Archive for the ‘coaching’ category

You Matter!

November 19, 2020

My heart breaks for them! They are people who operate effectively on the basis of relational instruction. That is, they are the teachers who long for their students to be with them…physically!

It’s a strange and detached new way of teaching, this virtual education. Teachers want that closeness with their students, but 18 inches away from their faces on a computer screen is not what they had in mind.

And so they keep going, keep hoping, keep encouraging, even when their own spirits have dropped into a deep mine shaft. Their worry now gravitates to when their students return. Will it be like starting over again? Will they have to get them used to sitting up straight at their desks instead of slouching to the side with a comfort blanket wrapped around them?

And when the students are able to come back into the school buildings will it be for a week, two weeks, a month, and then there will be another transition back to remote learning?

So many questions and so little resolution. Peace seems to be fleeing from the scene.

What can teachers do? First of all, they can write in bold letters on their classroom boards, or a paper sticking to their refrigerator at home the words “YOU MATTER!”

Second, they can encourage their teaching teammates, like an orchestra that demands the sound of each instrument to create the symphony, teachers can keep telling their members that they are needed and they are valued.

And third, teachers keep the perspective of a marathon runner who stays focused on the end goal. Runners will talk about “hitting the wall” about three-fourths through the 26.2 mile race. It’s the mental, physical and emotional fatigue point that causes pessimism and discouragement to affect the pursuit. From what I see, many teachers are at “the wall” and struggling to keep going.

Hear it again. You matter! You are essential! You can do this! Your students will respect you even more when you lead them across the finish line!

VIRTUAL MOTIVATION

November 15, 2020

It’s an intriguing, even perplexing, problem. In some ways it’s a puzzle that I often faced in my 36+ years as a church pastor. How do you motivate virtual students? How do you shepherd the flock to move along toward the green pastures of more knowledge, understanding, and problem-solving?

I’ve wrestled with the dilemma for some time now. Not being a teacher, but kinda being a teacher, I do not have any neat-and-tidy educational formulas that fit the situation. On the other hand, it might be to my benefit that I don’t have any neat-and-tidy educational formulas to make me believe that this pandemic era eLearning setup is something that can be answered with a step-by-step lesson plan.

My concern is more for the students who are lower performers, students who struggle enough as it is in a normal school classroom setting. To be sure, their are some students who could care less and are using this time of virtual learning to improve on their gaming skills. One student this past week didn’t realize that his microphone was unmuted and the teacher could hear the “ping, ping, ping” of a video game gun being fired. As I’m discovering, there’s even a few parents who are uninterested in their child’s disinterest. But there are those students who need an in-person human voice to help them navigate a problem or assignment. They are the students who don’t see what needs to be done as a math calculation, but rather an unclimbable wall that inhibits them from moving forward.

How do you motivate young minds to gain ground when there is chaos happening all around them?

For me, the relationship with students is the pavement for the instruction. Knowing the students– their dreams and fears, the things that bring smiles to their faces and the topics that make them cringe– helps them believe that I’m there to assist them, not inject more dreariness into their lives. I want them to know that I understand that they will not always be on their A-game, that some days will be immersed with a feeling of meaninglessness.

That element of caring demands more from the teachers than from them. I must be willing to go the extra mile, because their engines have stalled. A gentle push with a few words of encouragement may be the only fuel needed to get them moving again.

However, there are those students who are resistant to being motivated toward academic advancement. For those students, their loss in education must not be multiplied with a loss of relationships. Like the prodigal son that Jesus talked about, they need to know that their teachers will be there for them when they decide it’s time to return to learn. They need to believe that those who lead them in this weird way of doing school have not given up on them.

Tomorrow I’ll see four different screens full of faces, some who have simply rolled over in bed and logged on to class and some who will be expecting to learn. Like a shepherd, I’ll try my best to move the flock on down the road. I’ll punctuate the journey with moments of laughter and words of affirmation, and hopefully we’ll all survive being taken by the predators we encounter along the way.

It’s funny, in a way, that this teaching shepherd is a “Wolf”, but with an ‘e’!

I Survived Parent-Teacher Conferences

October 23, 2020

Call me weird, but I was kinda looking forward to them. “Them” would be my first parent-teacher conferences…as one of the teachers. I had always been on the other side of the table, hearing how one of our kids was killing it…or getting killed by it: multiplication tables, biology labs, and Spanish tests.

And now I was on the other side of the virtual table, staring at thirtysomethings and a few in their forties. Would they attack my other three teaching teammates (science, social studies, and math) and me (language arts)? Would they be searching for hope in the midst of the lostness? Would it seem like they were our teammates in arriving at some solutions to their son/daughter’s academic struggles? I went into the day and a half of 20-minute get-togethers wondering. Comparing the events to an amusement park, would some of the conferences seem like a ride on the park train, chugging along at a relaxed pace and enjoying the moment, or would it like the merry-go-round going around in circles and never getting there, or the out-of-control roller coaster that caused screaming and the nauseation?

Twenty-six virtual conferences that we didn’t have to pay admission to ride! Truth be told, the worst thing about the experience was the amount of time we spent staring at our computer screens. This morning I’ve got a bit of a headache from the strain, but I’m sitting on my stool in Starbucks sipping my second cup of Pike Place and pondering the possibilities of a three-day weekend.

For the vast majority of conference attenders, there was an openness to hearing what we had to offer and suggest. They quickly perceived that our role was not to unload a torrent of complaints about their almost-teenagers. In fact, some of them were surprised that we were more interested in how they, the parents, and their children were doing in the midst of our hybrid learning structure than we were in talking about the letter grades of the students.

The pandemic has created struggles dressed in different outfits. Some students who have achieved straight A’s have struggled with the absence of school friends who they are socially separated from. Other kids who are not doing well academically have seemed more comfortable in the smaller class sizes and three days online. Students with family drama have sought words of encouragement from the teachers, and those who have always struggled to grasp concepts and ideas are looking to their instructors for a hand to keep them from drowning in the lack of in-person assistance.

I was proud of my three teaching teammates. We were all on the same page, shepherds herding our students toward safer pastures of understanding and conveying demeanors of calmness and our confidence in the abilities of our students.

We’re looking forward to Monday and the continuation of our journey on this new educational frontier.

Dear Mr. Wolfe

October 18, 2020

Dear Mr. Wolfe,

I hope you are having a very good day. I am not. I no I haven’t turned n mini of my laguage arts a sign mints, but there are mini raisins four that.

First of all, I have you’re class in the afternoon and my lap top is tired by then. My friend told me that I jest need to have my lap top take a nap. It’s kinda a “lap nap”! Ha, ha!

My freind is really smart and whys so I have been pudding my new lap top on the couch for arrest. Sad to say, but lap nap comes during laguage arts class. So lotta a sign mints don’t get done. My freind says you have to do that with new lap tops cause they are like babies that need to rest.

That is why my 16 a sign mints are missing.

You’ve probbly note ussed that I only am missing 5 of the a sign mints that I’ve done when I am there in purson. That’s not mini and is proof that I am tailing you the truth.

I wood do these a sign mints at night, but I have mini odder things to do, like math problimbs and scince xpair a mints.

You are a great teacher and sense my lap top will be older in the next quater I’m sure that I will be able to do badder!

Since surly,

Billy Bob Bricker

Dear Billy Bob,

Thanks for sending me the note to explain your mini a sign mints. I understand your dilemma with “lap naps”. Let me suggest you put your lap top to bed earlier the night before, just as parents with a newborn would do.

And for the coming quarter I have an easy remedy for your situation. When you are in my classroom next Tuesday I will have a package of notebook paper and a box of pencils especially for you. Your name will be on it. This way you can do the a sign mints while your lap top is resting and turn them in to me “hard copy” the next time you are in class. It will also give you a chance to practice your penmanship! An added bonus! It may take a little longer than actually doing the work on your lap top, but I know how necessary naps are!

That is the solution to your dilemma. I’ll be happy and you’ll be “full” of Language Arts. Have a great day! I know I will!

Sincerely,

Mr. Wolfe

Being Coach Wolfe

October 17, 2020

A teacher, and friend of mine, told me a story last week that brought an ongoing chuckle to my soul. His daughter is a sixth-grader at Timberview Middle School and run cross country this fall- a sport that I head up for the school.

Timberview’s mascot is a timberwolf…the Timberview Timberwolves. Yes, and I’m Coach Wolfe of the Timberwolves!

One day the confused sixth-grader revealed her mental ponderings to her dad and asked the question.

“Why is he called Coach Wolfe?”

It brought a moment of Jeopardy music hesitation to her dad and he realized the roots of her question.

“Well, because that’s his name.”

“It is?” she replied, eyebrows raising. “His name is Coach Wolfe?”

“Yes, dear. That’s his name.”

Yesterday, my 7th Grade Language Arts class met in the school library for each of its sessions. The sixth-grader was also at another table in the library doing her classwork. I noticed that she kept looking at me. I’m not sure if she was trying to discern if there were pointy ears underneath my graying hair and fangs inside my mouth. Perhaps the Little Red Riding Hood story was coming back to her, as I drew each group of seventh-graders into my den.

Names are sometimes puzzling. What may dumbfound her even more is when another teacher from the school goes by me who greets me with a cheerful “Wolfie”, and I return the greeting by saying her married last name.

“Fish!”

Truth be told, some days it feels kind of like a zoo!

Trying to Remember My Virtual Students

September 19, 2020

For the past four and a half weeks I’ve been teaching 7th Grade Language Arts virtually and now in-person. Half of my students stare at me from a computer screen and the other half stare at me from their seats in the classroom.

I am very much an in-person teacher, comfortable talking to the live bodies in front of me. Obviously that comes from 36 years as a church pastor preaching to the live people in front of me…and a few who could be evaluated as dead!

There is multi-tasking, which I’m not that good at (except walking and chewing gum at the same time), and now there’s multi-audiencing, which I’m really, really not good at.

This week I paused my last class of the day to take 3-4 minute “mask break” outside. By the last class of the day they are squirrelly and doing unintentional impersonifications of the Tasmanian Devil cartoon character. They whined enough that our 4 minute break grew into 7, before we went back inside. As I came around to my desk I saw 12 faces staring at me- the 12 virtual students!

Let kids at Disney World who had gotten separated from their parents, they had the deer in headlights looks.

“My bad!” I apologized. “I totally forgot about you all!”

They looked slightly hurt by it, but extended grace to me. Some of them were probably feeling guilty about missing assignments that I keep asking about, or the video game controllers they have hidden in their laps. Others may have taken the opportunity to get a “power nap.”

Most of the in-person students thought it was hilarious. After all, they had lured me into the squirrel trap of extra down-time and discovered one of my weaknesses. Mr. Wolfe loses track of the virtual students. It brought back memories of a high school teacher who could have played the leading role of an absentminded professor. When he wasn’t looking, students would escape from his class out one of the classroom windows. Others would even enter through the windows when he was distracted. I don’t remember learning much in that class, although his name is burned into my memory.

And now it hits me! Maybe I’m the new absentminded virtual teacher! Maybe 30 years from now the students I have now will talk about the pranks they pulled on me and how clueless I was.

And then, horror of horrors, I consider the possibility that they will remember nothing that I have taught them…just my name!

The Patience of a Virtual Teacher

September 6, 2020

I’ve heard that saying, “He’s got the patience of Job!”, for years. Sometimes it’s been used to describe me and at other times it’s been said in connection with someone who is having to deal with me.

We use the saying in referring to the character in the Old Testament who abstains from exploding on people who keep offering him lame advice in response to all of his adversities. I’ve thought about Job a lot these past couple of weeks as I’ve been teaching 7th Grade Language Arts virtually, shepherding about eighty students toward greener writing and literature pastures.

Each day has been an adventure, punctuated with misadventures.

Did you find that next activity we’re going to be doing?”

“Mr. Wolfe, my screen is blank.”

Okay, try refreshing your Schoology page and see if that fixes it.”

There’s a pause as the lost lamb seeks to be found.

Okay, I think I’ve got it.”

Multiply that conversation a hundred fold and you discover what my day usually is. Add to that my side of the difficulties…technological illiteracy, forgetting to do Step 23# in the twenty-five step assignment process, trying to figure out is little Johnny is still with me virtually or is playing Fortnite on his game system set up right beside him.

Patience is the word- patience with my students, patience with my own inadequacies, patience with slow internet service, and patience with students who are a bit more like a turtle in their learning pace than the other thoroughbreds who sprint to the end of an assignment.

And then God, in his patient wisdom and compassion, puts this verse in the midst of the scripture passage I’m preaching on this Sunday. “Be patient with everyone.” (1 Thessalonians 5:14)

I might add “everything” to that. Patient with CenturyLink, patient with myself, patient with things that don’t make sense, patient with my eLearning dyslexia.

Getting through these COVID-19 days requires a heavy patience medication. Impatience looms in the next meltdown.

And then, right about the time, I’m ready for a hair pulling episode, one of my students guides me to the solution of a technology problem and all is well again. It causes me to rediscover another gift from God that often is attached to patience.

Grace.

My First Virtual Teaching Week

August 29, 2020

Like a lightweight boxer going back to his corner, I survived the first round of my virtual teaching week. My trainer mopped up the perspiration on my virtual face and checked for technology cuts and scrapes as I stood in front of her counter. She patted me on the head and gave me some quick instructions.

“Watch out for the clueless expressions you see. They’re just trying to catch you off-guard. And be aware of the faders, the ones who suddenly only are showing the top part of their head and hiding their eyes from being seen on the screen. That’s the student who’s probably eating a Chipotle burrito. Since his sound its muted, you can’t hear the munching! Or, even worse, he’s holding a video game controller in his hands and playing Fortnite!”

She sent me back out to face Schoology and Google Drive. I thought they had me in the opening moments, but as the first-round week of classes progressed I gained more confidence, a little swagger in my virtual dancing and dodging.

“What about the kid who figured out how to mute me? What do I do about him?”

“Don’t worry about him! We’ll take care of his disrespectful attitude and just when he thinks he’s causing you to pull your hair out and he puts his guard down, he’s going to take a fall!”

“You’re doing great! You don’t act like an eLearning rookie teacher. You’re impressing some of these kids, but don’t get cocky! You lose your focus and all of a sudden you’re in some no man’s land screen and there’s no going back. Stay with the game plan, stay with the assignment! Remember, this is going multiple rounds. The first round is just to get you breathing hard, but not to the point that you hyperventilate.”

The bell was about to ring to indicate another round of going at it.

“What if there’s a multi-punch attack? Should I cover up, protect myself, stay on the defensive for a moment?”

“No! That’s when you dance around and tell one of the thousands of stories that calms the swell. Be smart! Revert back to that story about the kid who could never remember to bring a pencil to class with him. These kids still remember the pencil days. Use that to your advantage! Dance around with that episode for a few moments, that will settle down their aggressive natures and put you back in control.”

“Gotcha’!”

“Schoology is going to try to throw an uppercut at you. Stay focused and stay sharp. You get through this next round and you can get another cup of coffee!”

“I could use that caffeine right now.”

“Suck it up, buttercup! You’ve got to earn it!”

There was fire in her eyes. I clapped my gloves together and faced my next screen filled with 12-year-old faces. “I’ve got this…kinda’!”

The Balance of Fear and Courage

August 22, 2020

Fear and courage are two over-used words in these days of hoped-for vaccines, election tensions, and employment uncertainty. They are hyped and griped in the media, echoed in the quivering tones of our voices, and thought about in the aloneness of our homes.

The middle school where I’ve coached for twenty years and substitute taught for the last four called me up on Tuesday to ask me to come and teach a language arts class for the next several weeks…or months. So I said…sure!

It manifested some fear in a couple of family members. Not body-trembling, nail-biting fear, but fear and anxiety about a 66-year-old entering a school building. My fear, on the other hand, was focused on the new Blob monster called “the virtual classroom”. On a laptop screen in front of me all these faces will be staring at me, causing me to wonder if I’m unzipped or have a piece of chive attached to one of my front teeth.

Fear can be a benefit. Cockiness usually leads to some bad conclusion, like the Soviet sub commander in The Hunt For Red October whose excessive opinion of his mastery leads his First Officer to say to him, right before the sub blew up, “You have killed us!” Fear can be a guide that tells us to proceed with caution or reconsider our direction.

Courage is the awareness of fear and the determination to stay the course. Courage demands the possibility of a bad ending of some kind, but also the potential for a beneficial conclusion. Courage is not self-seeking, but rather mindful of the good that can be done for someone else.

Fear is often trumpeted in such a way that it causes us to think that the end is near. Unfortunately, courage is sometimes communicated as if the person portrayed is like the new messiah and has no fear.

At my school this week I witnessed a teaching staff that all had fears and, from what I could see and hear, all had courage. It’s a courage to keep guiding the educational canoes filled with kids. I use that picture of a canoe, having known the unstableness of such a vessel as it moves down a stream…especially with hyper adolescents occupying its paddles.

There are some anxious educators, wanting the best for kids and trying to navigate around all the rocks and low-hanging tree branches as the classroom canoes face the rapids.

As some wise advisor once told me, “Time to put your big boy pants on!” And I would add “And pray!” Psalm 23 seems to be even more relevant each morning about 7:30!

“Though I walk through my virtual classroom of death, I will fear no evil for You are with me!”

The Threat of Pink Hair

March 31, 2020

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           March 31, 2020

                                

Two months ago the middle school girl’s basketball season ended. The eighth-grade girls I coached had done well enough to be the #2 seed for the league tournament in our 9 team league.

The entire tournament was played on a Friday and Saturday…double-elimination…otherwise translated as doubly-exhausted!

After winning our first game on Friday, we lost our 8:00 semi-final game on Saturday morning to the #3 seed, a team we had beaten in a close game during the regular season. Two more wins put us in the loser bracket final against the same team. BUT it was also our fourth game of the day! 

My girls were dead tired, heavy legs and erratic shooting. There was no spring in their jump, a half-step slow on defense. At halftime, we were behind 18-0.

Let me type that again. 18-0! No points in the first two quarters. Zippo!

But it wasn’t because they weren’t trying. They were just tired. So I said to them at halftime, “Hey! If we come back and win this game I’ll shave my head!”

They looked at me and smiled, and then one of them said, “No, Coach! If we win you’ll dye your hair pink!” Twelve heads bobbed up and down in glee-filled agreement.

“Okay! If we win I’ll dye my hair pink!”

It looked like a safe bet, no points the whole first half…down by 18…we couldn’t throw it in the ocean! So the second half began and we score the first basket…and then the next basket…and then the next seven points after that. Each time one of my players scored the girls on the bench would giggle and smile at me, probably envisioning how I would look with pink hair.

The other team scored and I breathed a sigh of relief, but then we scored a three-pointer. The lead had shrunk to six and I was beginning to ponder what hat I’d be wearing for the next several weeks.

Dead legs had come alive, shots were falling, and I was pondering coaching strategy. Would it look bad if I took my leading scorer out of the game for about the next ten minutes? Would it be okay to have my post player try to dribble the ball up the court? 

But then I thought I could live with pink hair if I had to. If my girls could come back from 18 points down and two big zeroes to summarize their scoring for the first two quarters, then I could look like a 65-year-old pink-haired rock star for a little while.

Right about the time I was trying to envision how I would look, the other team scored and then scored again. They held us off. We had scored 28 points in the second half, but they had scored 34 for the game. 

The team was disappointed, but also proud of their effort, their comeback from forever to come close. 

Me? I plead the fifth!