Reflections on Skill Building
Tuesday, August 28, 2012 at 8:32PM
Terence Houlihan


Early evening is my favorite time at the beach.  This summer, I spent quite a few evenings on the beach while vacationing on LBI.  While doing so, I was entertained by a group of teenage boys who showed up at 5 PM every day with their skimmer boards in hand.

There were four or five who came to perfect their “wave riding” skills.  Each in turn would position himself in a spot with his board anchored in the sand, lean on the board and intently focus on the breaking waves.  At any given moment, one would grab their board and sprint toward the ocean.  What became immediately evident was the differences in skill level that each boy displayed.  The more skilled boy could catch the wave, turn the board and ride it in to shore.  And he could do it consistently.  I identified him as the “expert” in the group.  The others could, maybe, catch the wave, but were sure to fall into the ocean while trying the turn or the riding the wave back to shore.

As I watched these boys repeat the process of running into the ocean with varying degrees of success and running back to their starting point to watch and wait for the next opportunity to do it again, I was fascinated.  I wondered how long they had been practicing.  Did the “expert” start at a younger age than the others?  How many skills did they have to master before even getting to this point: patience, focus, timing, balance, discernment, the ability to think critically?  Were they aware that they had developed these skills in their desire to "catch a wave"?

I thought of the students we work with as educators and the skills they are trying to master in their classes.   Do we allow our students enough opportunities to practice the skills we want them to acquire?  Do we think about the preliminary skills they will need before they can become experts?  Do we take into account that although they may all be of the same age, they may have started skill development earlier or later than their peers and therefore, will need different entry points? Do we spend enough time acknowledging the skills they possess?  Do we make it a point to create awareness of these skills in them and motivate them to use them as building blocks?

Article originally appeared on (
See website for complete article licensing information.