What Would Happen If…  We Focused on Learning Instead of Teaching?

As a kid, I played on a fairly successful basketball team in middle school.  We would pack up and drive to tournaments all over the state. We all had sweet matching sweatsuits (from the early 90’s = Rad!),  wore tall scrunched tube socks and had over-styled bangs. We were not super tall, none of us possessed an overabundance of skill (well, at least I didn’t) but what we did have was superior coaching.  Our team was organized, passionate and able to perform at a high level for our age.  

Our coach focused on creating a team comprised of smart basketball players.  We were students of the game. The team learned to “see the whole court”, “think two passes ahead” and “anticipate the moves” of our opponents . We were not taught independent, sporadic and disconnected concepts. We were asked to think about “What would happen if…” What would happen if we cut backdoor? What would happen if we looked to the left, but actually passed to the right?  What would happen if we saw the whole picture instead of the minute details? What would happen if we, as educators, facilitated learning instead of teaching unrelated skills?  

Don’t get me wrong, we worked on skills as well.  Our coach had us execute passing drills and shooting practice.  We worked on the mechanics of the game for sure, but always with the context of the game in mind.  Our coaches created opportunities to learn to play basketball. They did not teach us the incremental aspects without seeing where they fit into the larger picture of the game.  

 Learning how to execute a bounce pass without an understanding of its advantage in creating a perfect assist does not create insight or vision.  We do not understand the game of basketball better until we see it holistically. Our coaches helped us to learn the game, they didn’t only teach us the skills, which engaged us in ways that provoked hard work and dedication.  We were challenged and inspired and empowered. When we began to experience success that fueled our learning and we worked even harder and had more success.

What would happen if our classrooms and schools focused on learning instead of teaching?  Could our learning environments be as radical as a bunch of middle school girls from the early 90’s? 

How can we begin to shift the focus from Teaching Students to Supporting Learning? Here are three steps that can get us started. These three steps were inspired by the words of wisdom from my coach all those years ago. 

Step 1: Help Your Students See the Whole Court

In basketball, as in life, it is imperative to see the big picture. Give the learning context and make it relevant and help them understand why they are learning what they are learning.  Ultimately we want our students to be able to coordinate concepts and transfer skills to new contexts. If one of your teammates is double covered, somewhere else on the court a teammate is wide open and there is a play to be made. 

Step 2: Anticipate Moves of Your Opponents 

Common Core asks students not only to be able to articulate their understanding and opinions but to understand and critique the opinions of others.  Understanding the perspectives of others allows for richer conversations, collaboration and learning. On the court, by anticipating the move of our opponents we were able to intercept passes and steal the ball from the other team.  Our quick thinking often resulted in a quick break away and an easy lay up. If students are to learn to anticipate the perspective of others as a way to deepen their understanding, you will score quick wins and richer understanding of skills and concepts.  

Step 3: Think 2 Passes Ahead

As a student in the classroom, it is important to be able to understand cause and effect and predict what will happen next.  My basketball coaches knew this well and by thinking ahead, we were able to intercept passes and steal the ball from our opponents.  We were able to break defenses down by being patient and letting plays evolve. This allows independence in the classroom and allows students to be able to continuously evolve and adapt their understanding.  They will be continuously learning if they are able to anticipate and adapt.

As educators, let’s see ourselves as coaches of student learning, instead of the team owner or the referee.  Let’s create cohesive teams who understand this rich game of 21st Century learning. As teachers, let’s support and guide learning instead of teaching unconnected concepts.  Our coaches did not have players who were seven feet tall, with natural born talents. They took what they had and met their players where they were. They built on the skills that each member brought with them and created a deep understanding of the game.  This not only inspired the players, but drove us to be successful lifelong students and continuous learners. Their lessons stuck with me and transcend the game itself and continue to inspire my growth and the way I navigate the world. What if… We can inspire this type of learning for our students?

Yes you can. Remember, “You’ve got game!”

CLICK HERE for a fun activity that you can you use to further this conversation with your staff.

Sarah Hayden
Instructional Coach, TEEN TRUTH

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