I have struggled with my weight for most of my life. I typically do not enjoy working out. I would consider myself an optimistic person with lofty goals for my overall health...but not especially in control of my own willpower.
A student joked with me the other day:
Them: Mr. McKinney, are you on a seafood diet?
Me: No...I’ve never heard of that.
Them: It’s whenever you see food, you eat it.
Me: Hardy har har...
I was not offended. I laughed out loud. Self-deprecating humor is my go-to. This stems from that little voice inside of me that is quite negative and very persistent in shooting down most of my aspirations. I joke to hide the pain.
The reason I share some of my personal demons with you is that I feel like I’m pretty normal—we all have issues that we wrestle with. No one starts out with the body of a demigod. Hercules? I’m probably closer to Maui...without the magical hook or cool tattoos. Note the deprecation? Bear with me.
But for the last three months and counting, I have been hooked on Peloton. My wife and I made a pact to exercise every day as a 2021 New Year’s resolution. We don’t have the Peloton Bike or Tread because—let’s face it—we’re teachers and have three kids….we couldn't justify spending thousands of dollars just now. So we signed up for a two-month free trial of the app and have been taking daily strength, yoga, meditation, cardio, stretching, and outdoor running classes on demand. Surprisingly, it’s been going really well.
So why have I been able to stick with an exercise routine recently when it never really worked before? I believe it has something to do with the way that Peloton works. It’s addictive in a good way, and it’s my opinion that teachers everywhere could learn a thing or two from the system that has helped us to be successful so far.
“Welcome to the team...Welcome to the family.” These are some of the first things that the coaches tell you when you join their class. There’s no ego. There’s no competition. There’s no judgment when you’re in the zone. Their classes are meant to build the participants up, not pit them against each other or tear them down. Digital high fives are shared among members. The encouragement doled out freely is a big part of what makes me want to keep coming back. It’s definitely a positive place to “glow up.”
This same feeling should be the result of how you operate your class. How do you begin your day with kids? One of the trainers, Jess Sims, always starts by affirming the collective effort of the group: “You’ve already done the hardest part: showing up. You’re here! Check, done.” Carve out time in your class to say something similar. Build the camaraderie by acknowledging the challenges that they’ve already faced just to be present. You don't know what they've already experienced just to get to school—a fight at home between parents...bullies on the bus...no breakfast. It’s important to remember that we may be unaware of what precipitating factors have they already overcome to get there. This may well be the easiest part of their day—learning from a teacher who cares about them and wants them to succeed. Collaboration and group problem solving is the modus operandi. While everyone deserves their own personal journey of growth, it will happen faster and more effectively when students regularly receive encouragement from their teacher and classmates.
When you join a Peloton class, you know what you’re getting yourself into. The instructors start each session off with an overview of where they’re taking you during the workout. They let you know how long the class will be, what specific moves you’re going to do, and how it might help you with your future physical endeavors.
When your students join your class, they should be able to expect the same consistency in some aspects of their day, but not in others. Let me explain. The structure of your day, for the most part, should remain the same. Beginning the day with a morning meeting to set the tone for the day. Sharing an overview of the schedule will help students to feel prepared and aware of how their day will go. Most people are creatures of habit. Do you park in the same spot in the lot? Eat at the same spot in the lounge? Pull the same mug from the shelf every day? I thought so. Within that overall structure, of course, teachers should create unique learning opportunities for students. While predictability brings a strong feeling of comfort, novelty brings an equal amount of engagement.
Peloton has added a very cool community-building feature, wherein you can add tags to your profile page. These affinity groups let you see where all of the like-minded individuals on the app are at. It’s an easy way to make “friends” in the virtual space. In an era marked by disconnect due to the global pandemic, it feels more essential than ever to offer opportunities to grow your authentic connections, even if it’s in an artificial space. My tags? #PelotonTeachers #BlackLivesMatter and #WearaDamnMask.
The classrooms of today’s schools need to be doing the same thing. Give students as many opportunities as possible, whether they’re learning remotely, in person, or stuck in a purgatory-style blended hybrid of the two, to maintain connections to their friends who share similar interests. Make space for kids to geek out over whatever makes them happy. Establish a Roblox room, a fantasy football league, an Hour of Code club, a Minecraft menagerie. Schools in any form should not just be places of learning, but spaces for socialization.
Burpees are the worst. If you’ve ever done one, you know what I’m talking about. Or maybe you disagree. And that’s the key! Just because you find joy (or at least worth) in squatting down and placing your hands on the ground, jumping your feet back to assume a high plank position, jumping your feet forward to return to the squatting posture, and then jumping back up out of the squat like you’re about to do the Y in YMCA...doesn’t mean that I do. The instructors of Peloton don’t just understand that their attendees come to them with varying levels of physical fitness—they plan for it! Alternative moves are not only offered but encouraged. They know that form is more important than following along, so they tell you what you can do to differentiate for yourself. Usually, there are three levels that they offer you, and there’s no shame in choosing the level that best meets your needs.
The same mentality of customization of learning should be standard in the classroom. In my opinion, all students deserve to have an Individualized Education Plan. Just as I’m not ready to throw myself to the ground, again and again, I know that not all of my students are going to be ready to jump in at our class’s starting point. They need to be treated as individuals with individual needs...not students to be standardized to “my way or the highway.” Standardization ignores the knowledge and social capital that students bring to the room. We want our students to thrive in an unpredictable world, and they won’t be able to when we are using the skills that were necessary 100 years ago, so customize your content to fit their needs. Or better yet, listen to their individual learning needs and allow them to decide their course of inquiry...like an educational Choose Your Own Adventure.
The mantra, “you can do difficult things” is a refrain you’ll hear every time you tune in to one of the high-energy workouts. These trainers know that it’s their job to push you to the edge of your comfort zone and beyond—we all understand that’s where the magic happens. In the same way that you feel like the characters on your favorite sitcoms become like friends to you, the instructors go out of their way to make you feel “seen” for your efforts. My favorite trainers make me feel validated as I enter my “glazed donut” state. Hearing the words, “I see you and acknowledge that we’re working hard!” makes me feel like my struggle is not only real but necessary for progress.
I believe this same attitude of challenging ourselves needs to be applied in the classroom as well. As my teaching partner and co-author Zach Rondot and I put it in our book, The Expert Effect: A Three-Part System to Break Down the Walls of Your Classroom and Connect Your Students to the World, “When we give children the chance to push to themselves and explore their own limits, we are scaffolding them to go further than they ever thought possible, and in the process, we help lay the groundwork which builds confidence to take on even bigger challenges in the future” (McKinney & Rondot, 2021). As my favorite trainer, Adrian Williams often says, “Impress yourself today!” Talk about internal motivation.
“Give yourself a high five!” “Give yourself a pat on the back.” These constant reminders that you are worthy and that you are making a difference are phrases that everyone—athletes-in-training, students, and teachers—deserves to hear regularly. So if no one has told you these things lately, I will! You are special and your hard work deserves to be celebrated. I love that the instructors on Peloton regularly give shoutouts to team members by name—those working on their 500th strength class as well as the first-time newbies—they celebrate accomplishments with joyful abandon.
What opportunities can you sprinkle in throughout the day to celebrate students’ achievements? As a teacher, it’s not only important to celebrate the accomplishments students experience during learning but also celebrate the differences between the individuals in the classroom, too. We all get to be here in this place, with all of our uniqueness...we get to share in this community to work together, to not only make ourselves better but our world a better place through our learning. So spread the love and positivity. Not only will make a difference to the climate of your classroom, but it will also come back to you in turn!
This has in no way been sponsored or endorsed by Peloton. I doubt that anyone there will ever see this blog post. But I really cannot say enough positive things about it. While I doubt that I will ever have the biceps of Andy Speers or the glutes of Matty Maggiacomo, I know that there’s a lot that I can learn from the way these coaches inspire me to improve myself and apply their positive pedagogy in the classroom. I hope you will be able to as well. If it can help a reluctant athlete like me, it may be able to help your reluctant learners.
Welcome to the team!
Grayson McKinney, Ed.S.
@GMcKinney2 on Twitter and Clubhouse
And in case you wanted to know…BearsAndBeets on Peloton
Grayson has been an educator for over 15 years. He is a 5th-grade teacher from Michigan and a dynamic presenter who loves connecting with educators to grow his Professional Learning Family. He and his teaching partner, Zach Rondot, are the co-authors of an upcoming EduMatch publication, The Expert Effect: A Three-Part System to Break Down the Walls of Your Classroom and Connect Your Students to the World, soon to be available on Amazon and BarnesandNoble.com. In #ExpertEffectEDU, Grayson and Zach write about the benefits of getting your students to learn from experts outside the classroom, become experts in their own right through project-based learning, and teach as experts to authentic audiences, both near and far.