Monday, August 25, 2008

Super Star

I always enjoy watching the Olympics. In the summer time, my favorite sports to watch are gymnastics, swimming, diving, and track events. I love the spirit of "doing your best" that permeates most of the contests. Just to be good enough to be able to participate in these competitions must be a huge honor. I am amazed at what their bodies can do.

I am also impressed by the number of hours that these men and women have spent practicing their sport and honing their skills. Many of the coaches seem very supportive and proud. A few nights ago I saw a woman compete in the pole vault. When everything was done, she earned a silver medal. We also saw her coach criticizing her after the event. He was nitpicking about the ways that she was not as good, as finely tuned, as the woman who won the gold medal. She had a very dejected look on her face as she turned her back and slumped away from him.

There are different effective styles of coaching, to meet the varied needs of the individual athlete. This example is absolutely the wrong way to coach. I could never have accomplished what she did, over 15 feet (if I am remembering right). People pretty universally respond better to support and acknowledgment of their efforts and strengths. Yes, when they are in training, they need some guidance to help them perfect their skill. But at the end of the competition, everyone benefits from hugs and atta-boys.

We all need encouragement and recognition for the efforts we make. Some children and adults will be good enough to compete for higher awards. Good for you! You did it! You gave it your best!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Patience for learning

It's been quite a while since I last posted. I had a very busy summer and several projects that demanded my attention.

One of those projects has involved learning something new. As of today, I am now teaching an online class. Instead of meeting my students face to face in a classroom for this class, we are "meeting" online through online lectures and a message board. Getting this class all set up has required me to stretch my computer knowledge. The process is very thoroughly spelled out, but there is LOTs to learn, and there are many little things to remember. When the class began today, I thought I had everything set up. It was exciting as students began to check in. Then several of my students sent me notification that at least one part of the class was inaccessible. Oh, my, a glitch. I have read my notes, gone to the help sections. I can't find the source of the problem.

We all realize that everyone makes mistakes. In fact, mistakes are often a necessary part of the learning process. This experience is reminding me how difficult it is sometimes to learn new things. And how hard it is to admit mistakes. Having to give in to my inability to fix this on my own, and email the online learning coordinator, feels a bit like defeat. I know, I'm not perfect. Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone slips up. I just wish this wasn't happening to me.

Kids often feel the same way. I'm pretty sure my feelings of frustration and incompetence about this current computer challenge originate, at least partly, deep in my past experiences. What messages do we give children about learning? What kind of expectations do we have for the learning process? Learning takes time and patience. Mistakes are valuable tools in the process. And sometimes we really do need to make the same mistakes several times before we finally get it!

I have emailed the head computer guru at the college. I'm pretty sure he will find the problem quickly. Once I push the right button here and there, the problem will be fixed and I will send out apologies to my students. I will feel much better when this is resolved. But I also need to be more accepting when the next glitch surfaces. I need to be patient with myself. We can also model this for children. They need our patience, too. Learning takes time.