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Tom Parry, assistant professor of physical education and exercise science
Tom Parry, assistant professor of physical education and exercise science

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What makes a great teacher? Just ask Tom Parry

What makes a great teacher or an exceptional coach? Is it the physical act of teaching? The assessment of athletes? The nature—and frequency—of feedback? The practice schedule? These are all questions Assistant Professor of Physical Education and Exercise Science Tom Parry is exploring. 

Parry is currently working on a better theoretical understanding of how practice schedule and feedback provision influence motor skill performance and learning. In fact, some of Parry’s findings regarding feedback run counter to what many coaches practice. “If you watch most coaches, they will provide feedback to their athletes very frequently, when years of research has shown that lower frequencies of feedback are actually more beneficial, as it allows athletes to problem solve and evaluate their own performance, which is essential for learning.”  

As a high school and club-level soccer coach, Parry finds plenty of opportunities to apply his research findings. But he also believes the research reaches far beyond the soccer field. “If you think of all the different movement skills people complete—from learning fundamentals in elementary school to controlling surgical equipment for a complex surgery—facilitating the teaching of movement skills is very important.”

As a man who devotes his life to studying feedback and assessment, Parry is particularly interested in the ways in which his students evaluate the courses he teaches at Northeastern. “The best course evaluation I had so far is that I have high standards for my students and that it makes them have high standards for their own work and performance,” Parry said. “I want to push their boundaries and show them they can achieve great things with hard work.”

Parry practices what he preaches. Over the course of his career, his hard work and research has resulted in a number of publications and presentations, as well as in a new design for track starting blocks that was eventually used in the Track and Field World Championships. “There is no substitute for hard work,” Parry said. “If you can impart a strong work ethic to students, they are more likely to work through problems and take leadership roles in their careers, usually making them more successful in the process.”

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