Sunday, April 28, 2013

Life is Learning; Learning is Life

Facilitator, trainer, educator, teacher, instructor, counselor, coach call me what you will there is no doubt that  teaching runs through my veins. Twenty years in a classroom and more years of coaching riders and still I learn. I learn through lessons, workshops and seminars but I also learn by teaching.

Teaching has a bad reputation.

“It would seem that you have no useful skill or talent whatsoever," he said. "Have you thought of going into teaching?” says Terry Pratchett. The old adage  about those that can do and those that can't teach runs along the same lines.

The reality is that teaching is not easy, nor is it particularly natural. Once it becomes intuitive  though it can be awfully hard to switch off. Walking through the riding arena yesterday I couldn't help myself. "Change your diagonal, oh that looks good, will he bend if you use your inside leg?" all came out of my mouth. Ha. Poor kids are going to run when they see me coming!

Some things are easy to teach; some things are much harder. The bulk of stuff is in the middle somewhere.

Teaching agility is tough for me. I enjoy it, don't get me wrong. I love watching the dogs and handlers start their dance together but, like all other dog play training, timing and placement of reward are critical and in agility by the time the human has processed me saying "reward", then usually "reward" again, and often "reward" at least once more the opportunity has passed (and the dog is getting a very late reward). The dogs are cooperative and collaborative and we make sure we all have fun in class anyhow so no harm is done but it sure gives me a new appreciation for Maxine and Peter, Renee and Webb. In some ways scenting is harder to teach. I haven't been playing the game as long so I sure don't have all the answers (not that there is ever just one answer in dog sports - so that's not really new to me) but in other ways it seems easier - perhaps partly for the very same reason that it's newer to me so I am working through many of the same issues as my students so at times might be only a chapter ahead in the text book. (Yes, in high school teacher land I also spend lots of time learning just ahead of my students).

The other thing that has resonated lately is there are things that are very difficult to teach. Patience, empathy, self confidence, a sense of fun - all are so important to learning yet so very hard to teach. As much as I would like to just SCREAM "HAVE FUN" sometimes the act of screaming would kill the fun pretty quickly (at least for the team on the receiving end). My solution? I model, as best as I can, the tougher virtues I would like to see in classes. It works better than one might think.

It is so exciting as a teacher to get to watch students grow and flourish, perhaps the garden analogies that I have heard are truer than I realized before we started growing so much in our gardens (one example from an unknown source, "Teachers who inspire know that teaching is like cultivating a garden"). When minds open, expand and extend beyond my knowledge and understanding I am thrilled. Electrified even at times.

My number one, no holds barred, selfishly favourite thing about teaching? I get to learn. And learn. And then learn more. Through discussions, challenges, questions, observation my learning never stops. For me, no matter the subject that is a real joy of teaching. This sabbatical has already proven to be really exciting for me. Teaching and learning are my life far beyond the day to work that I have l have long loved.

Sunday, April 07, 2013


Yen got to demo her scent game today at class -her fourth time playing the game at all, and her second time as part of her class and she clearly understands the basic rules ...

Sheila was generous enough to handle Sally for me - which I suspect means they have now done as much scent work as Sally and I! I find it hard to demo and hit the points verbally that I want so having Sheila on the leash is awesome!

Another great weekend of work - though I must say I am looking forward to no commute! Victoria Day weekend is my next weekend off so it's a good thing I like the job!

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Srsly? yah seriously ...

"Nothing comes easy, ever, if you want something, you have to work for it. By working for it I mean work on your craft, learn from people who have something to teach. It's just like anything else, practice makes perfect." So says James Lafferty, and we all know actors are always right!

When I take a hiatus from anything then return, I don't get it the way I did before the break and I sure don't expect the dogs (or horses) to either. Yes Brody's agility skills are pretty solid in his own way but I wouldn't simply arrive at a trial and expect him to run as well as he did the last time we were out.

Sally loves to work, her work ethic is staggering in fact, but I don't expect her to be at the level she was in the fall . All we've been able to work all winter are directional swings, and flat work. The rate winter is leaving us I'll be lucky to get any weaves or jumping in before our first trial in May. If that were to happen I would not trial as sad as that would make me. I want to know she's happy and safe on the equipment, fit enough (both physically and mentally) to be eager for the day, and that our lines of communication are working well.  Thanks to the early snow this has been the longest agility hiatus we've had (no lovely local indoor facility here in the middle of Lake Ontario) and I think it will prove to be good for us - as long as I carefully build back to where we were before adding new layers of challenge. 

There is a fine line between over drilling, getting it right, and not doing enough. I'm watching it happen with the horses at the barn I'm riding at too. A horse may sit in a a field for two weeks, be pulled in, worked hard once then tossed back out; another gets drilled every single without ever getting to stretch his top line or have a day off; and then a few seem to have the balance right. So many complexities in these team sports where we have responsibility for a partner.

This very young mare is getting a great balance of work and play