Sunday, July 20, 2014

Lessons for the Classroom from the Baseball Field

Today I drove to a nearby town to get groceries and reflected on the end of Luke’s baseball season. It was a truly amazing season and I hated to see it end. That is unusual for me, to say the least. Luke and Liam have played in various sports each season since they were old enough for t-ball, so for Luke that equals eight years of sports, often three sports a year. I always embrace the end of a season, looking forward to a short break before the next sport begins. Why would I care this year? This picture from last night sums it up well, it’s about relationships.
Photo bomb courtesy of Luke's coach, Seth.
When watching Luke’s coaches all season I saw excellent teachers. Luke has had great coaches over the years, but Seth, Kurt, and Ryan are on another level. They knew each player well. Some players need few words and short directions. Others need to be built up, reassurance and encouragement to be given regularly. These guys made practices fun, games competitive, and ensured each player felt valued and a part of a team. If there was an issue, they dealt with it quickly, decisively, but kindly. They knew when to step in, and when to let the kids lead the way. All qualities of excellent coaches and teachers. I was impressed and grateful.

When we signed up, I was a bit worried about Luke joining the team simply because he didn’t have any friends on it. Luke can be shy and have a hard time joining others. He is absolutely loud and outspoken with his friends, but around kids he doesn’t know, he hangs back. This group had a couple kids from his grade whom he really didn’t know, and many kids from the grades above. They were amazing. I knew most of them from teaching and was consistently impressed with how they encouraged each other, but also how well they knew each other. They knew who could handle being razzed, but who (Luke) needed more encouragement.

Today I watched Luke strike out for the second time in the game. My heart broke as I felt paralyzed. I obviously wasn’t going to go over to the dugout to talk to him, that would mortify him in front of the older boys. But I also knew he would be beating himself up over that out. Looking over at the dugout from my chair, I watched him brush away a tear, and several immediately popped into my own eyes. I then saw two older boys grab him in a bear hug, pat him on the back, and continue to watch the game with their arms across his shoulders. My heart swelled with gratitude.

It was in watching this scene unfold that I realized what an excellent community had been created with this team.
  •       Kids led all warm-up activities. They knew what was expected of them, did it without trying to get out of work, and took turns leading.
  • When one child would be at the end of the running exercise, another would automatically drop back to join and finish with them. No adult prodding needed, they supported their teammates.
  • If someone was struggling with pressure on the field or off, encouraging words were offered.
  • Coaches connected with every kid, not just the better athletes. Each child got individualized instruction.
  • Hard work was recognized and rewarded always.
  • Praise was specific and given to all kids.
  • Mistakes were faced head on and advice was given how to improve in the future. 

I’ve been writing a lot about classroom management lately, so it is constantly on my mind. Luke’s team had a wide range of kids on it and all achieved levels of success. Relationships and community lead to engagement and ownership. This season left me inspired for what potential there is in a good team – on the field or in the classroom. I’m grateful Luke had the chance to be part of this one.