Fly fishing and the art of teaching

Fall is quickly approaching, and that can only mean one thing... Any guesses?

Beginning of a new school year?  Well, yes, that is something that happens in the fall, but I was thinking of something else... Fall fly fishing!

At this point you're probably wondering why I'm talking about fly fishing on an education blog... Well, it's because educating kids and fly fishing are actually more similar than you would think.  Let me explain...

Fly fishing is a very skills-based activity, although some would argue it's more of an art.  I tend to agree with the latter, although there's an incredible amount of skill that goes into the success of catching a trout on the fly.  The same could be said for educating kids.  While there is a high degree of skill needed to manage a classroom and have successful students, there is an art to the practice.

The similarities do not end there.  I want you to imagine yourself preparing for a day of fishing.  You grab your rod and reel, some waders, a box of flies, and a good hat to keep the sun at bay.  You roll out the door before the sun is up to get a jump on the day.  You head down to the river, tie on a fly, and make your first cast.  Chances are, you are not going to catch many fish all day, no matter how many times you cast that fly in the water.  You might get lucky and land a few fish, but your chances are low and are based more on luck than anything else.  

There is a reason why you won't catch many fish: you haven't gotten to know them.  If you just barrel down to the river and throw in any old fly, the trout are not going to be fooled.  You see, trout are actually very intelligent fish, and they know when you're just winging it.  They're not impressed by your perfect casting, and they don't care that the same fly worked last Saturday...

In order to be a successful fly fisherman, you have to get to know the fish.  You have to observe them in their surroundings.  You have to watch what they eat, when they come to the surface in search of food, and what type of water they like to spend their time swimming in.  You have to be a patient observer, and treat every trout as an individual.  When you finally get to know them, you make your fly selection and pick the best water to present that fly to them.  You'll know you're successful when they rise up and take that fly.  

The challenge does not end there... You still have to land that trout, and that can be as difficult as selecting the right fly.  You see, some trout are very reluctant to go without a fight.  If you fight back with aggression, chances are you'll break your tippet, the trout will escape, and will be much more cautious the next time it feeds.  Your chances of catching that trout again are slim.

So what does all this have to do with teaching?  Kids are very much like the trout in the stream.  As a teacher, you have to begin by being a patient observer.  You have to get to know the children as individuals, what motivates them, what scares them away, and what you can do to get them to take that fly.  You have to watch how they interact with their surroundings... Do they like working with others? Are they solitary students?  Are they auditory learners, or do they need to see it before they can understand it?  Are they more comfortable sitting or standing when they do work?  Is there a part of the classroom they seem to gravitate towards?  Only after you have gotten to know your students can you shape a learning experience that draws them to the surface where your fly is waiting.

There will be students who resist, even when you think you've created a great educational experience for them.  They will want to run, not because they don't want what you have to offer, but because they are scared... Some will be afraid of the unknown or trying something new, others will be afraid of failing.  If you meet this resistance with aggression, they will withdraw from the class and avoid engagement.  Instead, you must respond to resistance with a gentle touch, slowly bringing them closer and closer to the goal of learning.  

So as we start this new school year, we must remember that it's not enough to show up on the first day and expect the trout will be biting... We must take the time to get to know our kids and then select the right fly and present it in a way that draws them in and never lets them go!


  1. Nice metaphor. The more I find out about you, the more I think we are somehow related. You like orange AND fishing? This is awesome.


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