us in our attempts to maximize exploration and foster deep understanding. 

Flexibility Exercise: Open up time and space by creating blended learning opportunities. Using a platforms like Schoology and Google Apps for Education, learning via collaboration can extend far beyond the allocated time and space. This practice also creates diversity in learning space where one may attract a learner who feels intimidated by a more traditional space.  

Cool Down (Stretch!)
In the early years of our teaching careers, we are nimble with optimism and energy for our practice, but these perspectives can become jaded and worn over time if we are not careful just as we become tight and achy as we age! But there's a solution to this. When we are presented with inevitable soreness of our practice, whether in the class or on the track, we can rejuvenate through a dedication to flexibility training. #teachfit  


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