The Value of Teachers Learning how to Play Chess
It's not about Kings, Queens, and Rooks, but rather, quadrants and coordinates, thinking strategically and foreseeing consequences. It's about lines and angles, weighing options and making decisions. Chess might be a perfect professional development tool for teachers. Research shows there is a strong correlation between learning to play chess and academic achievement. While studies have shown that chess has had a positive impact on students, I believe chess can also have a positive impact on the daily practice of teaching.
On any one day, a teacher is faced with hundreds of different decisions. What are my specific goals for today? What activities will help us accomplish these goals? How long should I spend on the discussion? Should I call on this student or that student? How do I design my lessons around the long-term goals? As Doug Lemov states in his book, Teach Like A Champion, "Great teaching is an art...great art relies on the mastery and application of foundational skills, learned individually through diligent study. You learn to strike the chisel with a mallet. You refine the skill with time, learning at what angle to strike and how hard to drive the chisel." Chess is a tool that teachers can use to develop their craft.
If you teach a teacher how to play chess, they quickly comprehend where they should and shouldn't move pieces to capture or avoid capture. As adults play chess, they begin to see the importance of thinking ahead, trying to figure out what their opponent might do next and what their alternatives are too. This ability to anticipate outcomes can transfer to a teacher's ability to plan, design and implement a curriculum. The ability to plan and work backward from specific goals is an essential quality for teachers of all subjects. In the process of playing chess, teachers can enhance their ability to plan ahead and predict outcomes, just as they would when they are planning and designing a lesson or curriculum.
Chess teaches visualization. A teacher needs to be able to visualize outcomes from their designed lessons. The ability to visualize the movement of pieces on the chessboard can strengthen the teacher's ability to visualize the different direction that a lesson can take. On any one day, a teachers' planned lesson can go astray. An interruption from a student interferes with the flow of a discussion. The sound of a fire alarm breaks the momentum of a writing activity. A sudden phone call from a parent takes a student out of the classroom. Teachers are bombarded with these types of distractions and interruptions. These distractions can often take away from the goals of the lesson. If a teacher has a strong grasp of the problem-solving skills learned in chess, he or she will have an effective tool to use against these daily interruptions. Chess strengthens the ability of a teacher to be flexible in an array of different situations.
There are more possible moves in chess than atoms in our observable universe. This idea presents a chess player with many questions and decisions. Should I defend or attack? Should I move my piece backward in order to eventually move forwards? What is my opponent threatening to do? Where should I focus my attention? These questions are similar to the type of decision-making process that makes an effective teacher. Chess is an engaging professional development tool for teachers of all subjects. Learning how to play chess develops the craft of teaching. Chess develops a teachers' ability to be flexible, plan ahead and make different critical decisions.