How Swimming Instructors Should Interact with Their Students
How should swimming instructors interact with their students? One of the most difficult aspects of teaching, especially for a new teacher, is to find the best way to interact with students. Some young teachers err in the direction of trying to make students “like” them. The role of the teacher is not that of a “friend.” Teachers should act in a student’s best interest from the perspective of an adult. At the other extreme, some beginning teachers are so concerned with losing control of their class, they are often reluctant to communicate their humanness to students. Students want a relationship with an adult that is supportive and guiding. They want to know that the teacher cares about them and about what they do.
Teaching is largely about affect: Adults who are caring and concerned professionals who have a responsibility to (1) help students learn and (2) promote students’ personal growth.
Through the manner in which they interact with students, teachers can communicate a professional and supportive relationship with their students that says. “I care.” At Swim Lessons University, I always train instructors to follow our proven lessons plans, use our lingo, use the step-by-step progressions, etc. But while doing that, I remind them that even while there is a specific way we want you to do things, that DOES NOT CHANGE your personality. I can’t teach personality. Each of you are unique individuals and you’ll find your own way of sharing yourself with our young swimmers to promote their own growth.
Here are some ideas that should be considered:
1. Learn your students’ names and use them.
No matter how many students you teach, an essential and minimal form of recognition for students is that you know their name. Using your class roster each class really helps. But please make learning names a priority.
2. Be enthusiastic and positive about what you are doing.
Enthusiasm is contagious. Many people assume that enthusiasm is a personality trait of very outgoing or “bubbly” people. But enthusiasm doesn’t necessarily always have to be such high-energy behavior. Students will know by the tone of your voice and the manner in which you approach a class how enthusiastic you are about what you are doing.
3. Project a caring attitude toward all students.
Caring is projected primarily through a genuine interest and recognition of each of your students. Caring is projected by an instructor through a sensitivity to the feelings of students and the significance your students place on their interactions with you. Caring swim instructors tune in to the child. Caring swim instructors do not condone misbehavior, but in dealing with misbehavior they do not undermine the integrity of the individual child as a person.
4. Reinforce basic values.
I’m talking about honesty, tolerance, respect, and effort by modeling these behaviors, as well as reinforcing them in your swimming classes. According to Good and Brophy, 1990, when you teach a responsibility for developing prosocial behaviors, you can create personal growth. Prosocial behaviors are simply the behaviors stated above and ones that demonstrate a responsibility for helping people without being prompted by external rewards.
Do not reinforce behavior destructive to self or others by doing nothing about it. Students learn acceptable ways of interacting with each other not only by what you do, but also by what you don’t do. Values, tolerance, and respect for others are learned. Swim Instructors must find ways of communicating what is acceptable and what is not acceptable.
6. Treat all of your students fairly.
Make it a practice to intentionally treat your students impartially. It is easy for teachers to gravitate to the more skilled students or even to the students who the teacher believes will threaten their class control. Attention to all students can be facilitated if you make a conscious effort to consider each student, and make it a point to give attention to students you may have been unintentionally slighting.
7. Learn to be a good listener and observer of student responses.
We can easily become more attuned to our students by listening to and observing the subtle meanings of their messages communicated by the manner in which they interact with you, each other, and learning skills. This is one that I have really had to work on, and I am still not as skilled as my wife, Coach Heather. I am always stunned when she observes my classes and later points something out that I never saw. So we all have things we need to improve and while we may never be perfect at everything. Personally, I think there’s a lot of fun in the challenge to improve on something which is a weakness.
The International Swimming Hall of Fame has named Jim Reiser the recipient of the 2015 Virginia Hunt Newman Award for his curriculum and approach in teaching infants, toddlers, and children to swim. Jim was the first American to win the award in 10 years.
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