Welcome to Field Notes. The model for this blog is A Sand County Almanac, a book of field notes recorded by the naturalist Aldo Leopold. Leopold watches the direction of a mouse’s tracks through the snow, or the delay after a hawk’s descent into a marsh, and sees a much deeper story unfold. In that pregnant pause, the hawk has killed and eaten; the tracks narrate the collapse of the mouse’s life-saving snow tunnels.
They are just field notes—mundane and half overlooked, except that observation sometimes allows a glimpse of a deeper story played out in humdrum moments. My goal is to apply that keen focus to the part of our lives where we strive to get better—to the classrooms, practices, schools, trainings—to find the tiny moment when a teacher does something that seems small, almost trivial at first, but that reveals the deeper story playing out in our schools, our lives, and our society.
I guess there’s some precedent for that. Three years ago I noticed my son’s knees, straight and stiff during a drill in soccer practice. They should have been bent. What did that mean? (Answer: He was practicing—and getting better at—the wrong technique) and why did it happen that way? The result was a book (that I coauthored with Erica Woolway and Katie Yezzi), Practice Perfect: 42 Rules for Getting Better at Getting Better.
Six years before that I had visited the classroom of a teacher in inner city Newark with world-beating results. When a student got an answer wrong, he had to listen to another student give the correct answer, then answer again himself, correctly. It was A) just as I’d seen it done in another world-beating teacher’s classroom in upstate New York two weeks before and B) unlike any other classroom I’d ever seen before anywhere. Why this similarity between these two positive outliers and no one else? The result was Teach Like a Champion: 49 Techniques that Put Students on the Path to College.
So join me here for a discussion about observations—yours and mine—related to Teach Like a Champion, Practice Perfect, and whatever else fits under the banner of teaching and practice.
Some thoughts about observation before I put the wraps on my first blog post, which I am writing next to a garden in upstate New York and doesn’t feel nearly as high-tech as I expected.
- The best observers see not what they expected to be there but what was really there. That’s very hard. I am ready for advice on this front.
- It’s easy to watch for what’s wrong; it’s more valuable to watch for what’s right. In school you learn to be a critic, to get points for observing what doesn’t work. As a professional you get points for finding what does work and applying it, even if other things are wrong. This is a big change.
- I am probably wrong half the time.
Doug Lemov (Albany, NY), is the author of the bestselling book, Teach Like a Champion. He was a managing director at Uncommon Schools and now directs their project on effective teaching practices. Read more posts from Doug on the Teach Like a Champion blog.
Teach Like a Champion: 49 Techniques that Put Students on the Path to College (2010) — 9780470550472
Practice Perfect: 42 Rules for Getting Better at Getting Better (2012) — 9781118216583