This past week I spoke at the annual NCAA Convention in Orlando, Florida. I was one of the speakers on a panel about engaging faculty with athletic programs and represented the NCAA's Division III. If you had told me five years ago that I would be speaking at the NCAA convention, I would have told you that you were out of your mind. And yet:
The room was packed and there was really good energy in the room. I spoke about how I got here, and those who have followed this blog know about my "original football Romans" who took my class in the fall of 2015 and started me on this path. I decided that I would engage them in my course, which led me to want to know more about what they did as student athletes. Soon I was attending away games, which led to an invitation to become the faculty mentor to the team.
Who knew then where it would lead?
This post is for anyone who is on a path and can't quite see where it might lead. Keep going. I had no idea that I would eventually end up speaking to a room of about 500 people. And frankly, I am just getting started. I have more research to do on what student athletes do on the field and how that could be better translated into the classroom for their studies. I am planning to write a book that better explains the realities of the Division III student athlete. I hope to do some of the research for that book with student athletes this summer.
Today marks the start of the 2019 Spring semester for my school. I will teach my best. I will get to know my students. I will challenge myself to engage all students. I will go to "spring ball" football practices. And who knows what else may come up?
Because the truth is, you really never know where interests might take you. But if you remain authentically curious, take risks, and remain courageous enough to step onto an unknown path, you may end up in a place you never thought you would.
To my faculty colleagues: do you remember what it was like when you really did not understand something? Because we have mastered so much to be able to teach in higher education and to produce new scholarly contributions to our disciplines, it may be a long time - in some cases a very long time - since we were literally bewildered by an experience.
I had that experience last week. I went to the preparation meetings for our college football team's planning for their opponent today, Ursinus College. And I was pretty much bewildered. Because I am sick in bed with congestion and cough, I am posting this tribute to what the coaches and players do when readying for a game.
I remember reading a book called How Learning Works and how important it is to ground new information with students' previous experience or content knowledge. Well, now I know how it must feel to come into a class - a new discipline - with very little previous content knowledge. I mean, I do watch football games. I know the basic rules. But that is nothing like the preparation meetings, where film is analyzed, new plays are created, and old plays modified. While in these meetings, I realized that I really did not have anything concrete, any specific previous experience, on which to "hang" this current information. I don't know the names of the plays or the formations. I could not tell a right hash from a left, without really thinking about it.
Another realization I had from attending that meeting is this: we have great coaches. And coaches teach. I consistently learn a lot from the coaches, even when I am limping along with hardly any background information on which to hang the new material. But the coaches know that the players know the plays. The students know the formations, and so the coaches take them, step by step, building on that previous knowledge, getting them to see the new areas that they need to see and understand. And then, after those meetings, they go out onto the field and practice, combining the physical to the mental images that they just saw on film and in diagrams.
My hat is off to the coaches and the players for all that they do for their sport. It is a lot. And I want every student on our team to know: if you ever go into a class and feel bewildered, that was me today. I'm not too proud to say it or admit it. But it is in not knowing that we learn. And you know I'm gonna be asking questions of the coaches because like I tell the players, "Talk to your professors when you do not understand!" I am living that truth!
I am traveling this week to Barton College to consult with them about how to support student athletes. They will be adding a football team in the fall of 2019, so I am interested to learn about how they have planned for that and to offer them suggestions on how to support these students inside and outside the classroom. Since I am traveling, I feel fortunate to have a guest post from blogger Sarah Fawcett on how students can keep the drive to learn alive. Thanks for reading and I'll be back next week with a post about my visit to the folks at Barton.
Keeping the Drive To Learn Alive by Sarah Fawcett
Finding the motivation to learn is one of the most challenging aspects of being a student. It’s easy to say that studying leads to academic success and is therefore essential, but there are days that even picking up reading materials is difficult. However, with the right mindset, anyone can keep the drive and motivation to learn alive.
To cultivate the best mindset for studying, you should start with setting goals. Instead of aiming to be the class achiever, Teacher Magazine suggests that students should try to set personal bests, a type of goal setting where you try to surpass your own grades. There’s still the element of competition (you vs. you) that will inspire you to work harder. But at the same time, it minimizes the tendency of comparing yourself to others, which can be a source of pressure.
Manage your time wisely
One of the reasons students have such a hard time with school is that they can’t manage their time wisely. There are too many things to do outside of academics that you can get too engrossed in a particular activity, and lose the time to study and with it, the motivation. However, if you can stay disciplined to stick to your regular study schedule, you can learn how to pace yourself, finish faster, and have more time to devote to your extra-curricular activities.
Procrastination is a student’s mortal enemy. Very Well Mind enumerates the major reasons behind academic procrastination which include overestimating the time you have left to complete assignments, and the motivation you can summon in the future. When the time does come for studying, the lessons may no longer be fresh in your mind and you will have to review the concepts. Plus, when time is limited, students often resort to a quick scan of their notes or tend to get sloppy with their projects.
Give yourself a reward
A reward system is one trick you can employ for self-motivation. The secret to maintaining the efficacy of this technique is incentivizing smaller goals. For instance, after each chapter that you read, you can eat a piece of chocolate. It’s essentially half of the operant conditioning theory in action, where positive behavior (i.e. studying) is reinforced through rewards.
Aside from self-motivation, it’s also important to recognize external factors that have a significant impact on students drive to learn. Maryville University explains that academic performance is influenced by your mental health, which can be affected by certain environments. Parents and peers can directly contribute to academic pressure which can have negative repercussions on a student’s mental health. In fact, NPR reported that one in five kids in the US have issues with their mental health, but the majority of them don’t get the help they need. This leads to several issues in school including "chronic absence, low achievement, disruptive behavior and dropping out".
To sum everything up, motivation is a combination of a student’s internal need to continue learning, and the proper support system or environment that fosters growth. Without the other, it will stall and learning will reach an impasse.
How did I get from professor, teaching art history, to a consultant, speaking about supporting student athletes? This fall in particular I have been looking back over the steps that got me here. I'm trying to figure out what it is that links them together. And I think I know what it is: curiosity.
I wanted to engage the five football players that I had in my class in Roman Art in the fall of 2015 after I saw them play in a home game. I was curious and wanted to know: what made them tick? What would engage them in my course material in the classroom? I did research, asked questions, took a few risks in the classroom and followed up a year later with them to assess what they learned and what had "stuck." That led to a conference presentation and a published chapter in a book on active learning. All because I was curious.
In the fall of 2016, I went to an away game of the football team in Gettysburg. I had a few more students in my classes and I wanted to see them play after winning at home the week before. So I went. And the next Monday, I was invited to be the faculty mentor to the team. I had no idea what that would entail, but I was curious. So, I said yes. And I had an eager and willing Head Coach, who said he'd figure it out with me.
That was two years ago. I have figured out some of it. What I have figured out so far has led to a book proposal about how faculty and institutions can support student athletes better. Student athletes make up about 40% of our study body, so finding ways to engage them and support them only makes financial sense, if no other reason (like simply wanting to support them because they are our students) comes to mind. And it has led to workshops on supporting student athletes, like my conversations at the Maine Maritime Academy this past March (2018). And later this fall I will consult with Barton College in Wilson, NC, where they plan to add a football team next year.
Most of all, I'm remaining curious. I think that the true mark of intelligence is to realize what you do not know and to be brave enough to ask questions to learn. Right now my curiosity centers around how *exactly* a game plan for the opponent is constructed. I know as I write this on a Sunday morning that the coaches are watching tape. I know from asking players that they will watch and analyze film throughout the week. I know that the game this past Saturday will be analyzed for what went well (shut-out!) and what did not (penalties!).
I hope that the coaches, the players, and the parents (yes, I'm coming at you next!) are ready for my questions. As the students (and coaches) likely know, I ask a lot of questions. As I told the students at one of their summer camp meetings, your curiosity has to be bigger than your fear of looking dumb. And my desire to know outweighs that fear, even if it might be there. So I will keep on asking questions, and keep being curious. Because there is so much more to know!
It has been a roller coaster ride this past week, which was also my last week before the start of classes. It started with a fantastic gathering of former football players of McDaniel College. Nearly 30 alumni football players returned to The Hill to meet with current players and to talk to them about planning for their futures. Nearly every member of the current squad was there and I did not see a phone come out of a pocket or bag for the two hour event. Some stayed afterwards for another half an hour. Here are some scenes from the event:
The next day we had the first faculty meeting of the academic year, in which I was awarded a book award for the publication of Modernism vs. Traditionalism: Art in Paris, 1888-89, my Reacting to the Past game that came out in March. But we also heard from our college president that this year we will collectively need to make some hard choices when it comes to programs to continue to support - and not. That makes everyone a bit on edge, but it's a necessary step for the institution to keep thriving.
At the end of the week I traveled to Schreiner Universityto address their Convocation for new students. I had a great time there in the Texas Hill Country. Having read the first year book, The Which Way Tree, by Elizabeth Crook, I got a feel for the ways in which the landscape affected the founding of the towns in that area. The convocation itself was fun, with a championship ring given to the Basketball shooting team for their first place win at their conference - I got to hear their fight song and see their mascot: the mountain lion.
I talked a lot in my address about being curious, and today my week starts with a phone call with an official from the NCAA about possibly participating on a panel at their annual conference in January. If you had told me a few years ago that I would be doing this, I would have scoffed. But my curiosity has led me here, mentoring a football team and learning lots from it. I'm sure that this journey will continue to have many ups and downs, but I'm excited to see where all of this leads me.
Good luck to all who have started, or are starting, their academic year!