What An Educator Can Learn From A Cyclist

This weekend I went for a bike ride with my friend Anne.  As we were cruising through the back roads of Boulder, Colorado I couldn’t help but think how similar cycling is to teaching.  Allow me to elaborate…

Cyclists live in one of two seasons: the on-season or the off-season.  During the off-season they take time to rest and recover, reflect on accomplishments made during the on-season, and set their sights on larger goals for the season ahead.  As educators, we experience our off-season during our summer breaks.  We walk out of school on the last day and allow ourselves to deeply exhale.  We reflect on the progress made with our students or with other teachers we’ve worked with (for us instructional coaches).  Hopefully we are honest with ourselves during this time of reflection and can clearly see what worked and what might need some shaping up next season.

After each off-season for us educators, we have the great opportunity to return to school and start fresh.  As we head into this school year, here are a few things we can learn from the sport of cycling that when applied to our teaching lives may serve to strengthen our own on-season.  Let’s ride!

Hills Make You Stronger

As Anne and I were cruising along one of the flat, straightaway sections of our ride, life felt good.  I was in my comfort zone, my body felt strong, and my mind felt focused.  After rounding a bend though, the road started to change.  It started to go up.  Before I knew it I was climbing one heck of a steep hill.  My legs started to slow down, my bike wobbled underneath me, and my mind felt anything but focused.

These moments not only exist on the road, they are also very real occurrences during our days in the classroom.  A student who you feel like you’ve finally gotten a pretty good handle on all of a sudden explodes because of an argument over a pencil and the calm in your classroom turns to chaos.  The copier breaks just when you need it most or a lesson you spent a good deal of time planning totally bombs.  Sometimes these “hills” string together and you feel like you’ll never make it to the top.

Whatever you do…don’t stop pedaling.  Dig deep and keep cranking.  Once you’re off the bike it is significantly harder to get started again.   Just when you think you can’t go anymore, guess what…YOU CAN.  When you do arrive at the top you’ll be stronger and wiser as a result.

Ride With Others

Going on a ride with others is just more fun.   Team rides can motivate you and improve your skills.  You can also be sure there will be someone there to help you out in the case of a flat tire or a forgotten granola bar.

Teachers have an enormously complex job with a crazy number of responsibilities.  Working together as a team (grade-level, administration, specialists, school wide) matters.  Our fellow educators can inspire us, support us, laugh with us, or just grab a coffee with us.  Research shows that relational trust among teachers and school leaders improves student achievement.

So this year remember to smile and say “hello” to other teachers in the hall, assume positive intent, and stop to help when you see another teacher with a flat.  Little things like that make a difference.

Set Goals, Train Hard

If you were to ask just about any cyclist who has completed a century ride how they were able to accomplish such a feat, I would be willing to bet they would say it involved goal setting and some serious training.

Setting goals for yourself and your students using all current data (formal and informal) that you have ensures that you have a clear target to aim for.  Without that do you really know where you’re headed in your day-day work or why you’re headed there?  Concrete goals inspire us and tracking our training or our progress motivates us.  If you can involve students in tracking their OWN progress towards clear learning targets, even better!

Our instruction in the classroom must be strategic, precise, and engaging to make “century ride” results a reality.

Coaching Counts

Competitive cyclists care about results.  They realize that few can sustain their best performance on their own.  This is where coaching comes in.

I recently read a great article that spoke to this truth about coaching.  In it the author discusses the importance of coaching in becoming your “personal best.”  The following excerpt from this article aptly describes the important role a coach plays in doing so:

Élite performers, researchers say, must engage in “deliberate practice”—sustained, mindful efforts to develop the full range of abilities that success requires. You have to work at what you’re not good at. In theory, people can do this themselves. But most people do not know where to start or how to proceed. Expertise, as the formula goes, requires going from unconscious incompetence to conscious incompetence to conscious competence and finally to unconscious competence. The coach provides the outside eyes and ears, and makes you aware of where you’re falling short.

Through a variety of approaches (co-planning, demonstration, descriptive feedback) instructional coaches can help push your thinking and your practice.  Letting someone into your classroom to observe you can feel like an intimidating risk.  Taking important risks like this however can pay off greatly for you and your students.  So this year open your doors, invite in your instructional coach and see how far you and your students can climb.

Rest and Recover

Rest and recovery are essential for high-level performance.  This is true for both cycling and teaching.  One of the best things you can do for yourself after a long ride is to eat a good meal, kick up your feet and take it easy.  This is great training advice for us educators as well.

Cyclists know that when they don’t build in enough days for rest and recovery, they’re at risk of suffering from overtraining syndrome – a difficult condition to recover from.  Likewise with teaching, if we’re not careful about creating some balance in our lives, we are at risk of teacher burnout.  This condition isn’t fun for you or your students and is also very difficult to recover from.

Remember to take care of yourself this year.  Pack a healthy lunch, pause during your hectic day just to breathe, and maybe even enjoy a nice glass of red wine at the end of your day.  I’d say you deserve it.

Taking a Risk

Our school year has come to a close and I thought I would take some time to reflect on my first year as an instructional coach.  Last April when I considered stepping into this role, I felt very nervous and uncertain.  I loved being a classroom teacher.  My classroom was a safe and comfortable space for my students and me.  As somewhat of a quiet type, I don’t typically embrace risk-taking or being in the spotlight so the idea of doing a job that involved conducting whole staff professional development and coaching teachers was…intimidating.  If it hadn’t been for the friendly nudging of my friends and family, I may have passed this opportunity up.  And I definitely would have kicked myself for it later (thanks guys!).

This year has been just, well, great.  I have grown so much as a professional and educator.  I have had the opportunity to build great relationships with teachers throughout the building.  Maybe most importantly, I have learned how to flex my “risk-taking muscle” and step outside of my comfort zone.  My risk-taking muscle isn’t exactly huge now, but I know it’s there and I plan on flexing it more often. It’s not always easy, but it’s good for you.  It allows you to better serve yourself and those around you.

A piece of my reflection this year included creating a trailer and digital story using iMovie to summarize our work at Tollgate.  Check it out!  If you’re an instructional coach doing something similar will produce a product to help you reflect on and share the work involved in your role with others.  If you’re a teacher, you can use something like this as an end of year gift for students.  The following year you could use it as part of your back to school night to give parents an idea of what their children will experience in your classroom.  If you’re not really comfortable with “techie” projects like this, who cares!  I wasn’t either.  Take a risk.

As educators, it’s important to keep taking risks in order to grow as professionals.  What risks have you taken lately or are considering taking?

Creating a Professional Development Space

Wouldn’t it be nice if all schools had a designated space for teachers to gather together on a regular basis to learn and share ideas?  Where they could relax a bit, enjoy a cup of coffee, and consider how to improve their instruction?  I thought so too.  That’s why I really wanted to create a professional development space for teachers this year.

When I was in the classroom, creating an engaging and beautiful learning space was one of my favorite things to do.  I wanted it to be a place where students looked forward to coming to everyday and felt inspired to learn.  I used this same thinking when I set out to create our school’s professional development space. I know the current school year is coming to a close, but if you are able to create a professional development space for the next school year, here are some ideas to consider.

Don’t Go Crazy With Colors

Although it’s tempting to think the more colorful the better, it’s really not.  Too many loud colors can be distracting.  Keep it simple with one muted color on the walls and add a pop of color with borders or accent boards.

Plants and Lighting

I have one big plant in a bright green pot that sits by my desk and helps freshen the air.    I’ve also added different lighting around the room to create a more inviting space.

Work and Teaching Spaces

I chose round tables for workspace so teachers could easily collaborate and share ideas.  I added baskets on top with pens, highlighters, and sticky notes for teachers to use.

For teaching space, I have a small round table that I dressed up a bit with some fun fabric that holds my projector.  Having chart paper and markers on hand for recording agenda’s or impromptu notes from discussions is also important.

Materials Organization

It’s important to have a space to store any handouts and/or other materials you may need to support your professional development meetings.  For me, a few plastic bins from Target and a labeler make quick work of this organizational task!

 Teacher Ownership

Just as you would want students to feel ownership of their classroom, I wanted teachers to feel connected to our professional development space.  I made sure that teacher faces were seen in the room in different ways.

I made magnet name cards for each of the teachers that they use for the “check-in” questions we have in place at the start of each PD session

My colleague and I also thought it would be a great idea for teachers to make “A Bit About Me” cards. We used these for an opening activity for one of our PD sessions and then displayed them throughout the year. These gave teachers a way to learn something about others they may not have known before

Here are the question we used:

  • What is one of your passions?
  • What is a quirk of yours no one knows about?
  • What is your favorite book?

What Have We Been Working On?

It’s important that the work and learning of teachers is celebrated and displayed throughout the room.

A documentation panel I made to tell the story of our work connected to guided reading

Our work plan goal for the year

Supporting targets for the work plan goal

Continuum of reading proficiency levels

Displayed read-alouds to support student engagement. These along with the professional learning books to the left are all available for check-out

Our staff habits connected to the text, "Mindset" (seen below)

Café!

One of the best parts of our PD room is the mini coffee bar I set up.  We have professional development at the end of the day and teachers are often pretty drained.  It really helps to have a pot of fresh coffee and a few snacks waiting for them.  I also have a mini-fridge for storing small cans of soda and Emergen-C packs for those teachers who need a bit of a pick-up, but would rather not have caffeine.  Teachers have nicknamed this space “Houser’s Cafe.”

Add Some Humor!

Our science teacher made this for me and I just love it.  It is a good reminder of why we all come together every week!

And Don’t Forget…

A space for yourself.  Some instructional coaches have offices outside of their professional development space or they may not have an office at all!  If you are able to create an organized and comfortable workspace for yourself, definitely do!  I chose to put mine by the window for a little natural light and I only furnish it with what is really essential.  The last thing you want to do when you have a chance to sit down and think, is deal with a bunch of clutter!

A little extra inspiration from Coach John Wooden

There aren’t a ton of ideas out there for how to create a professional development space for teachers, so if you have any additional thinking to contribute, please let us know!