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To Teach “Like A Champion…”

Brian Angell Summer's Almost Over CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Hello Friends,

Happy early Thanksgiving! You’d think on a food blog inspired by the act of melting butter in a pan, I’d be posting food-oriented thoughts around this time of year, but instead I’m going to throw you a curveball and process my thoughts about the book – I want to call it a cult classic in the charter world — Teach Like a Champion.

As a matter of fact, I am about to grocery shop for my family’s beloved (to me) stuffing recipe, involving mirepoix, bacon, cornbread, spiced pecans, chicken stock, butter…

Anyway. I’m a bit of a crossroads with my writing: in a fit of renewed enthusiasm for freelancing, I renewed my subscription to Writer’s Market and Media Bistro and I wrote a short story earlier this semester that I’ve submitted to a few publications as well as a query about gifted education.

Fellow writers, this site is super helpful if you’re interested in publishing a short story:

Where To Submit Short Stories

When I introduced the idea of “braiding” short stories to my creative writing class, I got all pumped up and started writing a braided piece about August 2014, intertwining my grandfather’s death, Michael Brown’s death, and my own personal struggles in Chicago, removed from it all, a piece that has now stagnated for me that I’ve somewhat abandoned. I’ve been in touch with a freelance writer/family friend and he’s encouraged me not to blog, instead seeking “some” compensation and editorial feedback for my writing. But alas, I feel myself returning to this cluttered, messy, haphazard website that has at times served as a springboard for my freelance “career” (hah), other times as a personal form of documentation, marking the passage of time with my musings on recipes tested, books read, and trips traveled, and right now, much like the end of the summer when I posted a flurry of lesson plans, a way for me to process and publish my thoughts on my job – the teaching of teenagers. As with my students, the act of putting my thoughts about teaching into writing, and more importantly, sharing them with an audience, however small, is about writing to learn, and writing to better myself, and less about the quality of the words I put forth on the virtual page. So bear with me. Read ahead if you like.

One of my biggest dilemmas as a teacher is the balance between intentionality and authenticity… (This is a topic that I’d really like to pitch to a magazine, one that I feel I could write a long article about, but I mention it here as a segue way into Teach Like a Champion). This is my sixth year of teaching, and in my earliest years – like 1, 2, 3 – I placed more of an emphasis on intentionality to the point of writing down scenarios and scripting my responses in the beginning of the year, and even scripting my daily lesson plans to a certain extent. Granted, that’s probably appropriate as a beginning teacher, and now certain responses are engrained in me and I don’t need to really think much about certain responses – in other words, some of my reactions to students naturally fall into both categories, intentional and authentic. But I’ve found in years 5 and now 6, especially, that I lean increasingly towards responding to students in a spontaneous, human way, rather than in a scripted, “this is how a teacher responds” sort of way. And I’ve found that it has yielded very effective results, especially as a teacher of juniors and seniors, the oldest kids in the K-12 system, in building close and authentic relationships. When older students see your humanity, and feel that you interact with them comfortably as one person to another, I’ve found that it builds trust and respect. And avoids power struggles.

Then again… I feel that a classroom is always a performance space to a certain extent, and it’s crucial to run a tight ship. So as I sweep floors, and wipe countertops, empty trash, and otherwise prepare for my favorite holiday – Thanksgiving!!! – I’m delving into a little professional development at the same time, and summarizing what I’m reading for no other reason than to record and clarify for myself some strategies I want to try in my classroom. This post isn’t really about writing, or blogging, it’s for myself, honestly – but whether or not you’re a teacher, most of us have been in school at some point, so I find that most of us are interested in what goes on in schools and are invested on that level alone to make teachers better at their jobs. So, with no further adieu, Technique #1. As I do with my students when I ask them to summarize, this is Teach Like a Champion as I understand it, in my own words.

Technique #1: No Opt Out

So the basic idea behind “No Opt Out” is that you want to teach your students that you won’t let them off the hook when they either don’t know the right answer, or they don’t want to try for it. So the simple idea is, whenever you ask a student for an answer, and they can’t answer the question, you find a way to circle back to that student and have them answer the question. This does a variety of things: it builds individual students’ confidence, it expresses your high standards for all students and your emphasis on 100 percent participation, and it builds a spirit of collaboration, for starters.

It’s very easy to implement, and Teach Like a Champion identifies five different and simple formats for implementing this strategy:

  • Provide the answer yourself, then circle back to the student and have him/her simply repeat it.
  • Seek another student’s help in answering the question, then circle back to the original student and have him/her repeat the other student’s correct answer.
  • Depending the on the nature of the question, invite the whole class to call out/chant the correct answer, then circle back to the original student and have him/her repeat the correct answer.
  • Provide a cue with additional information that helps the student answer the question; then have the student answer the question correctly
  • Call on another student to provide a cue that helps the original student answer the question correctly

What I love about Teach Like a Champion is that the strategies are highly specific and very simple. With so much to think about, not to mention a long to-do list, it’s nice to write on my lesson plan, “No Opt Out” and just strive to hold students accountable more effectively when some of them want to opt out of thinking critically. There’s a part of me, heavily influenced by the charter world, that really believes that in education, the devil is in the details and it’s the small adjustments that count for a lot.

But then again, the struggle between intentionality and authenticity. The fact that we are adult human beings dealing with young human beings. The dichotomy between being told that teaching is “all about relationships” and yet about these draconian, yes, highly specific strategies. Here are some criticisms of Doug Lemov/Teach Like A Champion that get at that central dilemma, in my opinion – What do you think?

Peg Robertson Eviscerates Teach Like a Champion

This School Year Don’t Teach Like a Champion

Why I Stopped Teaching Like a Champion

 

 

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