Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Lessons from Behind the Microphone

I've talked before about the connections between my current and previous professions (teaching & radio).  Recently (through my old boss Bob Wood who was a terrific inspiration and mentor BTW), I stumbled upon this post from Doug Erickson.  Erickson is a guy who often says very profound things about what makes radio and radio talent great.  I'd love to completely plagiarize him, but instead I'll settle for a long quote, where he identifies characteristics of great radio talent in the context of The Intouchables, a french film:
Here's the coaching points worth noting:
  • It is exuberant. Like some of the best air talent I've known (Bobby Rich, Dr. Don Rose, et.al) the exuberance of the main personality in this film makes it impossible not to like him, not to root for his success.
  • It is unpredictable, sprinkling in enough surprises to keep your interest.
  • It is emotional, but not sad or depressing. A little sad goes a long way.
  • It is believable. It never seems to be something untrue or less than authentic, perhaps because it's based on a true story.
  • It is full of rich characters, but the stars command your attention and the vast majority of the "air time."
  • It makes you laugh at times but it is not a comedy, nor is it trying to be. It's more complex entertainment than that.
  • It makes you think by drawing you to places you don't normally go on your own.
  • It is warm, meaning you feel better not only while watching it, but afterwards too. The glow persists and you remember why.
I highly suggest you watch the movie trailer and read Erickson's full post.

Just as he uses the movie as a lens through which radio talent can look, I'll use both as a lens through which teachers can look.

Exuberant.  That enthusiasm about content which for teachers needs to be infectious.

Unpredictable.  Important both for content and for the medium by which we deliver instruction.

Emotional.  Students cannot be indifferent to mathematical success.  We need to invoke emotion in our students.  As Erickson suggests, a little sad goes a long way.  Students should carry just enough sadness or disgust for failure to motivate them toward success.  Certainly successes need to be celebrated religiously to offset that sadness.  Apathy is our enemy.

Believable.  Where forced context needs to be avoided.

Stars command attention.  Here our "stars" are our most critical standards.  Math can take us all over the place, but we need to remain focused on those ideas that are most important.

Makes you laugh but not a comedy.  Too many teachers try too hard. Focus on the content and sprinkle in the jokes.  Not the other way around.

Makes you think.  The 3 Act structure is one way to approach this, but there are others.

Warm.  Our classrooms need to be inviting, non-threatening places.

Admittedly, I feel like I'm pretty horrible at most of these.  But I'm working all the time to become better, as most of us are.

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