Friday, February 24, 2017

It's Not About The Points: Ending a Speech Season

And just like that, another 200 days of my life have passed by in a flash. The competitive speech season is a grind. Beginning in late summer and ending in the (typically) frigid months of February is tough. The hours required to produce a successful team or at least a mildly competitive are much greater than anyone outside of the speech community would ever expect. While students might practice in groups, they must perform individually. With 65 students at eight minutes a script and each student being at least double entered, it does not take long to realize that in any given practice week - that is A LOT of practice time. That total comes to 17 hours and 20 minutes a week. That sum does not take into consideration time to review notes, stop-starting performances, the inevitable prolongation and procrastination of my students, the laughter, and most important the moments that matter most - the life moments.

During practice, a speech coach does more than teach students to deliver clear and succinct messages, more than refining gestures, and more than developing nuanced emotions that convey a clear tone. Speech coaches act as parents, counselors, life coaches, mentors, and even friends. They feed (literally the amount of Wheat Thins and Cheerios I have shared is too much to count), comfort, and console. After 200 days of playing these various roles, I am emotional and physically exhausted. My creative spark has been temporarily extinguished, and I am desperate need of refueling.

This past weekend at the IHSA State Tournament I cried more than I ever have a speech related function (Except when I was two months pregnant with an awful case of a 24-hour stomach flu at Sectionals in Rochelle. Yes, that IS as terrible as it sounds).  My tears were a reaction to the culmination of a season filled with so many memories. Feelings of gratitude, joy, and relief began to rush over me. I altered between laughing and crying for quite some time. What I learned from this past weekend is to embrace the advice I preach to my students - to remember that we are not defined by a single moment. Instead, we are defined by our habits; we are defined by what we do when no one is looking and the kindness we show others. No matter what final round posters or tab sheets report, these students have crafted powerful messages, and the confidence, poise, and grace they have developed will remain with them for years to come.

How does a coach end a season filled with personal growth, medals, laughter, and memories that will last ?

1. Celebrate students.

I am always in awe of young people who elect to participate in speech. Public speaking is often avoided by students and adults alike. The workload for this activity is highly demanding, and the rewards are few, but these students resiliently strive to improve their delivery skills and messages for seven grueling months. Tournaments are long, and the subjectivity of the activity can be disheartening. These students show their mental strength, integrity, and poise. As such, they should be commended and celebrated. After high school speech is done, these students will take their skills and lessons learned and use them to impact all those they meet in the future.

2. Celebrate the work.

One performance is not the work of a single individual. Several adult coaches, peers, and the student himself or herself put in countless hours to refine a message. No matter the points earned or the final outcome of any tournament, the work and effort put into making a presentation is an important instructional process. When a student understands and values hard work, their efforts will transfer into other avenues in life. They will continue to strive to achieve high goals, which will result in exciting endeavors beyond formalized school. Again, the purpose of speech is not the medals won; the purpose is about the process.

3. Reflect.

Team dynamics must be finessed. Creating cohesion, unity, and maintaining moral is a sensitive task. Keeping team traditions alive take a great deal of planning. Reflecting on the team's growth is important to fuel the start of the next year and to determine what the focus must be based on the returning members and the mood the coaches hope to instill in the next generation of the team. To begin this year's reflection, I picked up the book Win at Losing: How Our Biggest Setbacks Can Lead to Our Greatest Gains by Sam Weinman. Competitive speech is marked with failure and criticism. Teaching students to "fail big" and embrace rejection as a valuable learning tool is what keeps students waking up at 5 AM on a Saturday and subjecting themselves to ridicule and partaking in an activity that most people fear worse than death. I hope to continue to understand how to improve camaraderie and build a strong team.

4. Rest.

To be an effective teacher, mother, wife, friend and coach - I forego my health. After months of forgetting to take a lunch to grade a few papers thus freeing my time to watch more film or waking up at 4:30 to finish lesson plans, I need to sleep... or better yet, hibernate. The time to recover and rest is essential to fuel an effective coach of any sport or activity at the end of a long season. A recent NEA article entitled "Not Getting Enough Sleep? Tired Teachers Aren't Usually the Best Teachers," has reminded me that to best serve my students and my family, I need to catch up on sleep!

5. Begin planning for next season. 

Scripting is an arduous process. Finding, cutting, and pairing students with pieces take a great deal of time. Identifying meaningful stories and messages that will engage audiences and add value to the lives of those who hear it is no simple feat. Recognizing students' strengths, taking into account students' interests and experiences, and building the right stories involves reading countless scripts, thumbing through memoirs and nonfiction texts, and watching every talk on TED's website.

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