My desire for a “win”, and how it would get me in trouble
I enjoy teaching taekwondo to Tiny Tigers (for readers who don’t know, that’s 6 years old and under). Not just because “it’s so much fun!” (In fact, if you’re caught off your game, they will eat you ALIVE) I have fun teaching all the age groups. But because I like the mental challenge. I have to figure out the kid. I have to try five different approaches. I have to make a plan with the parent if the usual isn’t working.
So when I figure it out, when my instructional method works, I’m really proud of myself. Oh, yeah, the kid did well too, but yeah, proud of myself. Which can be a problem. Which leads us to my story.
Many years ago, there was a student. Let’s call him “Tom.” Tom was a nice kid, but had some weaknesses. One part space case. One part weak. He wouldn’t really act out, but he wouldn’t follow directions very quickly. He wouldn’t do any punches or kicks full blast, and five minutes into class would come the complaint: ”I’m thirsty…”
Now, Mom wanted him to get better, to work harder, but this “I’m thirsty…” thing sprang her up into action. “Do you need some water?” The world stopped in order for Tom to get a drink. In my humble opinion, the weakness was exacerbated by mom.
Fast forward about three months. Tom was doing better in class. I had set clear goals with clear rewards, I had discussed a plan with the parents, I had explained why he couldn’t just take a water break whenever he wanted. And Mom was on board.
All of the staff had noticed his focus had improved. This former “space case” would now keep his eyes on target. He was yelling louder. Punching harder. Running faster.
I remember sitting down in a conference with mom to discuss, three months in, how proud we were of his improvement. This is the conference where we talk about progress, we ask about future goals, we go over different programs and what’s available at our school, things like that. But something put me off about this conference. It went something like this…
Me: “Mrs. Smith, Tom has shown so much improvement. He’s a different kid in class now from who he was as a white belt. I’ve noticed he is more focused…”
Mrs. Smith: “Yes, we told him he needed to focus. We discussed with him the importance of focus and how he needed to have it. That’s why he did it.”
Me: “I’ve also noticed that he responds quicker when we tell him to do something. He’s working a lot harder, too.”
Mrs. Smith: “He has! About two weeks ago, we incorporated a rewards system where he would get a sticker for every time he did that. He started improving when we did that.”
Hold on a minute. You started this two weeks ago?!?! I have been developing this plan for Tom in my classes and as soon as I implemented this plan, it started to work. It started to work two months ago. And you think that your *(@#&$#@ sticker chart is what did it?
Yes, that’s what I was thinking. And let me guess, you other martial arts instructors who are reading this, or teachers of any subject, really, have similar stories.
But this post is not actually meant for us to angrily analyze Mrs. Smith (No, her name is not actually Mrs. Smith. This was years ago, anyway). Actually, this is what I realized when I was in that conference: “Wait a second…is this what I sound like to some parents? Is that what I’m doing to them? Am I greedily trying to grab the victory to myself, away from others?”
We believe in the value of our martial arts program. We believe that is has the ability to change someone’s life. But when a kid improves, is that the first thing I gun for with the parents? “Look, he’s improving because of our program?”
What if the parents, as thoughtful, intentional parents, sat down to discuss a plan of attack to improve their child’s behavior at home, executed it, saw great results, felt good about their choice, and then walked into a conversation with their kid’s taekwondo instructor about how he was the reason their kid’s behavior improved. How would that feel?
The solution: Share the victory.
Every successful student ever, regardless of the subject, is the result of a three-part team:
- Support (in most cases, parents and family)
We know this to be true because the same instructor will produce two different students. If it was only based on the instructor’s ability, then both students would be the same, would they not? But a student’s drive cannot be created by the instructor. It can only be watered or starved.
I have also known highly motivated students who were not successful because of the parent’s inconsistency in bringing them to class. And then, when the student is unsuccessful, the parent says “He didn’t want to go to class!” That’s because he always feels unsuccessful, because he’s always behind. The parent involvement is a critical element to the student’s success, but the parents are also the most likely to be unsung heroes.
Therefore, the golden rule says that if we want to be praised for our efforts as instructors (and let’s not pretend that we are above liking praise), then we must be deliberate about praising the student but also praising the parents for their efforts.
Remember, whenever we claim the victory for ourselves, we are taking it away from someone else.
If Abrielle is well-behaved, is it because of our wonderful parenting strategy? Or is it because she made a good choice? Or maybe she learned to be good in Sunday School? Regardless, if she is well behaved, I want her to be the one to enjoy that victory.
If I work on stances with a student right before tournament, and that student gets a first place, what will my response be?
- “See, Johnny? THAT’S why we worked on stances in class! Pays off, doesn’t it?”
- “I saw that your stances were good in your form. You know why? Because you chose to work hard on your stances, and your choices and hard work paid off. You should feel proud of yourself.”
Instructor number 1 is what my ego inclines me towards. But instructor number 2 is the instructor I want to be.
…oh, and by the way, I have noticed that when I am successful at giving the victory away, people tend to give it right back.
When I was a younger instructor, and someone said “He really enjoys your school! He’s been improving in respect at home…” I would go into an explanation of how we do it. Because this is a wonderful chance to talk about me.
Honestly, I probably still do that around 25% of the time. But the response I try to do now is “Thank you. And thank you for trusting us with your kid, we really can’t do what we love without you and parents like you.” “Thanks for watching his class. When parents like you do that, it shows him that this is important and he works harder.” “You guys raised a good kid, and you support him. That makes our job easier.”
Striving for less boasting, and more thanking. I guess that’s what I’m going for.