Going from “Have to” to “Get to”

I had a conversation with a colleague this week.  Juliann teaches Phyiscs next door and has recently coached swimming, while I teach Biology and have coached girls track and cross country for years.  Juliann is a great person to bounce ideas off of because we have similar ideals but differing subjects and approaches.  It’s is just the right mix of unity and diversity for me.

The conversation turned to effort in class and in our respective sports.  I am proud to tell people just how hard “my girls” work. I refer to the girls XC and Track team members when I say “my girls”. But it’s not by accident – it’s by design.  The coaches in our program have tried to create a culture of hard work and the ability to progress based on your results.  Each athlete has certain benchmarks to reach.  In the case of distance runners – benchmarks are measured by miles run each day, pace per mile and consecutive days run.  Simply put, each athlete must achieve those benchmarks before moving on.  When those athletes move on – they get to run further and faster than the week before, but it must be earned in every workout for the week.

The key is “get to” instead of “have to”.

Running is a sport that is used by other sports as punishment … Late to practice – run a lap.  Didn’t work hard enough in practice – time for sprints.  The message is clear – running is punishment.  Kids were not born with the idea that running is punishment, at some point they were taught this.  It’s our goal as coaches in ouR Track program to return them to the point where that work can be joyful, fun and pleasurable.

What do we use as punishment?  We have the punished athlete watch all the other athletes run.  They don’t “get to” run that day.

Juliann and I thanked each other and she returned to her classroom.  Then it occurred to me – Why am I not taking the same approach with my students?  I have seen how my athletes are so motivated to improve and to do more.  Can’t I use what I have learned from coaching and apply it to teaching?

Isn’t learning just like running?

  • learning and running are approached with excitement and joy by young children.  I see it daily with my 20-month-old twin boys.
  • learning and running are seen as “work” and as “punishment” by high schoolers.  Thus these activities are to be avoided or only done begrudgingly.
  • both learning and running are only done because they have to.  I can’t count the number of times that I heard groans from my students when I presented them with a new project that I thought they would enjoy.

Showing kids that they “get to” learn instead of “have to” learn – that’s my new goal.  Learning is not punishment but somewhere sometime most of high school students see it that way.  It is time to change the culture.  I have seen a variety of methods that claim to correct the culture – Standards Based Learning, Game Based Learning, Differentiation, just to name a few.

Whatever the method, one thing is clear to me – I need to change “have to” to “get to”.  Let’s put the joy back in learning.

Thank YOU, Juliann!


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