Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Blue Shirts teach Student Teachers at Smith College

In the class “Teaching Methods and Curriculum” at Smith College twenty student teacher who teach a range of different subjects in middle school and high school listened as Project Coach Blue Shirts Efrain, Loeb, Xavier and Ish spoke of their own schools and teachers. Efrain is a senior at Renaissance who takes core classes and was on the swim team last semester. When asked about his school’s weaknesses he said that there was little class selection since only four core classes are offered. Loeb, a junior from Central praised his school’s sports teams and when asked for a weakness he spoke of the high school drop out rate. Xavier, an eighth grader at Chestnut will attend Central next year. Ish is a sophomore at Central. When asked about effective teaching methods, Efrain spoke of his English teacher who held group discussions rather than constant lectures. Loeb’s History teacher writes the goals that he wants to meet by the end of each class, and underneath the big goal he write the smaller steps that they will take as a class to meet that final goal, providing a roadmap for the students.

The Blue Shirts were also asked what teachers should never do in their classrooms. Inconsistency really bothered the Blue Shirts and led to a loss of respect for the teacher. Efrain kept being told in one of his classes that he would be thrown out the next time he misbehaved but he was never throw out so he continues to misbehave because he could easily get away with it. Loeb spoke about teachers yelling. Once a teacher yells at you, you shut down for the rest of the year, he explained. Xavier was bothered by the favoritism that one of his teachers showed another student in class. Since the teacher was also the soccer coach, he favored the soccer player in his classroom. One student teacher voiced how impressed she was by the level of awareness and self-knowledge each of the Blue Shirts demonstrated. When one student teacher asked Ish what his philosophy about going to school is he answered, “School is going to get me somewhere in the long run”.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

"See a problem....fix it" -- The PC ethos

After the first all-staff Project Coach meeting of the new season, a sense of resolve emerged among each of the participants to think deeply about what it takes to form a close, authentic, bond with their youth coaches. Moreover, it became abundantly clear that everyone in the room was unwaveringly committed to this notion: that the strength of this relationship - above all other factors - underpins the success of the program.

With so much of the limited time within the program packed with coach training, sports sessions, and the preparation of PC Radio segments, little opportunity is left for 'redshirts' and their assigned coaches to simply - yet critically - 'get to know each other'.

The email excerpt below embodies the PC-wide notion that if you see a problem, you identify the opportunity to fix it, and implement a solution. We're truly excited to see the results of this new venture.


Dear PC team,

I think we all came away from last night's meeting with a renewed sense of vigor about building authentic relationships with the blueshirts. We were impressed by your desire to invest your time in this process, and accordingly I'd like to run a proposal by you that the three of us are all in agreement with.

We are going to make a small pool of money available for redshirts to utilize when involved in relationship building activities. This could be anything from a movie, to a sporting event (if it's UMASS hockey I expect an invite!), to a birthday lunch, coffee, museum, college trip, etc, etc. I'm sure that as you get to know your group you'll get a sense of what would work best, and in many cases probably already do.

If the event totals less than $50, you can go ahead and plan it without consultation with me, although I'd love to hear about every time we do something like this anyway, so it'd be great if you can informally let me know regardless. For something that is above this amount, we would need to go through it first. My sense is that it would be great to be able to involve as many blueshirts as possible, rather then invest larger amounts on just a few, but we will leave it to your discretion how you manage these aspects. After all, it would be counter-productive to mandate that each redshirt involves each of their blueshirts, if the willingness and desire to do so is not there on either side.

We're excited to launch this, and think it can make a significant and immediate impact; I look forward to hearing from each of you about successful experiences soon!


Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Blue Shirts' Awesome Presentations

For Project Coach's Valentine's Day session, Anna, a Red Shirt, baked cupcakes for everyone. The session began with a brief presentation given by the Red Shirts about some good event in their Blue Shirts' lives. Barbara finished her credit recovery! A video clip of Marquis, a Red Shirt, followed these presentations. The Blue Shirts were asked to comment on the clip. They praised Marquis’ body language; he was able to connect with the entire group of Blue Shirts around him. He maintained eye contact, was laughing, and repeated what he was being told back to the speaker, indicating that he had been listening. Some other clips followed in which the Blue Shirts critiqued the coaches in the clips on their body language and overall communication skills. The most interesting part of the session came towards the end when the Blue Shirts picked up an index card and then gave a presentation to the entire group.

Xavier picked up an index card with the word ‘safety’. He thinks that Springfield needs more police on the streets because, he told the group, there have already been three homicides this year, and the year has just begun. In school he doesn’t feel safe because of the fighting he encounters, kids start fights for no reason, he said, it doesn’t make any sense. When the floor opened up for questions he was asked to pretend he was the principal. If you were your school’s principal how would you make the school safer? Xavier responded that he would ask the teachers for assistance; he would ask the teachers to be on the look out.

Devan picked up the ‘equality and social justice’ index card. The card asked whether he had ever encountered racism or sexism. Devan said he had encountered racism, and proceeded to share his experience through storytelling. His class had been assigned the book “Finding Fish” by Antwone Q. Fisher and one boy in the class would constantly make snide jokes about African Americans. Devan would joke right back at him, but once at home felt like he should of hit him or something, even though he knew that that wouldn’t solve anything. In another instance, when Devan’s class was asked who their role model is, one student responded that his role model was Hitler. Devan didn’t know how to respond. The Blue Shirts' presentations gave everyone an opportunity to apply what they had learned about listening and communicating.

Monday, February 7, 2011

The Pyramid of Success

When we arrived at Chestnut Middle School Library tables and bookshelves were set up for a book sale. Chairs were moved about for the Blue Shirts to begin their first Project Coach class they will receive high school credit for. The Blue Shirts who wanted to receive credit in addition to being paid were given a contract to read over and sign; their commitment includes coming to the sessions prepared in full uniform, attending all Project Coach sessions and doing their homework for Monday’s Project Coach class.

The class began with a short clip of a children’s basketball session. In small groups headed by Red Shirts, the Blue Shirts critiqued the coaches in the clip. The Blue Shirts praised the coach who was using his loud ‘coach voice’ and had the kids listening. They criticized the coach who did not make eye contact with the children and the lack of movement during the session since only two kids were handing the ball at a time, leaving many of them with nothing to do but wait in line. When asked for how they would improve the session, one coach said she would split the kids in half, circle them up and lower herself to their eye level to explain the game rather than have them in a line while she explained and demonstrated. One Blue Shirt said he would have joined in and integrated himself into the game as another player. Another Blue Shirt suggested giving each kid a ball. A six-year-old kid does not go to practice to stand in line. When one coach was asked to put herself in a six-year-old boy’s shoes she said she would want to go to practice to have fun and play ball.

The Blue Shirts’ critique of the clip was followed by a mini-lesson on the Power of Three. Blue Shirts wrote down three reasons the city of Springfield benefits from Project Coach; they were then asked to stand up and use their ‘coaching voices’ and present to their peers.

The lesson shifted gears when the Blue Shirts were shown a video about Coach John Wooden. Taking the men basketball team at UCLA which won eighty eight consecutive games under Coach Wooden as an example, each Blue Shirt wrote down what they thought made a team successful. They were then given a handout on Coach Wooden’s 'Pyramid of Success' and prepared to explain a component of the pyramid in front of everyone. Everyone stood up and the Blue Shirts began to lay down the foundations of the pyramid, explaining what they believed Enthusiasm, Cooperation, Loyalty, Friendship, Initiative, Alertness and Self Control meant to them and to their teams.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Once you go car shopping you notice everything: Osmosis vs. Explicit Teaching

By Sam Intrator

What does shopping for a car have to do with Project Coach, William James, John Dewey, and high schoolers giving a minispeech to elementary students?

This morning I read a 2003 NY Times article profiling Lucy Calkins-- who is a professor of education at Teachers College at Columbia University. Her highly influential work focuses on writing instruction and preparing teachers to teach writing in their classrooms. She is quoted in this piece about what happens when children believe they are active and serious players in a writing community. She says,

''My husband and I are going to buy a car soon,'' Mrs. Calkins says. ''Whenever I drive now, I find myself noticing the differences between Toyotas and Subarus, Pintos and Chevettes. All my life I have been surrounded by cars, yet until now I have not taken note of the different makes.'' And so it is with children, she adds, who, once they view themselves as members of the writers' club, suddenly notice the conventions of the written language everywhere. Teaching writing skills through writing and editing works infinitely better than the use of drill and workbooks
Calkins describes an assumption that sometimes pervades our work in Project Coach and all educational ventures: we over-champion the idea of learning through osmosis. Osmosis implies that merely being buffeted by the culture one will forge an active schema that can guide thinking and decision making. In other words, because we grow up with cars streaming all around us-- we are car experts, or we attend schools and sit in English class we know how to write and give speeches, or we teach coaches how resolve conflict on their teams in Project Coach and the implication is that they can deploy that skill in another setting.

I'm thinking about this because I am preparing a lesson on communications for tomorrow's session at Project Coach. I want to focus on an element of speaking that coaches use all the time. Maybe we can call it a mini-speech. I want the coaches to think about how they need to develop a quick outline that provides them with three talking points. In our program, we have found that we need to teach and reteach basic fundamentals all the time. At the outset we had assumptions: they played on sport teams so they should know now to give feedback to coaches or their school teaches oral communication so they will know the fundamentals of speech making. Unfortunately, it's a flawed assumption.

There is a difference between osmosis and explicit connections. So here is my takeaway from thinking about cars and Project Coach:

 We can surround youth with stimulus just as we are all surrounded by cars of every conceivable make. Merely being the soup is not sufficient. In relationship to Project Coach, just because some of our teen coaches were in the sport soup as players-- that does not mean that they have the 'skills and techniques of coaching." Just because our coaches all articulate the desire to go to college doesn't mean they have developed and refined the skills necessary to make that happen. Legendary psychologist William James talked about the "booming buzzing confusion" of experience. The father of American progressive education, John Dewey, wrote about the unceasing stream of experience that flows past us at all time. Both make the point that merely being exposed to experience is not enough. Meaning must be actively composed and made sense in an explicit fashion. Dewey, who is the master of the compelling image describes random experience as "dispersive, centrifugal, dissipating." In other words experiences stream  past us and, for the most part, we don't notice. What must happen for meaning to be achieved is reflection and focus. How we get youth to focus and attend to the elements that we want them to improve up on is the pedagogical dilemma of programs like Project Coach. Ms. Caulkins makes an essential point: youth need to believe that noticing the skills, practicing the skills, talking about the skills has direct relevance to their own life. There is more that needs to happen, but it's a beginning.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Project Coach's Eighth Year Begins

Veteran coaches, potential new coaches and family members gathered in Chestnut Middle School Library on Monday afternoon to mark Project Coach’s eighth year running. NEON (North End Outreach Program) began the session with a presentation of an array of programs they are offering North End residents this year.

Sam Intrator then gave an overview of the program, indicating what its goals were for this upcoming year as well as its new features. As a college professor he wants students who think critically, communicate their ideas effectively to others and strive to positively impact others’ lives. Project Coach creates an environment in which the Blue Shirts can develop these skills. The Project Coach directors and graduate students each introduced themselves and two veteran coaches briefly spoke of their positive experiences in the program. While students who work as coaches get paid eight dollars an hour, this year, high school credit will also be offered to those coaches who participate in the program. Three Academic Coaches each representing one of the high schools in the area will support the coaches with their academics. Some of the new features of this year’s program include participation in a league where Project Coach teams will compete. Long-term activities pairing the coaches to Smith College students to develop different media projects, including a radio program, are in the works. In addition, students from France will be visiting for two weeks this year. Project Coach Blue Shirts will visit France next year.

One aspect that Project Coach seeks to improve this year is its communication with the Blue Shirts’ parents. Some parents who were present voiced concerns over the lack of contact information they received. After the presentation of the program, students who wanted to become Project Coach Blue Shirts were interviewed. The programs veteran coaches were also present to answer questions. One coach recommended to “always be energetic and make sure to always keep the players moving”; “they love it when coaches become part of the game”.