Golf Bag of Education Tools

One of my favorite analogies when talking about the different tools we have in education deals with golf.  You can relate teaching to many different activities but one analogy is usually never enough to fully explain ideas and concepts in the complex field of teaching.  Teaching is not exact, but there are certain rules that are almost always at work just like in golf.  A great golfer can not hit the same shot 100 times in a row, there are too many variables involved.

A golfer is limited to a certain number of clubs when they go golfing, the number stays the same but the specific club types may change from course to course.  But a golfer is not going to just use one club for the whole course.  There is a reason that a putter is never used to hit from the tee box.
Teachers have a lot of different tools (teaching techniques) available to them.  They will struggle if they just use one technique over and over again.  Just like each hole on a golf course is different and requires a different club and swing to be successful, each teaching experience requires a different teaching method and focus in order to be successful.  You have to be careful not to try too many different techniques as you will not become great at any, you will just be ok with many.  Do not be afraid to try new techniques and see if they can replace one that you already use if it is not working well anymore.

A club that worked from a specific distance might work one day but not the next due to wind or other conditions.  
On the golf course there are many factors that can affect whether a shot is successful or not.  In the classroom there are just as many variables, if not more, that can affect how effective a lesson is.  We can not just assume that the technique that worked once will always work.  We have to remember that our students are not the same year to year, let alone from one period to the next.  We also can not focus on just one variable, like distance for a golf swing, and base what technique we use only on that variable.  Teaching well is a complex mental activity as we have to pay attention to so many variables.  The key is to focus on the main variables we can and have an idea in place if the shot is off target.

A club can be used to hit a variety of distances all depending on the specific swing that is used.
You can vary the swing such that a golf club can hit a variety of distances.  Sometimes you need to hit a low shot or you need to pop it up.  Sometimes you need to just punch out a shot into the fairway so that you can hit a better shot next time.  In teaching we can take one technique and modify it so that it can fit a wider range of situations.  There are limitations though.  A golfer is not going to try hitting a tee shot over 300 yards using a putter.  We can not use a worksheet to always get deep understanding.  Sometimes a worksheet can be useful but only if it is used correctly.  The same could be said for lectures.  There are some teachers who are very good at engaging their students using a discussion or lecture but too often the lecture is just a way to get information out and be done with it.  Its important to think about how you can modify a technique to fit the situation you are in, sometimes you already have the right club in your bag but you are not thinking about how you can use it differently.

Experience very useful as you can learn from past shots and figure out what works for you and what doesn’t work for you.  Each round of golf is another experience that helps you get better at the game.
A golfer is going to hit a lot of shots, some will be good but many will not be when you just get started.  As a teacher, experience is invaluable.  You learn what works well and what doesn’t.  That doesn’t mean that experience is the only factor in making a good teacher, but there is no substitute for being in the classroom with students.

A golfer that never spends any time practicing at the driving range will find it very difficult to improve.
A teacher could be a good teacher, but they still need to be continually evaluating themselves and looking for ways to improve.  A golfer spends time at the driving range in order to constantly evaluate their swing and try out new techniques and clubs.  A golfer develops issues in their swing over time and they have to make adjustments before their swing becomes horrible.  A teacher can experience the same thing over time.  If we get too comfortable with our technique, we may not notice it when it becomes ineffective and our shots end up in the next fairway over.  This is where professional development, both provided by the school and our own personal learning network (PLN) come into play.  We need to be engaged in continual improvement otherwise we will develop faults in our methods.

A caddy or swing coach can be an invaluable tool at getting better.
Having another person analyze your swing or just give advice can be invaluable in golf.  There is a reason why all of the professional golfers have caddies and it isn’t just to have someone else carry the bag.  The advice that they get while they play can change a round for the better.  We have people in education who can play the same role.  Most schools have instructional coaches or technology integrationists.  Their job is to help teachers analyze their teaching and improve.  The problem comes in that many teachers are afraid to make use of this resource.  I have read a lot of research that all seems to point to the idea that teachers hold their teaching ability as being more personal than their parenting ability.  That providing any advice or critique about how a teacher teaches can shut that person down to more help in the future.  If we expect our students to accept the feedback from us in class, we need to accept the feedback from other educators who are only trying to help us.  People will often say that the smartest person in the room is the room itself.  Teaching is not a field that allows for individuals to easily be successful without help from others.  We should not just seek out help from others but we should embrace it.  That is just one way that we can improve as teachers but it is a very important one.

I started thinking about these analogies during my first year of teaching.  One of my friends had given me a pen holder that was the shape of a golf bag for my desk.  As I was sitting there one day after a rough day of teaching, I started to compare teaching to golf.  Some things became very clear to me and the analogies were a way for me to focus on the important aspects.  When a lesson was not going as well as I had hoped, or I was stuck during the planning stage and not sure what to do next, I would imagine that little golf bag filled with different clubs (teaching techniques) and would pick the one that would work the best.  I would add clubs to that bag over time and remove ones that were no longer working for me.  I would be careful not to add too many and focus on the ones that I used the most but would not be afraid to try out a new one.

Sometimes we need something like this to help us focus in a different way than before, in order to make things clearer to ourselves.

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