My husband and I went snowboarding over winter vacation. Much as I would like to claim otherwise, I am a novice (read: terrible) and so we signed up for a lesson. In the midst of what seemed to be infants doing tricks on snowboards, Geoff and I acquainted ourselves with our instructor, Paul.
Paul was great, he was grizzled and bearded and gave odd little speeches about studying the lay of the mountain, as we wobbled and fell just trying to stand. He got us moving on snowboards, enough that we were deemed ready to try the mountain. My first slow pass from mountain left to mountain right was passable. I didn’t fall, I didn’t kill anyone, and really, what more could you want?
Then it happened.
I had to turn from facing up the mountain to facing down the mountain to make another slow pass from mountain right to mountain left. Paul’s advice was to always “have a plan” and so I started the turn and fell. Hard. Chanting “growth mindset, growth mindset, growth mindset” over and over to myself, I righted myself, attempted the turn, and fell. And again. And again. Paul moved from shouting advice to me from further down mountain to ditching his snow board and running up to me so he could hold my hands as I tried the turn.
Everything hurt, and nothing so much as my pride.
The more he helped, the more tips he gave, the more he tried to heave me out of the psychological hole I feel in, the worse it went for me. From almost turning, I degraded to falling immediately upon standing rigid with embarrassment and stress. All I wanted was for everyone to leave me alone, not because I wanted to give up, but because at a certain point you don’t need someone to watch you fall. I don’t know how I finally got around, but I did and slowly cut back down the mountain. At the end of that one practice run our lesson was over and Paul was off. Geoff looked at me and I, a thirty five year old woman, burst into tears. It felt great. And here was the thing, I wanted to make that turn. I wanted it more than anything. I just wanted to fall a little on my own, so I could feel it out. I needed no one else’s voice in my head but my own for a little while.
So we went to the top again, and I fell again. But with the leisure of no one watching, I got up in my own time and visualized the steps Paul had taught me. I fell again, but the tension had started to leave my body. I went again, and this time I was closer. One more time and I had it. Immediately after turning I face planted, but it was as though I had come in first at the Olympics. No one saw me make the turn, and I did not care, but I did tell Geoff when I made it to the bottom, and I was sort of hoping to see grizzled Paul to tell him his instruction just needed a little time to sink in.
I recently retweeted something I had seen from @amshelison that read: “Americans don’t have faith in unmonitored practice, but that’s the only way to get good at anything. Says @smokeylit #santefe14″
Sometimes the teachers I work with get nervous about not meeting with kids in guided reading every day, or not checking writing every day, but have faith. The more we try to control outcomes for kids, the more we hover over kids as they attempt new and risky things, the less we implicitly teach that we believe in them, and they can actively take charge of their own learning. Sometimes the best thing you can do, when you know a child has the skills but is struggling, is walk away giving the message:”I believe you can get this, you just need a little time to try it on your own. ”
I needed Paul, the expert, just like our students need us, but I also needed some time to learn it, at my own pace, with no one’s expectation but my own. Unmonitored practice is part of how you learn, and sometimes that is the one thing we don’t feel comfortable giving our students.
Round 2 of #nerdlution starts this week, and I have thought long and hard about I want to change and get better at in the next 50 days. I am running again, thanks to the first nerdlution, and Marjorie and I finished Smarter Charts 2 in part due to the writing time I held myself accountable to in #nerdlution. Perhaps the greatest gift of #nerdlution is the gift of unmonitored practice. We support each other in whatever we try, and give each other permission to fail and encouragement to try again, all the while letting our own voices guide us.
For the next 50 days my #nerdlution will be
– one act of kindness every day
– run 4X a week
– 2 hours of writing a week, divided however I can make it fit in
Are you joining #nerdlution? Is there something you want to learn and try? Share in the comments!