The Boxing Professor Presents: Pivot!

Author: Ariel Margolis
Published Date: July 7, 2017

Yep. You read correctly. I am a professor and I box (not the kind you find at the post office).

Got your attention? Good. Then I did what my blogging teacher taught me.


Six months ago, I started blogging (again), thanks to Dylan Rodgers, Creative Content extraordinaire at Schoology. I used my LMS’ platform to post (you guessed it, Schoology). As with all LMSs, the blog was limited to Schoologiers (about 18 million users).

Dylan suggested I branch out and publish my work to a more public forum, for the sole reason that my story is my own, and all the better if more people can learn from it.

So, here goes:

Pivoting. In sports, it is the art of changing direction. It is commonly seen in basketball (and especially heard by the squeaking of the players’ sneaks on the court). This week at my Title Boxing Club, I learned how to pivot. Typically, it is done after a sequence of punches. It’s a way to change direction (and not be at the receiving end of your opponent’s glove). It’s quick. It’s sharp.

It’s noticeable.

Afterward, I reflected on how many times I pivot in the classroom. I am not talking about changing my direction to catch a yakking student. I mean pivot from the direction of the class - be it the structure, content, skill, or activity.

We teachers typically follow a plan (from Teaching 101, it is lesson 2 “Have a Plan”, which is preceded by lesson 1, “Know Where Your Classroom is”). We follow that plan. It is a good plan. After all, we created it.

Yet, what happens when the plan goes awry? By that, I mean, what happens when the students in front of you - be it kindergarteners or graduate students - appear dazed as if they were hit by a jab (please note that I am not promoting corporal punishment. Remember, this blog is about boxing, too)?

I remember in my first years of teaching I would press on and stick with the plan despite looks of frustration, disengagement, and confusion from my students. As the number of times I entered the ring - the classroom - increased, I realized that building the relationship with students requires pivoting. We need to adjust to meet our students (just as in boxing we adjust to our opponent). I remember teaching my 6th-grade science students about different bodies of water (kettle, pond, cup, bottle) and my SpideyTM sense picked up that they were… bored to tears. I took a breath and said, “You know what? Let’s stop. Tell me what you want to learn in Earth Science this year?”

I pivoted.

The shock on their faces was profound. Was I for real? (Is “for real” still a phrase?). They clearly had not been asked that question. Silence hung in the air, as I waited for a response. For a while I thought, “Oh no. They will think I lost my mind” and questioned whether I should throw in the towel.

Then, one brave soul said, “I would love to learn about Volcanoes!” Others agreed.

The next day, we started learning about Volcanoes. It meant changing my plans and approach. I pivoted.

The result? I had a rowdy bunch of pre-hormonal 6th graders excited to learn. We studied Pompeii and Dr. Evil’s famous phrase:

We learned the concepts of pressure and temperature; we used project-based learning to create volcanoes and critical thinking skills to analyze volcanic activity around the Pacific Ring of Fire.

I carry that lesson with me when I teach (and now when I box, thanks to my trainers!). In my four years of teaching graduate students about Special Education, I have pivoted several times, based on my primary stakeholders’ needs. Each time, I am successful because my students are successful.

Is pivoting scary? You bet. Pivoting in the middle of a class, or lesson means going to possibly uncharted waters for you and landing in trouble (I remember the time I pivoted in science and it resulted in the principal telling me to get back on track or else); in boxing, it means potentially striking your opponent, or being struck if the pivot is caught early.

Yet pivoting is necessary because just as in boxing your opponent neither stands still nor is 100% predictable, so too, students are unpredictable (and they certainly do not stand still).

Have you pivoted before? What was it like for you?


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