This post was originally written for the ntcamp blog and is crossposted there.


Jack Nicklaus was an exceptional master golfer. In his legendary career, he won a record 18 major tournaments, and had a total of 115 professional wins. Many writers have listed him as the greatest golfer in history.

You’d think the guy who is the world’s best golfer would have nothing new to learn about the sport. Yet every year, Nicklaus would go back to his teacher, Jack Grout, and say, “Teach me how to golf.” Grout would treat him as a novice golfer. They started with the absolute fundamentals: grip, stance, setup, alignment. Why? Here’s how Nicklaus describes it in his book, Golf My Way:

Apart from reinstilling their importance in my mind, this often has the effect of ironing out some of the bad habits I may have slipped into the previous year.
This was a habit that Nicklaus maintained throughout his career, and it is a habit that teachers would do well to emulate. Every year as you plan to begin a new school year, take the opportunity to think of yourself as a brand new teacher again. Here are a few steps you can take and the reasons they are valuable.

  1. Get your own “teaching pro.” Jack Grout would likely be the first to admit that in a round of golf he’d probably have no shot at playing better than Nicklaus. That didn’t make him less helpful as a teacher. Even if you are the most experienced, most accomplished professional in your school, find a colleague whom you trust and respect to partner with you. Having another teacher to give you honest feedback, share ideas, and help you focus your attention on the essentials can keep your skills sharp.
  2. Review the fundamentals. Just as Jack Nicklaus needed to start over every year learning how to grip the club, teachers ought to start every year reviewing the fundamentals of their craft. Revisiting things you may take for granted, like your teaching philosophy, basic classroom rules and procedures, and instructional design, will help you refine your technique. You may also recognize areas where you have taken shortcuts or allowed bad habits to creep into your teaching.
  3. Keep up with the latest changes in the sport…and in you. Many changes happened in the golf world as Jack Nicklaus progressed through his career. Equipment improved and golf course design evolved. Advances in physiology helped golfers understand their swing mechanics better. Similar changes happen in education every year–and sometimes every week. Not only that, but your students are different. And so are you. To ignore all of those differences and assume that we can continue teaching exactly the same way we taught five or fifteen years ago is to do a disservice to our students. Stay current.
  4. Practice. This certainly means something different for an educator than it does for a golfer. We don’t have the luxury of spending hours at the driving range and on the practice green tweaking our swing and our stroke. We are on the course every day, playing a match that counts. So we have to practice differently. Reflect every day on what took place in your classroom and what you want to do differently the next day to make it work better. Share with your colleagues things that worked well–and that didn’t. Blog regularly and read blogs. Build your professional network and contribute to the field.

Even though the start of the year is the logical time to take these steps, you don’t have to wait. Start tomorrow: what’s one thing you can do now that will make a bigger difference in your students and will make you just a little bit better than you were yesterday?