Cross-Country Skiing: Helpful Perspectives for Teaching

In the spirit of the Sochi Olympic games, I decided to go cross-country skiing on Sunday afternoon. I enjoy this sport so much because it gives me time to refuel my mind and just think. No ear buds allowed. Only the sound of silence, the squeaking of my poles on the snow, the gliding of my skis, and a tiring workout.Skiing 6The picture in this post was taken while I was skiing. As I was gliding down this trail, I was thinking about my post for this week and realized there was a relevant lesson right in front of me.

When I first learned to cross-country ski, I would often ski around a lake whose trail was groomed. What I enjoyed about this trail was the fact that it had a machine carve ski tracks into the snow. All I had to do was set my skis into the tracks and push forward. It certainly helped my skill set early on.

But I wanted to improve my form, leg movements, and balance, and so I started doing more of a freestyle cross-country skiing where there are no tracks, just flat trails laden with snow.

The type of freestyle trail I skied Sunday forces me to think as I ski. It allows me to assess the terrain and adjust to the best line. Some snow is too deep for gliding, some areas are icy and hard, and other areas are perfect to get proper form and rhythm. But this type of freestyle skiing has forced me to improve my fundamentals and it has taught me better skills.

Perhaps you are already seeing where I am going with this analogy, but I will state it nonetheless.

As teachers, it is necessary to allow our students to learn “in the tracks” so that they can learn the fundamentals and experience early success. But teaching has to go beyond this to “freestyle learning.”

What do I mean by this? If you look at the photo in this post, there is a clear trail of where I am going, but there is ample room for me to experience tensions, make decisions, and learn through experiences.

So too with the classroom. I have end goals and objectives in mind and I state those to my students. I tell them where I am going. But within the learning process, I allow them to peruse the trail within my set parameters, make decisions as to the “line” they will take, experience tensions, allow for examination, and come to conclusions…and then integrate change.

Why? Because that is how authentic learning that creates change actually occurs. We need the pre-formed ski tracks early on, but if we do not take our students on the freestyle trails, we are limiting their exposure to decision-making, positive-tension, changed thinking, and changed actions.

Sunday’s skiing was both refreshing and enlightening. I realized how valuable the freestyle trails have been for my development as a cross-country skier. So too with teaching. Go be a “freestyle teacher” in your classroom today.

Community Input: Do you have any sport analogies of your own that lend themselves to good pedagogy?

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2 thoughts on “Cross-Country Skiing: Helpful Perspectives for Teaching

  1. Enjoyed this article and the others you have written.  Thanks for sharing your thoughts with so many. Have a blessed week.

    Love Mom 

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