“We must teach them good habits,” I overheard my football coach say when I was 15 years old. I can remember that saying and how it was said like it was yesterday. This message has stayed with me ever since and is a principle that teachers need to encourage in students.
Behind all good habits is consistency, as habits are essentially behaviours that have developed over time through us performing them consistently.
I recall a student once saying to me “I am consistent. I am consistently inconsistent.” I laughed and smiled but not for long, as there was a truth in what the student said. We can be consistent in poorly applying ourselves to things and, thus, not be successful in what we would like to achieve. This made me re-think that the best habits do not just come from consistency, they are built upon deliberate action through commitment to purpose.
Last weekend, I attended a swim meet with our school swim team and I was asked: “What makes a swimmer successful?” I replied, “Natural talent sure helps but it is commitment that matters most.” The ability to turn up every day and give one’s best effort and perform what is required in the correct way. Through this approach we develop good habits that, if performed regularly enough, can serve us a lifetime. How often are we, as teachers and coaches, frustrated by those students who have a lot of talent and a low level of commitment? Conversely, we love working with those students who are committed but less talented yet they work their socks off in order to achieve the best they can.
I was reminded of the skill and will matrix attributed to Max Landberg in a short video of Australian swimming coach Wayne Goldsmith giving a presentation to parents in New Zealand. Note, in this example, that Goldsmith is talking about young athletes that have a choice whether to engage in sport, or not.
Goldsmith adapts Landberg’s matrix slightly, referring to talent versus commitment instead of skill and will. The model itself is an excellent one for school leaders to use in discussions with parents about the aspirations that they have for their children but also to use with teachers in terms of how we approach working with students and the actions we need to take to engage students to become committed regardless of their level of talent. This model can be applied to student’s commitment to school in general, or it can be applied to the various aspects of school that students encounter. It is also an excellent model to share with students as part of a wellbeing program having students reflect on where they are in the matrix in relation to different subjects and extra-curricular activities.
Ultimately, what underpins great teaching and coaching is our ability to get students to commit. It could be argued that this is a tougher task for teachers than for activities coaches, as students have to be at school and certain aspects of the program are mandatory, whereas students may either opt in or out of an extra-curricular activities program, or at least choose what they want to do within it based upon their interests. If students are interested in something, then that can breed commitment. Interest alone is not enough for someone to excel. It is our job as teachers to get kids interested in a way so that they can commit to realising their potential, and in that lies the skill of a great teacher.