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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Full-Contact Teaching: Connecting with Hearts and Minds

Ben Johnson

Administrator, author and educator

Last week our school celebrated homecoming football week. All week long, students, teachers and community members participated in pep rallies, parades, and school decoration, while the football teams unceasingly practiced. The much-anticipated homecoming game was well attended, even in pouring rain. For the fans, their excitement was as palpable as their soggy shoes and wet clothing. The real exciting things, however, were occurring on the muddy field below. Both teams were engaged in a physical and mental contest, aided by their coaches, but carried out entirely by the athletes.

The athletes demonstrated their prowess in handling the ball and the opposing teams, just as they had practiced so often. Adjustments had to be made mid-stream in order to find the right plays that would work against their opponent's defense. In this case, because of the weather, "up-the-middle" running plays were the favorite of our team, while the opposing team frequently took our players by surprise with "quarter back hand-offs." Being a full-contact sport, football enjoys a wide audience. Full contact requires the mind, the body and the heart and soul of an athlete.

As teachers, we are engaged in a "full-contact" competition. We are competing for the attention and academic success of our students and it requires our minds, bodies, and our entire heart and soul to be successful.

We are approaching our first full six weeks grading period and it is obvious that the initial excitement and enthusiasm of the beginning of school is wearing off. The daily grind of lesson planning, preparation, grading, and discipline takes its toll on us as if we were front-linemen. But every day we "suit-up" and keep at it. But to win our full-contact sport requires more than blocking and controlling the students' behaviors. We have to make contact with student's minds. Ok, that sounds a bit trite, but it is true. The real trick is how to do it.

I was in a history class yesterday and witnessed a teacher being successful at this. He was energetic and enthusiastic, and he was sharing with the students his eclectic wealth of knowledge. He made connections to why history was important for students to understand and how historical events prompted significant consequences in the world. A few weeks ago, I saw physics teachers with their students in the hallways, on the floor, lining up dominoes so the students could explore the equations related to time and motion. I saw Spanish teachers, while speaking no English, engage students in Spanish during the 16th of September commemorations by organizing cultural food potlucks and dealing with the full-contact mess and cleanup.

Full-contact teaching also involves targeting individual students that need help, finding out what their challenges are, getting to know them, and offering invitations and opportunities to succeed. Yes, RTI comes into play here, and so does differentiated instruction. But there is still more.

If each teacher would pick five students that are struggling in their class and do extra to make them successful, (doing what we know works -- calling home, praise, individual attention, tutoring, targeted instruction, etc.), then we will start seeing some real progress in those students. Once we get them going, then we choose five more. Just as in full-contact football, in full-contact teaching, we have to deal with what is in front of us, one thing (or five things) at a time.

Our team won the game, and the exuberance still lingers. Our teachers preparing for the final grades and exams, still feel the excitement of rolling up their sleeves and facing instructional challenges head on, and are looking forward to their students performing beyond expectations. After all is said and done, the scars and bruises gained from full-contact instruction (and sports) are worth it. Please share your full-contact teaching experiences.

Ben Johnson

Administrator, author and educator
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Mrs. Ivy's picture
Mrs. Ivy
First Grade Teacher in Georgia

We as teachers have to continue to put our entire, heart, body and soul into our profession. It can sometimes get discouraging but we must find innovative strategies to implement into our daily lessons that will ignite the enthusiasm in our students. The "Full-Contract" concept is a great idea to implement into instructional planning. I am so excited about this strategy, that I am going to incorporate this concept into my lesson tomorrow and share with my colleagues.

My "full-contract" experience was actually today. In Science, we are learning about parts of a plant and their functions. So, we walked along a nature trail and explored various plants and their parts. We got our gloves and dug holes to identify the soil and the roots. As we pulled the plants from the ground, the students were able to identify each part. The student that is usually disengaged became engaged and excited. To see him excited and lrecognizing each part was truly worth it!!

Joe Beard's picture
Joe Beard
MS/HS History and English

I like Ben's analogy of the football game. As a former football player/benchwarmer, this made me consider the angle of offense and defense. This is applicable to any sport; albeit, most applicable to the classroom. The offense would be like coming to class with your A game on ready with a solid lesson plan, totally prepared. The defense would be like those moments throughout the day that you have to think and move on your feet immediately. Any football team worth their salt has a solid offense AND defense. Similarly, great teachers have their playbook already memorized for both their offensive and defensive games.

Being from Nebraska, I wish someone would tell the Huskers about this! They can't figure out which is which. Alas, I digress.

Annette Shauver's picture
Annette Shauver
Seventh grade English & social studies teacher from Lansing, MI

I loved this blog and the analogy of full-contact football with full-contact teaching. I also like the ideas of offense, defense, and a solid game plan. We do come to our classrooms with a well planned and practiced offense. But like my MSU Spartans, sometimes that offense isn't enough to accomplish our goals. Then the defense needs to kick it up and make sure that we continue to strive for our goal (in this case learning.) Focusing on three to five students who are struggling at a time is not overwhelming. I can see this being very successful. Thanks for the good ideas.

Stephanie D.'s picture
Stephanie D.
Staff at SmartStart Education

This blog is great and should definetly be implemented in schools. As a student in high school and in college, this blog made me realize that, being part of the dialogue in a classroom rather than just listen to a perpetuate monologue, it can potentionlly attempt to get students interested in a subject and maintain excitement and interest for the material. It's understandable that teachers may not have an idea of where each student's personal connection with the material lies, but, there are methods that can be used to draw the students in. Lecturing with questions and student-centered assignments, in which students and faculty are brought to full engagement, to think reflexively and enjoy learning.
For instance, in high school my favority subject was biology, mostly because of the way my teacher taught, he was always happy eager to teach us something new. He would have creative presentations, constant stories relevant to the lesson and tons of experiments. All these things drew us in and made us interested in the subject.
This blog has a great way to think of teaching and teachers are also well liked when they are happy, full of energy and enthusiams.

Van Hagen's picture
Van Hagen
4th, 5th, and 6th Grade Math Teacher

This post snatched me in! As a big sports fan, and an even bigger fan of education, I am constantly comparing the facets of sports and the real world. I currently coach basketball, and I always try to teach my girls life skills. Concepts of teamwork, giving effort, fixing mistakes, and perseverance are taught on both sides of the spectrum. I am lucky enough to teach several of the girls on the team, and they have shown major progress and effort. They want to do for me, and they know that I want the best for them.

When teaching various plays, I consider: What are the simple elements? What is the outcome of this play? What does each player need to fix to execute properly? These are the same questions asked of "REFLECTIVE" teachers. These are the professionals who always look for the next step. Gauging when to move ahead of each student's individual level. Being a Coach/Teacher is all about finding the gaps, filling in the gaps, and assessing progress. SPORTS ROCK!!

Reid's picture
Reid
Seventh Grade Math Teacher from Rochester, NY

"We are approaching our first full six weeks grading period and it is obvious that the initial excitement and enthusiasm of the beginning of school is wearing off. The daily grind of lesson planning, preparation, grading, and discipline takes its toll on us as if we were front-linemen."

How do you as teachers, while taking these daily blows as linemen. Go about altering your position on the field. I am 6 weeks into school and starting to run low on steam. I have made it much longer than some of my peers and have worked to develop a classroom that promotes learning. However, much of that preparation is starting to take it's toll on me as it is extensively time consuming outside of class while generally easy to run in class.

At our school we are taking this initiative to focus on five students. We call home, make home visits and communicate with the students daily to help defend ourselves from taking all of the hits. It has worked well so far.

Just some thoughts and questions from a 2 year old teacher.

Andy G.'s picture
Andy G.
8th grade mathematics

I truly enjoy your idea of picking five students to push for success and then routinely picking five new ones after your 'treatment' program. I often get overwhelmed with the sheer attention and paperwork to IEP students and try not to forget the 'C' student who could have serious gains in their standardized test score and overall achievement given some time attention. Therefore, I think I'll start with a pack of 5 'C' students and roll from there.
I thank you for the idea and the motivation!

AJohnson's picture
AJohnson
3rd Grade Teacher from Huron, South Dakota

This article really inspires me and helps me reflect on my own classroom and students. It was just today that one of my English Language Learners worked hard in all subjects, collaborated with her classmates, and even participated in whole class activities. This and you describing how the teachers in your building still have the enthusiasm to do activities that are not just from a textbook or worksheet encourages me to do the same. Students learn best through doing. When teachers are excited about concepts and find activities are done through doing, student learning is bound to be a success!

Cammie Songe's picture
Cammie Songe
Eleventh grade American History teacher from Thibodaux, LA

WOW! Excellent analogy of our jobs as teachers. With all of the changes in education and what I consider the "assault on public education" it is easy to become disenfranchised in the classroom. What a great reminder to be invested mind, body, heart and soul.

The Dixie Diarist's picture
The Dixie Diarist
Teacher, Writer, and Artist

I finally got smart and learned that too-many cigars, brooding, cheap wine, and pondering for way too long every evening at home, was not the way to take the edge off what a teacher experiences. It was not the way to refresh. It's exercise--open-mouth breathing, sweat-spewing, body-changing exercise. That's what ultimately does it.

I started training for marathons and ran in a bunch of marathons and half-marathons and in those hard-core, military style obstacle course races, one of them with Mr. Warbird leading the charge to not be burned alive, electrocuted, or drown in creeks, lakes, or pools of mud or ice water. I boxed at the local Police Athletic league and got my butt kicked around, but while I changed my body and teacher's mind for the better. Some of my students caught on and asked why in the heck would I subject myself to all that. I never told them the real truth. But I did let them punch me in my stomach as hard as they wanted and anytime they wanted. You can know your subject and teach it like an expert, but if you want to impress young scholars, let them punch you in the gut and enjoy the satisfaction of being their teacher-hero in the most unconventional way.

This used to drive my principal, Lurlene, crazy and she told me to stop but I never did. Old Burrell thought it was brilliant. At his old school, six or seven hundred years ago, he said he used to kick kids out of class by dragging them into the hall while they were still in their desks. That was back in the good ol' days, he said, and parents thanked him for it.

www.adixieidary.com

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