Educators love to talk about teachable moments. Those prime learning opportunities that seem to magically present themselves and allow for students to flourish. It could result in an ad-hoc project, or a quick jaunt to a computer lab. Maybe it incorporates a life lesson or a new form of media literacy. However, as I started to realize this spring, while all of us teachers and coaches are patting ourselves on the back about our teachable moments, did we ever ask the students if they were learnable?
This spring, while coaching the high school New England team racing championships, we experienced an absolute melt-down. Our top two boats couldn’t seem to get it together, and our youngest boat kept finding himself in a critical position. At the end of the day, I went up to our young skipper and said to him, “You did what you could. This was just one of those learnable days.”
A similar situation presented itself the following week when coaching another event. One of our freshman skipper found himself carrying the team at times, and could not figure out how to execute. After our 3rd loss in a row, I could see him fuming. To get him out of his funk, I said the same thing: “This is just one of those learnable events.” That concept seemed to get him going again, and he rallied with the team for a few more wins. In both of those instances, I know that my sailors gained more than if they had been successful at those events. They had to learn for themselves and from their losses.
Tom Sitzmann wrote an article recently about Good Sailing Coaches & Great Sailing Coaches in which he commented on the necessity for empathy when coaching – the ability to understand the competitor’s perspective. If we take his thoughts to a new level, whether we are teachers, coaches, parents, mentors, or just those “random old people” who sometimes work with younger folks, it all makes sense. If we have empathy and understanding, then we can figure out how to create those learnable times.