Jaime Morrison is in his 11th year coaching elementary school physical education. Additionally, he has coached a variety of sports for 15 years, including several as an assistant coach in club soccer. He also is a professor for future P.E. teachers at Western State College and currently is on the district’s physical education curriculum board. A certified specialist, he is a board member of the State Physical Education Association and has received several honors such as National P.E. future professional of the year, Colorado’s new Professional Physical Educator of the year, and was nominated as a 9 Teacher Who Cares. Jaime ran track through school and got a scholarship to Arizona State.
How do you get kids doing what you want them to do?
This is my best year of teaching and the reason is that I am asking them to buy in to creating their own experience. I’m teaching the skill of focus over the course of the semester, with every sport that we do. When I ask them to look at me, it’s not because I’m the boss. I ask them listen to me for 60 seconds as I talk and they get to practice the skill of focusing. I prep this with the lessons before by saying that it is a person’s focus that mentally leads them to their success. I warn them about the distractions they will face and I ask them whether they will focus on those or try to get the job in hand done? I’ll go against the coaching manuals by actually talking to them with the sun behind me – challenging them to focus in more difficult situations. Some of the kids will time out after 15 seconds, but that’s when I’m there to prompt and coach them.
Once I had established that approach, the control piece has become I’m not controlling you – I’m giving you another opportunity. When you’re not listening, I’m not mad at you – it’s you’re opportunity that you’re wasting.
So are you allowing them to decide what they are doing with each practice?
Oh no. I’ll say today we’re doing football and I’m giving you 60 seconds of directions during which you will focus. So all I’m doing is adding the extra line in there to challenge them to focus as I explain what we are doing.
What if they don’t?
I tell them that it’s probably because you looked away, or you were looking but you weren’t processing. I watched the show Brain Games where they said that the mind can only truly concentrate on one thing at once. It can recognize six other things going on at the same time, but can only really work on one of them. If a child is angry or sad it usually comes from frustration towards other kids. I’ll ask the kid who is sad who is in charge of their life. Do I need to solve your battles or can you do it? If they take the courage to do something they haven’t done before and don’t know what the outcome will be, but they have to take the risk and try it. They go up to the kid who has upset them and say I know that it hurts when people make fun of you, just like it hurts when you have made fun of me, so we have something in common.
And are the 7 year olds brave enough to do that?
What I am establishing overall is trust. I’m not going to fix it for you, I’ll give you the tools. After a year of it being reinforced they begin to trust that the environment will allow them to do it. They see other kids and peers doing it and they see that it can work. When it is the bully that I have to deal with I have done intervention. I’m not sure if it solves it but the number one thing that the kids value is their ego. I will stop everything and have everyone sit down with the bully standing at the front with me. I then ask them to raise their hand if this guy has hurt your feelings today, and the hands go up. At that point the tears fall and the kid experiences a feeling that they haven’t felt before. I then ask them to think about how they are treating other people and how they felt in that situation and whether they want to go there again.
What about the kid who has no interest in being there but has been made to go there by the teacher or parent?
The only other thing I have used this year is a hand signal – Stop Thinking of Yourself [pointing hand out, tapping head, pointing to chest]. Everything becomes about them not wanting to do this and this is boring for them. When it becomes about them all of the time I am squashing it with the gesture. I show them that they are just thinking about themselves and that sometimes they need to realize the activity is for other people. What can they do to help other kids enjoy it?
With the younger kids they might want to play basketball all of the time because psychologically they are only able to grasp themselves as the center of attention, but I challenge them over time to start to recognize that it isn’t all about them.
Can the traditional command style of teaching work at this age?
I teach the four stages of coaching to my student teachers and the worst coach is actually the Demonstration Coach – they say look watch me, watch me but they can’t really tell you how to do it yourself. Then there is the Cheer Coach who is encouraging but also not teaching. The third level is the Fear Coach and that works. I threaten players that if they don’t pick up this equipment they are running until I say stop. I show the teachers that approach and how it makes players do it because they don’t want the punishment, not because they want to be doing it. Then there is the fourth stage, which is pointing out or facilitating what they need to improve.
Generally when a teacher wants to use fear it is because they are scared themselves. They are thinking you guys better do this because if you guys don’t, I don’t have a backup plan. It’s what we all do in our first few years. It started to change for me in year three when I saw that the kids were fighting with each other. The fearful environment from me was making the kids react in the same way.
So how did you recognize that and make a change?
Well then I went to ok let’s just have fun. But then they didn’t learn anything either. It was just me being lazy. So I added in assessment and it wasn’t until this year that I went back to the skill and began to focus on that. I read a book that asked how students succeed. It talked about how you find self-fulfillment at age 36 and how it is connected to how you learned at age 6. The differences were your development of character skills – focus, gratitude, determination etc. Having a group that is intrinsically motivated vs extrinsically motivated (given candy for success) and tracking their results at tests showed that the longer term success came from developing intrinsic motivation rather than needing to rely on medals and rewards.
Do you ever have to sit anyone out?
Very rarely. The only time is when a kid is having a hard time focusing. But I tell them they can’t judge themselves on it – just because they are having trouble focusing today doesn’t make them a bad person. Great people have had trouble focusing – it’s just a skill you need to work on and I am going to help you. I encourage them to keep reminding themselves for the last ten minutes to stay focused so that they don’t get into the same place again. That way I leave it in their court to decide to make the change if they want to. Pride then becomes the factor that challenges them to do better. When a kid does sit out I am standing there coaching him. I set them challenges like keeping their eyes on me no matter where I go around the room. I ask them to slow everything down and start with a simple test like that to build their confidence back up.
How long do you do an activity for?
I think my style is a little different in that I hardly ever do just one activity. I get 45 minutes with the different ages from 7-11 and I will break it up into different games. Only when I do gymnastics do I run longer games, but then I am doing 15 minutes as the longest time before I interject with something.
Do you look to the players for cues as to when to move on, or do you stick to a plan?
I look at kids and usually after 15 minutes at age 11 you will see the comments start (that’s not fair etc) so I will jump in at that point. With fewer kids (say, 10) I might be able to go longer though.
How many do you feel comfortable coaching at once?
Today I had 80 kids at once in an after school gymnastics program. Last week I was using iPods to measure and test players and in the past it was very difficult to get them to follow the instructions on the screen. This year I brought in 5th graders to help the 1st graders by partnering up when they take the test. By finding strategies like that to get the 6 year old in a one on one situation with an older player instead of them all needing me to be one on one, I am able to teach the 11 year olds and everyone is learning at once. I’m basically teaching future coaches on how to get people to focus on them. That’s how I did it today with 80 kids – having the older kids help the younger ones. Maybe they are then missing out on learning, but they are getting new interaction skills. Keep in mind that the 11 year old doesn’t see it as a job – they are just helping. This then brings in the social cohesion that brings groups together.
If I have kids of the same age, the first eight times I see them is establishing a relationship and trust, and that can’t be done in a big group. Never more than 28. If I went to a new school where no one knew me it might take more than eight times to establish definite signals and standards that work for me.
Do you need to learn all of their names?
Actually no. I often call them by their skill – all the kind kids raise your hands. Now I’m going to challenge you… rather than just saying you are kind, can you do something that is kind? Are you going to let people in front of you in the line? I go against the school expected standards sometimes. Think about the line thing – how many teachers send the bad kid to the end of the line? Does that make any sense at all? Is that your best method of management? You are reinforcing the idea that being at the front makes you the best kid and the person at the back is the worst. The reality is that the one at the back is probably the nicest one as he or she let the others go ahead – it wasn’t about them.
So your role here has moved away from traditional teaching goals?
Pharell Williams was interviewed recently and he asked if it bothered him that he was known as the happy guy – does that bother you? He said no, what other choice do I have other than to be grateful? It’s because of everyone I’ve experienced that I have become who I am. It’s not about me, it’s about everyone else. He said he is so grateful for his teachers who helped him get there. He is totally buying in saying that he was the fortunate one who had the chance to learn from what was put in front of him, all he did was listen. He said I’m not special, I just listened to special people. I wrote that on my classroom wall and said to the kids, we’re all not that special, but if we listen and learn, I might be able to open doors for you in life.