Sunday, November 3, 2013

Little Victories

In a year that could easily be reduced to one goal—reaching the finish line—I’ve tried to keep track of the little victories along the way.  So, while I’m definitely looking forward to becoming a “master” next May, I’ve been savoring a lot of the steps along the way.

Sometimes its is hard to break graduate school down into a step-by-step process. This is partly because I really don’t have a lot of different graded assignments, so it can be difficult to know how I'm actually doing. In fact, I may even get through this entire program without taking a single exam. I do have a heavy load of reading every week, but my final grade in most cases comes down to three or four papers. I would love to believe that my professors at HGSE have reached some higher level of enlightenment, realizing that constant evaluation is not the key to successful learning. More likely, they have more important and desirable things to be doing than grading a bunch of quizzes every week.

So, it's up to me to remind myself that I am, in fact, making progress everyday, without having to rely on constant feedback in the form of grades. A couple of weeks ago in my Developmental Psychology class I felt one of these baby steps being taken. In a class like this, I sometimes feel a (ridiculous) pressure to produce some new scrap of knowledge that hasn’t already been stumbled upon in the thousands of studies done by more experienced professionals. Otherwise, what’s my contribution to academia? Am I just a glorified undergraduate student? Our professor and teaching fellows were describing an experiment that they conducted, the results of which left them scratching their heads. We were all having a having a hard time explaining some inconsistencies between young children’s ability to identify another person's false belief and their inability to predict how that person will actually feel based on that false belief. After scratching my head a bit too, I made a suggestion for how the study design could be tweaked to answer the question— something along lines of, “Did you try doing X?” The teaching fellows looked at each other, then looked at the professor, then scratched their heads a bit more. Hearing them say “You know, we didn’t think of that!” was like music to my ears. Just to be clear, I wasn’t basking in the ignorance of others—quite the opposite. The teaching team actually seemed pretty excited, like they finally had a fresh lead in a hard-to-crack case. For me, it was reassuring to know that I could take what I’d learned in the class so far (the old knowledge), and apply it as a contribution towards producing some new knowledge. 

I don’t expect you to be as excited as I was by reading about the twice-weekly thrill that is my Psych class. Thankfully, I’ve been finding some little victories outside of the ivory tower as well. Last Thursday the Wolfpack* hit the town to celebrate Halloween. I did NOT win any costume contests—that would be a big victory, and therefore inappropriate for the theme of this post. But, I did meet the man who deserved first prize, and that was pretty sweet. Behold... PBR2D2!

We all know that my favorite kind of victory is the kind that happens on grass, and I’m glad to report a few of those too. I’m actually not the only coach in the Special Studies Program at HGSE. My small cohort also includes the Harvard University Men’s Swimming & Diving team coach, as well as Dan, who is the defensive coordinator at St. Sebastien’s High School, where he also teaches. We were treated to some local Friday night lights when the Arrows came to town to take on the undefeated Knights of Buckingham, Brown & Nichols. Just to clarify, that is a school, not a law firm. In a beautiful upset, Dan’s boys knocked off the Cambridge side, giving us yet another reason to drink beers and go dancing. Thank you Dan, thank you boys.

My Knights finished off their season in top form, with a draw against a team that many might say should have run us off the pitch. After having tied against them earlier in the season, I actually wanted the win, but when the final whistle blew, the boys of Cristo Rey were proud of themselves and I was proud of them. 

But, even sweeter than the little victory that was actually a tie, was the email that I received from a teacher at the school earlier in the week. After my post in early October, a few of you expressed concern and wanted to make sure that I was doing OK. I assure you, I was and still am, but I guess now would be a good time to explain what it was that was weighing heavily on my mind. Shortly before writing that post, I found out that several of my players were not getting it done in the classroom, and the situation was serious. I took it personally because so much of my work is built on the belief that participation in sports can have a positive impact on a student’s academic performance. So, when I saw those progress reports it was quite a rude awakening. I did my best to make a gameplan to “support” those students going forward, up to and including “inviting” them to join me at the HGSE library for an entire Saturday. Here’s a portion of the email I recently received about one our students.

"I just wanted to take a moment to express my appreciation for the work you have been doing...  Earlier this week, he turned in his second reflection paper... completing all his missing work.  More importantly to me, however, is the improvement in his attitude and the quality of his contributions in class.  I... know that he responds best to pressure and a challenge from someone who has earned his respect by demonstrating that they actually care for him.  Thank you for taking the extra time out of your schedule to provide another positive model for one of our students—they can never have enough." 

I think a lot of us would take a pay cut in exchange for receiving a few more emails like that from our colleagues. I’m looking forward to continuing to develop as a coach and teacher, and using everything I’ve learned from this season at Cristo Rey. On that note, I still have time to celebrate one more little victory in this post. I recently found out that I’ve been accepted to attend the NSCAA Premier Diploma course in January, giving me a chance to earn the highest award that the organization currently offers. Wish me luck!

* Wolfpack = the fun people people with whom I do the fun things that I do.

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