Coaching a Successful Sunday School Teacher Apprentice

Saturday 8th December, 2007

Since I was fifteen, I have enjoyed playing chess. After neglecting the game for ten years, I joined the Internet Chess Club and Chess.com, and I have played games online quite regularly. And my game has dramatically improved.

More than once over the years, I have given pointers to newbies, including my two sons. (I would guess it all started with a presentation about how to play chess that I made in Speech class at Vanderbilt.) But last night was different. Last night was a formal lesson. It included a set time and place (online). It was the first of six lessons with a student I had only met through e-mail.

We had already gotten to know one another. And I had already asked him to assess his game: strengths, weaknesses, and needs. He had been open and honest--a great place to start in getting help! So when we began the lesson, we talked through a game he had played and then a couple of games I had played. We were able to view the games one move at a time and debrief various aspects. In his game, I asked him what he was thinking. In my games, I asked him why I or my opponent made certain moves.

In the course of the lesson, he identified three or four major "light bulbs," ideas that made the lesson worthwhile. One of them was to debrief every game. Win, lose, or draw, it helps to review the game and look for moves and opportunities that were missed. What happened? Why did each player move like they did? What were you thinking? What was he/she thinking? That enables the player to learn from every game twice.

In a similar way, coaching a successful apprentice begins with a time of getting acquainted. Then, assessment is important. What does the apprentice know? What has he/she done? Where does he/she need help? What are strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and needs? Praying together can also form a great beginning!

Establishing some ground rules for interacting is important. When and where will coaching take place? Will it all be informal, or will there be any formal times set aside (in most cases, both are needed)? Then, you as the experienced teacher, must determine a place to start. How can you help the apprentice to stretch in a needed way and experience success, even in a small way? Asking lots of questions helps.

Also, don't just "tell;" "show" him/her what needs to be done! At one point in the lesson last night, I asked him to count the number of squares my pieces controlled on my opponent's side of the board. He only counted some of them. Then, I pointed out the rest. You could tell the cogs in his mind were turning. He had only considered whether he was ahead in chess pieces as determining who was winning the game. Now, he had another measurement.

Help your apprentice to learn how to measure success as a teacher, leader, and person. Help him to include enrollment and attendance but to look beyond them for other signs of success: members in service, spiritual progress, leader development, growth in practicing quiet times, involvement in class sessions and activities, and much more. Help him/her to recognize learning. Affirm progress. Review learning and progress. Help/him or her to be successful and to feel successful!

Who are you coaching as an apprentice? If you are not coaching an apprentice, who could you pray for and begin to invest in? You will find it very rewarding and even fun. Multiply yourself. Be revolutionary!

For more ideas about coaching, check out these blog posts:

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