Sunday, April 9, 2017

7 Ways Winterguard Made Me A Better Teacher

Hey there, dearest reader. It's been a long time. I must say...student teaching full time and spinning my last season of winterguard has not left much time for blogging. Add on teacher certification exams, graduation announcements, and planning for a move to Nashville, TN, and I am running myself to absolute exhaustion.

But even though blogging was the thing I had to forfeit, I don't regret a single bit of it. 

Student teaching is winding down; it's already more than half over. My teacher certification prep is almost all submitted, my graduation plans are in the works, and some boxes are already packed and ready for Nashville. But most important to this post specifically, my winterguard performance career has come to an end. Not just the end of a season, but the end. The real end. Like, forever. 

It's a strange feeling: to know that something that has impacted my life in so many ways for over ten years is over. I'm literally too old to do it anymore. Time to grow up and move on. Yikes. Suddenly, what had become an outlet for me for over half my life... what had provided me exercise when I always chose the large fries instead of a trip to the gym and what gave me a means of expression when it felt as though I had nowhere else to go... was just over. The hour glass was glued to the table, and all the sand finally fell to the bottom. There is no starting it over. 

All that was left to do was find a way to cope. Find something to fill the void. Find something to replace the therapeutic art form I had come to know. It was important that I find a way to channel that love toward other passions. 

Which is exactly what I did. I channeled it to teaching. 

I plan more. I research more. I get more and more creative. I use my time to think more and more about my kids: what they like; what they need. And slowly but surely, I got better. More comfortable. More confident. My points of constructive criticism were diminishing. Compliments were increasing. And I began to relax, which made me even better. 

So yeah. Guard kept me healthy. It made me stronger. More empathetic. It taught me focus. It taught me how to harness anxiety. It gave me an outlet for expression, and a family brought together in a bond almost as strong as blood. It gave me humility, determination, and confidence. It made me a better woman. It made me a better person. 

And it made me a better teacher. 

I used to dread public speaking. The night before a presentation, I would hardly eat a thing. I would stay awake all night worrying. Anxiety plagued me. Even during the speech itself, I would shake and stutter my way through it. 

Now I'm in front of kids all day, every day. Not just speaking, but teaching! I have one of the most important jobs in the world. And yes, I still get nervous when I am being observed. But it doesn't paralyze me, and I certainly have no problems eating or sleeping due to anxiety anymore. 

Stuff happens. It just does. Tardies. Nose-bleeds. Other teachers coming in to work one-on-one with kids and the librarian interrupting your lesson every Friday at 12:50 because you forgot your class's checkout time for the fifth week in a row. Accept the info, assess the situation, and change the plan. Quickly. Welcome to winterguard, friends! That's called recovery, and it's a skill all teachers need in order to be successful. 

I was the worst at this when I started winterguard. What?! You want me to dance and spin and count and watch and smile? All while keeping my toes pointed? I don't think so. That's...impossible! Right?Well...not exactly. It's just something that took a lot of practice. 

When I entered a classroom, I had to relearn it all over again. Plan and teach and manage and assess... all at the same time? Once again, I was the worst at it and I needed some major practice. But I'm getting the hang of it, just as guard taught me to do.

It's not just up to you to teach your young students how to work as a team. You must work as a team as well, with your grade level team, the specials teachers, the nurses, the para's, the secretary, the principal, and even sometimes along with administration. After all, you are there with the same staff for eight hours every day. The longer you are present in a school, the more you become part of that close-knit community; just as you become part of a guard community after spending four hour rehearsals with your team. Suddenly, your teammates and co-workers are more than just teammates and co-workers. They are your family. 

My guard instructor never allowed us to say we were confused. I used to roll my eyes. There were times when I was confused, and I needed some extra help. 

Then I started coaching my own colorguard, and I found my own pet-peeve. The phrase "I can't" haunted me as I went to sleep each night. I'd cringe when it left my high-school performer's mouths. Nothing frustrated me more because they could do it, they just needed more help, and instead of asking for that help, they were using "I can't" as their valid excuse for failure. 

I suddenly realized that saying, "I'm confused," was a more mature way of saying "I can't." It didn't ask a single question to gain new information. It didn't provide a plan to work toward progress. It was simply a statement to validate why things weren't going as well as they should. 

I eliminated the phrase "I can't" from my high schoolers vocabulary. Throughout the year, they would receive extra points for focus, extra practice, counting, performance awards, etc. as positive reinforcement, but every time I heard a student say "I can't" I would take away points from their end-of-season reward. Suddenly they were saying things like, "I need more help on this toss," and "Can you break that down for us again?" Now those were questions I could work with. Those statements helped the process while keeping confidence intact. 

Us educators like to call it "growth mindset." Guard definitely teaches how to value a final product, but it teaches how to value the process more. Focusing on growth and progress rather than always looking toward the final, perfect goal helps enhance focus, boost confidence, and ultimately makes learning new material interesting, useful, and fun! If a performer/student is more focused on how far they've come rather than how far they have left to go, they are more likely to stay intrinsically motivated to keep going further. Learning this early as a performer has helped me value this in the classroom regarding my students' progress and my own progress as a teacher. It also helps me to instill this confident mindset in my kiddos early in life as well. Questions are not bad! In fact, they are preferred, as they stem from curiosity; a truly lost concept in today's society. 

Constructive Criticism. 
In any performance art (or any sport for that matter) critiques come flying at you right and left, and you are so dedicated to being a fabulous performer/athlete that it's hard to keep yourself from taking things personally. I eventually learned to nod and take the criticism. Then I learned how to accept it, try it, and use it. Soon, I was using critiques as fuel and running with it. I even found myself asking for extra help. 

In every aspect of life, when someone gives you feedback, it is a chance to make yourself even better. This is true in performance and it is also true in teaching, as teaching is an art that is never completely mastered. Never pass up an opportunity to make yourself the best you can be. 

Constant Reflection. 
Practice makes perfect.

Sometimes no one's present to give you the constructive criticism you need. In these cases, you have to give it to yourself. In guard, you must constantly assess yourself. With each and every run, find one thing you can make better. Make mental notes in performance. Recap performance videos. Stay aware of what the show ultimately needs and make sure you are doing your part. 

The same is true with teaching. Make mental notes through your lessons. Recap your lesson plans. Write reflections if you have to. Stay aware of what your students ultimately need, and make sure you are doing your part. 

I've said it once and I'll say it again... Teaching is an art that is never truly mastered, and nothing quite beats experience. 

You could talk about guard technique all day long, but until you have picked up a flag and practiced, you might as well have done next to nothing. Likewise, you can sit four years in a lecture hall talking about lesson planning and classroom management and still learn more in your first two weeks of student teaching than you have your entire college education. And allow me to be blunt: Those first few weeks of student teaching were rough. Experience was a brutal teacher. But I learned. Quickly and thoroughly. 

I learned.

Because of winterguard, I am a better person. Even though my performance career is over, I will take away far more from the activity than simply good memories. I have gained a confidence I never imagined and skills that I never thought I would need as much as I do in my profession. Winterguard is wonderful training for a lot of things, but it is the perfect training for future teachers.

And to all the performers out there who are still performing... I know the work is hard. I know the hours are endless. I know how much you complain. Trust me, I've been there. But when it is over, you will miss it more than you ever thought you would. So don't waste a single moment you have to shine. It's gone in the blink of an eye. 

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