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Creating a Scaffolding of Support

Though there is no singular blueprint for what an inclusive practice looks like, there are several best practices that can help set students up for a positive and educational experience. Many of the tools from the recruitment section of this course remain applicable throughout the school year and can help create a solid foundation for all students. In addition, coaches can use the strategies below to help support student growth in a more individualized way.

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Set goals

To create a meaningful educational experience, it can be helpful for coaches to help their students to set goals. Students should define what would make them feel successful within the activity and then work with coaches to break long-term goals into short-term, actionable objectives. Some of these goals may be short-term and some may span a student’s full time on the team. Goals can be flexible as students learn more about the activity and begin to grow but taking the time to establish goals can give students a clear roadmap of what to work on and help build a sense of autonomy.

Appropriate goals will vary depending on the competitor and the event. Coaches can help to scaffold growth by setting a short-term goal based on where the student starts off and increasing that goal each time that it is met. Some examples could be:

  • Increasing the amount of eye contact a student makes during the duration of their speech by setting a target length and increasing the goal each time a student reaches it. 
  • Expanding on the number of sources a student uses in an extemp speech or debate rebuttal.
  • Practicing giving speeches in an informal setting with a decreasing length of notes for each subsequent speech.
  • Extending the amount of time a student is able to speak extemporaneously when giving a rebuttal by setting a target amount of time and adjusting the target once a student is able to consistently achieve it. 

Create clear and consistent expectations

Setting clear and consistent expectations is always important but is especially critical when working with students with executive functioning needs, as well as with students who may have difficulties with sudden changes or who will need to coordinate participating around Outside Service Providers. Extensive research has shown that student performance is often tied to teacher expectations.

Coaches can create a positive environment for student growth by having expectations around behavior, appropriate participation, deadlines, and other team logistics clearly indicated and consistently enforced. By keeping expectations clear and consistent, coaches build space for students to know what to expect and can better work with students to determine what supports they will need to successfully meet these expectations.

Build in space for self-advocacy.

When creating an accessible space, coaches should keep the student voices in the forefront of planning. Even the most seasoned and well-intended coaches will not be able to anticipate the needs of their students perfectly without giving those students a place to safely advocate. While some students may find it easy to explain what they are feeling or what they need, others may need more direct instruction or explicit opportunities to advocate. Coaches should keep in mind: 

Create opportunities to check in with students outside of a general forum.

Students may not always feel comfortable explaining what is getting in their way in front of peers. Holding office hours or building in time to touch base during practice can allow coaches to be able to proactively work through roadblocks. Coaches should also make sure that there are clear directions for how students can reach out to them via email. This can be a good way for students who feel intimidated talking in person to open the door to advocacy.  

Approach problem solving with an open mind. 

There may be questions or obstacles that come up that are completely new to you or that might not have immediate answers. There are many resources available that can help you to work through unfamiliar territory but your mindset as a coach and educator plays an important role in solving problems. Your students will often take their lead from their coaches when determining if a challenge is able to be solved.

Be aware of your reactions. 

While every situation is different, many students may be self-conscious about “causing an inconvenience” and may avoid situations where they feel they may be judged for what they are doing. Your immediate reactions when a student approaches you with a concern or challenge will often shape the interaction. Mindful responses, even when you do not have all of the answers, can help to create an open environment.

Model honest communication.

While preemptively planning can help you be as prepared as possible, there will be situations that come up where you may not be sure of the answer or may need more information. As coaches, it can be hard to admit when we do not know something or are not sure. When in new situations, it can be helpful to face uncertainty openly and to ask for some time to find the answer. Taking the opportunity to find the answer can be more beneficial in the long run than giving a vague answer or one that you are not sure is correct. In these situations, be sure to circle back and follow up with the student once you have an update.

Reframe failure or frustration. 

It is inevitable that every coach and student participating in this activity will experience some degree of failure. Though failure is necessary to growth, when layered on top of additional external barriers, failure can demotivate students or drive them from the activity. Fortunately, coaches who recognize this can proactively plan ways to make an experience of frustration or perceived failure into a meaningful educational experience.

Acknowledge emotions

While many of the strategies in this section will focus on how to rebound and learn from failure, it is necessary to acknowledge that the emotions students may feel are valid. Feelings of frustration or discouragement may be felt more acutely when a student is working through the result of one of the aforementioned social or structural barriers. Reframing a situation can be done much more effectively when the core feelings a student is experiencing are acknowledged and validated. 

Focus on teachable moments.

Coaches and educators have a unique opportunity to help students find opportunities to learn from their setbacks. These teachable moments often come in the form of learning what resources they have available to them or what steps they could take in the future. Coaches can help students to focus on the concrete takeaways after a tournament by having the student fill out a self-reflection at the end of each tournament and then setting up a time to go through the reflection, as well as feedback on the ballots, and determining specific areas of growth as well as places to focus on in the future. 

Coaches should be cognizant of the self-talk that a student is using. While it is often important to validate the frustration a student is feeling, coaches can play a powerful role in rewriting negative self-talk by focusing on strengths and growth as well as by helping the student to name specific actions they can take moving forward. Highlighting the concrete takeaways students can use in the future can help them to build a sense of autonomy.

Strategy Share: At the end of each tournament have students list out one thing that went well, one thing that they learned, and one thing that they will look to change in the future. Have them log these as a running list in a journal, in their phones, or on their computers. Listing out items in each of these three areas can help to reinforce that, even when there are experiences to learn from, there is also growth happening.

It is possible that they may have more than one thing in each category but keeping those categories equal and relatively short will stop the list from becoming overwhelming.

Normalize owning mistakes

There will be times when a failure or frustration is the result of a mistake made by a student or a coach. Sometimes these are completely accidental or can be a maladaptive way of responding to a frustration that the student is facing. In these moments, it is important for coaches and educators to foster accountability that allows individuals to own mistakes and respond appropriately without creating a culture of shame or blame. In addition, if a coach makes an error, modeling that same ownership can be a powerful way to set up a healthy team dynamic that moves toward growth.

Find time for recognition

While all growth experiences will come with some degree of frustration or setbacks, coaches can help to put these in perspective by elevating and celebrating accomplishments throughout the season. These can be milestones or small achievements. While competitive success is often celebrated, building in additional forms of recognition can help build an inclusive community and help students to recognize growth throughout the season. Some examples of recognition are:

Collect student shout outs before and read them out at the beginning of practice.

Highlight a tournament MVP based on who has exemplified team values or the Honor Code.

Celebrate milestones throughout the season, such as achieving short-term goals.

Have older students highlight one positive observation about each younger student.

End the tournament with a “my top moment” from each team member.

Have students list three ways they have grown and three goals they have at the end of each marking period.

Create team superlative awards for an end of the year banquet. You can find certificates for student superlatives here.

Include a senior spotlight that highlights each senior in a team communication.

Start a practice with each student listing what they are proud of on an index card. You can display these where everyone can see or let students keep their card as a reminder.

As a coach, make it a goal to notice what went well for each student who went to a tournament and point it out. This can help to make recognition a team norm.