Steve Heisler

Teacher Author Speaker


"Every single child wants to be successful. The problem is, if they can't be successful at being successful, they'll be successful at screwing up. Our job as educators is to change the latter to the former."    

- from the The Missing Link by Steve Heisler

What makes Playing Catch Fun: a Teaching Metaphor

Although I don't drive a truck or dispatch them, my professional work for the decade or so as been primarily focused on delivery systems.  In my case, educational delivery systems. The core of the work I have been doing has been working on instructional development in both technology infusion as well as the basic skills of planning and instructional decision making. From what I have seen, and experienced, delivery systems are mostly what we have been focusing on in the past several decades.

It reminded me of how I really loved playing catch with my (now) adult son.  While I mostly looked forward to the opportunities, I cannot say that I always enjoyed it. Frankly, though he picked up skills quite rapidly, there were just too many missed catches and errant throws. You might say I had a teacher's enjoyment of playing with him, instructing and extolling his progress while I dourly trudged down the street to fetch a ball that had been launched at an angle that even Brooks Robinson himself could not have overcome.

Then there was a brief period where we had about the same skill level (he may have been  about the age I was when I found out that I had no baseball player hope) but just as I was more capable than him before that, he became much more capable than me. Although we continued to play catch, Ben adjusted his abilities (slowing down his throws) to accommodate my diminishing reflexes and his superior ability. I'm sure he still loves playing catch with me though I suspect he does not always enjoy it.

To extend the metaphor, as professional educators we have really been focusing on developing our throwing. My experience tells me that we have seen many great improvements on the teacher side, but not quite so much on the learner side. Somehow we have gotten the message that the better we throw, the better they'll want to catch, and then, of course, the better they'll return the ball right to us. The reality has resulted in the same outcome as was behaviorally produced by the oft repeated just teach better myth explored in an earlier post. Teaching better simply isn't enough: you must also learn classroom management skills and teach self-management which are part and parcel of the highly evolved teacher's skills.

As educators we must have as much an impact on the recipient as we have on the shipping, but if we just expect it to happen as a result of better delivery itself, it never will. What  I recall with my son was not just playing catch, nor even helping him play better and improve his physical skills. We also worked on focus, concentration, self-regulation, persistence again and again and again and again.  I like to think that some of this seeped in, and even spread to other areas of concern, like school.

There is no question we need to make sure our instructional delivery system is as strong as we can make them but isn't it about time we started teaching these success skills too?  Face it folks, no matter how good UPS is at getting the stuff you ordered to your doorstep, if someone does't get home eventually to take it in, all that really great stuff is just going to rot out there, right out there on your own porch.