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A Coach's Mindset

Listening to teachers coach students and empower them to take control of their learning is music to my ears. You might ask, isn't teaching and coaching the same thing? While I believe they are similar, I would argue that coaching is much more than just teaching students; instead, a coach instructs, provides opportunities for practice, offers feedback, relays constructive criticism, provides individualized instruction, and most importantly, builds up their student's confidence to be the best learner he or she can be.  After observing our rockstar music teachers this week, I truly believe that in order to be an excellent teacher, there needs to be an equal balance of teaching and coaching in the classroom. Here is a snapshot of how our Music Department coaches their students and provides awesome opportunities for success:

Coaches must instruct their students to teach them purpose and procedure. If we want to share knowledge with others and ask them to acquire this knowledge, it must be presented effectively and memorably. I believe that instruction is embedded into all of the tasks listed in this post, as it is how we communicate what we want our students to accomplish. In Mr. Greg Schwaegler's Symphonic Strings class, his students practiced a difficult piece that included various emotions. During his lesson, he asked the students to not only focus on playing the music but also on what the music was trying to convey to the audience. He had to teach the students how to evaluate this tone and then use their understanding to play the music. He explained that the tone and shifts in tone throughout the piece are what make it powerful. In Mr. Brad Pfeil's freshmen Concert Orchestra class, he teaches students how to listen to one another and stay in time. The work they do at the freshmen building lays the foundation for future music classes taken at our school. Both Mr. Schwaegler and Mr. Pfeil effectively instructed and coached their students by asking them to be accountable for what they learned during the process.

It is simple. In order to improve a skill, we must practice. Making time for practice in the classroom is essential to our students' success. While homework provides this opportunity, I believe it is much more important to offer time in class to practice so that students can make mistakes and ask us questions during the process. From there, we can stop them periodically and coach as needed. Every music class I visited incorporated practice. Trial and error. Stop, start again. The most powerful thing about this....each time they played or sang the section, the students improved. They gained confidence. Exposure to the music and feedback from the teacher took their practice to the next level. As with any coach, our music teachers provided ample practice time during class, used it to help guide the students, and in time, their practice will eventually help produce beautiful music for future audiences.

Feedback - Positive and Negative
In order to grow as a learner, we must accept and consider feedback from others. An effective coach provides this feedback for his/her students and does so in a way that the students understand and can apply. This feedback needs to be positive and at times, critical if the student needs more coaching. By offering praise and suggestions, a coach shows an investment in his/her students and can then guide them with individualized instruction. In Ms. Anne Kasprzak's varsity Chamber class, she challenged her students to dissect the music they were currently singing and learn how to vocally manage it. As different groups sang their portion of the music, she stopped them and provided feedback on their tone and management of the notes. She sang various parts for them and asked Mr. Reid Spears to play music back so they could listen. During one difficult section of the song, she stopped the students and said, "Wow...that is not easy. Let's try again. You can do it." From there, she offered feedback and suggestions for improvement. After some practice, the students improved tremendously, and she smiled and exclaimed, "Good for you guys." Both positive and critical feedback allowed the students to soar to new levels with their musicality. In Mr. Rimington's AP Music Theory class, his students act as mentors for elementary students who are interested in musical composition. They utilize a program called Note Flight, a collaborative music platform, and act as mentors by commenting on music written by these young students. Imagine that....Mr. Rimington is coaching his students, who in turn, are coaching young musicians. One student asked Mr. Rimington how she should effectively provide feedback to a young composer. With this, Mr. Rimington not only provided feedback for his students, but he taught them how to do so for others - a higher application of skill. In my opinion, it was a very powerful teaching and learning moment.

Individualized Instruction
We all know that people learn differently. With this, in order to effectively instruct, coaches must differentiate and individualize instruction for students to help them reach their full potential. Making this a priority in the classroom can be difficult due to time; however, we must get creative and prioritize individualized instruction so that we can specialize the feedback we give our students and guide them in the right direction. Our music department gets pretty creative when it comes to providing this type of instruction for students. There are various technique classes that pull small groups of students together to work on various musical elements. This week, the department completed a Benchmark process that allowed all teachers to pull each member of their band out and have them play a portion of a song and assess various aspects of their work. While these teachers met one on one with students, other music teachers helped out by leading that teacher's class for the period. Time-consuming? Of course. Worth it? Absolutely. Mr. Andrew Seidel was kind enough to show me some of the assessment and individualized instruction methods utilized in the department. As we met, his passion for helping students improve was impressive and motivating. He created an awesome Google spreadsheet that he uses throughout the year as he listens and evaluates his students. He evaluates on different skills throughout the year and easily shares his feedback with them via email using a Google script he created. Talk about awesome individualized instruction that students can utilize to master their craft! No wonder our students are so talented and demonstrate tremendous growth throughout the year!

An influential coach must work diligently to build up his or her students' confidence. This is not an easy task and will take time; however, helping our students reach their true potential means that we must encourage them to feel good about what they are doing but also teach them that it is ok to make mistakes, as long as they learn from them along the way. In Ms. Emily Binder's Symphonic Winds class, she was a spectacular coach and confidence builder for her students. It became obvious to me that the class must have struggled the day before with a particular piece. To start class, she asked them to play a holiday song from a previous concert, and man oh was magical! After they played, it was clear that they felt good about how they played the song. From there, Ms. Binder asked her students why they thought she had them open with that song based on the previous day's class. From there, the students reflected on how they struggled and why playing this song was important. Ms. Binder then explained that she wanted them to power up and get back to playing together and in time. Restore the confidence. She put it simply...they were using the same skills, but it was just a different piece. They could do it. They just had to believe they could. After this pep talk, the students pressed on and played the piece...but this time, with confidence. Now...that's coaching at its finest.

As you can see, all of the coaching tactics listed above work together to produce a beautiful melody. Coaching students in the classroom takes time and is not always easy, but as teachers, we must help our students stay on key and embrace a coach's mindset. #whatsup