The Power of Positive Practice

The Power of Positive Practice

“How about you hop out of the truck and let me pull it in?”

With those fourteen words, I went from King of the Campground to Billy Boy Scout.  To be fair, backing in a fully-loaded 18 foot travel trailer, right up to an electrical stand, is an earned skill.  It requires turning the steering wheel opposite of the direction you want to go, then following the back wheels of the rig.  It requires using all your mirrors and employing the spacial sense of a seasoned trucker.  It requires engaging all these skills while going in reverse…while the onlookers judge your skills.

On that day, in that campground, I tapped out.  I cried “Uncle!” 

And I let a full blown stranger do the job for me.

You can ask my wife; It took a full thirty minutes for me to get over it. After superfluously thanking my fellow camper, I engaged in some good old fashioned negative self-talk.  I belittled myself. I promised to ‘nail it’ the next time. Then finally I employed the deep breathing techniques that I had learned this year in counseling. After all, I was camping to get some relaxation and stress relief; This wasn’t supposed to be a stress inducing activity.

Later that evening, while toasting marshmallows to a golden brown tint, I had a thought:

How many of our students experience this level of frustration and perceived failure in our classrooms?  Do they lean on others to complete tasks for them when it gets too difficult? Do we, their educators too easily hop into the driver’s seat and accomplish their challenge for them?

Those questions are important to ponder.

But this question might be the most salient:

Do our students get enough low pressure, positive practice with the skills we are asking them to perform?

I believe that backing our camper into tight spaces, with everyone watching, is a skill that I will master.  But I don’t think I’ve had enough opportunities to practice in safe spaces. Each time we pull up to the campground, it feels like the Superbowl.  My kids can’t wait to get out of the vehicle to ride their bikes. My wife encourages me, and then braces for the fiasco. And my negative self talk emerges from the shadows of my brain. 

All of that is about to change.  In the next month, I intend to create some space for positive practice.  I’m going to hitch the trailer to my truck, drive to the largest parking lot in my neighborhood, and work on backing into tight spaces.  I know that I will knock over some cones. I am quite sure I will spend a good chunk of time there. But I also know that I will be pumping my fists and celebrating some expert trailer navigation.

As you think about leading teaching and learning in your context, how will you create safe spaces for students to apply high level thinking and intellectually demanding skills.

To experience true success, we all need safe space for positive practice.