#Relearn 4: Connections

Every time is different but also the same. New faces with new stories. Old hands with a retelling of theirs. Al and Mark prodding, poking and provoking. Connections and dialogue building out of them. This time I took on the role of listener rather than story teller. The new faces had some good stories to share. They told them well, so listening came easy. The connections to their stories with my context were not so easily found, but Relearn isn’t about answers or best practice. It is about walking away with new stories and ideas that flourish out of them, for better and richer questions to be asked about our own practice.

Johny Alder, recently returned from New Zealand, talked about the coach education around Auckland. He discussed the NZ Coach Approach, a values and belief driven coaching philosophy that underpins an athlete centred practice. So how do they impart this philosophy and also an increasingly effective integration of coaching skills, knowledge and understanding of coaching practice to their coaches? A series of stand alone qualifications? Whilst these still exist the focus is less about metrics, ticking boxes and nepotism and more about commitment and engagement to continuous learning. There has been discussion whether coaching qualifications could be in fact a blocker to learning. Instead Communities of Practice (CoP) have emerged, out of the coaches’ needs, that are free, accessible and well supported. Jonny shared the example of a regular morning coffee session where coaches (from professional to youth level) would get together and just talk about rugby. Sharing their thoughts and practice, providing an iterative and immersive experience for continual learning. There is a good way and a bad way to coach, there isn’t a right way, and that is what these CoPs explored. This is so far removed from my experiences of PE professional development, it left me thinking how I could build a CoP for PE learning and professional development.

Darren Roberts is a high performance manager that works with extreme sports athletes. After listening to one of his coaching stories I now better understand the term ‘herding cats’. It is clear from Darren’s experiences that extreme sports athletes are a different beast compared to the traditional sports athletes. This led to some interesting discussion on how those two worlds might impact on each other when they meet in the Tokyo Olympic Village in 2020 as the IOC has confirmed climbing, surfing and skateboarding to be part of the competition schedule. Out of this story came the concept of the ‘performance playground‘. Essentially this is an environment you create for the athlete to allow them to express their potential, not be dogmatically told what do. Darren is there to create the performance playground for his athletes to empower, engage and to ensure relevance to their sport. As discussion grew out of that story it became clear to me that the key element was that of peer to peer support; athlete to athlete and coach to coach. Listening to examples of how the top performers didn’t keep their ‘secrets’ but shared them with their ‘competition’ as this ensured the sport would move forward. As with Johny’s story, Darren’s left me thinking but not quite seeing the connection to my context.

However a few day’s later in a Year 7 PE lesson a connection and a moment of clarity came to me. It was my first lesson with thirty 11 year olds, none of which had attended the same primary school and had very different experiences of movement and PE in their early life. It was Lesson Zero for them and then straight into the Toss 10 Challenge. After I set them up in the challenge I stepped back, observed and made some notes on my phone. It was bedlum. I didn’t stop anything I saw, but I was ready to step in if I thought it was dangerous. After 10 minutes I called them in and read the list of things I had seen and nothing more, then sent them back to the challenge. There was an immediate change in their behaviour towards each other, much more supportive and kind, a willingness to help and share. The quality of practice drastically improved and then possibly learning could begin.

The clarity was about the social domain of PE and it’s importance. It isn’t just about explicitly teaching social skills to children, it is about building a Community of Movement within PE. An environment that supports risk and challenge no matter what level. A culture that supports the willingness to have a go and celebrates that (and not necessarily the outcome), but seeks solutions for improvement from not just the teacher but also peers. A community that is built on connections and communication. The social domain should not replace the physical one as the ultimate learning outcome of PE. The best thing we can do for our students confidence in our subject, is to make them competent in our subject. But without spending time building a Community of Movement, with it’s peer to peer support, the learning in the physical domain will be greatly diminished.

When you live in many worlds, sometimes there is no need to look further than your own multidimensional experiences. The Neo-Generalist by Kenneth Mikkelsen and Richard Martin

Previous #Relearn Reflections

#Relearn 1: Stories

#Relearn 2: Change

#Relearn 3: Perspectives

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