You can take the teacher out of the classroom, but not the classroom out of the teacher.
Both my boys play hockey and we spend much of our time at rinks. Now that they’re older I’ve stopped watching practices during the week. I drive back and forth across the state to whichever rink they need to be at, but I carve out the rest of that time for reading or catching up on the news.
As a kind of trade off, my husband and I volunteer to run the clock and keep the scoresheet for all of the boys’ home games. I decided at some point that I was more tuned in to the game in the scoring box than when I was gabbing with the other moms or listening to the dads berate the refs.
So this afternoon I found myself in the box. It’s been a mixed bag of a season to say the least. Between our two teams we’ve experienced most of the lows that exist in hockey, and a few of the highs as well. My younger son was carried off the ice on a backboard early in the season after a chance hit. My older son was ejected after a hit that would have been clean, except that the other player fell into the boards (turns out boarding is a tricky rule). As a family, we understand both sides of that experience. Some weekends both boys play well…other times it doesn’t look like they remember that this is a game they love.
Cut to the rink…
Tweeeeeet! Kshhhh! The whistle stopped play and skates cut to a stop. Shaking himself off, the blue goalie scooped up the puck he’d been shielding and handed it to the ref. Players on both teams skated off to their respective benches as the new line took their places for the faceoff.
My finger hovered over the toggle switch to start the clock again at the puck drop. Tweeeet. Drop. Sticks rapped together and bodies shifted into motion. But my attention was arrested by what was happening on the team bench to my left.
“WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING?! THAT’S RIGHT, YOU! I SAW YOU JUST STAND THERE. WHY WEREN’T YOU….” the coach’s rant continued as he loomed over an eleven year old girl on his bench.
I glanced over as his voice rose and his anger streamed across the space. He saw me look, but carried on unfazed. She saw me looking, too. But she quickly ducked her head. I was witnessing her shame. Her teammates stared ahead at the play unfolding on the ice. Neither comfort nor witness from them.
I averted my eyes and returned to watching my son’s shift.
As a teacher and an instructional coach for teachers, that scene on the team bench irked me. That coach was demeaning and disheartening his players. There was little chance that his approach would result in better play. He told them they were bad, but not how to play better. I felt a surge of gratitude toward my sons’ coaches over the years who have nurtured them, given feedback–positive or corrective–but gently and with respect. With their guidance both boys have become smart, skilled players who love the game.
I found myself thinking that hollering isn’t the only way that those of us who lead can make our teams feel small. It reminded me that as a coach of students and teachers I need to be on the lookout for the signals that my approach, however gentle it feels to me, is having a disheartening effect. The outcome of that hockey game mattered very little in the scheme of life.
Similarly, no one task or lesson at school matters more than the child in front of us. All of them put together couldn’t matter more than the child. I am not teaching reading as much as I’m coaching children how to be learners, how to face challenges in their world with resilience and even joy. I’m not guiding teachers to use assessments or data or an set of instructional practices so much as I’m helping them to be the kinds of coaches I’d want for my own boys. And I’m trying to help those children and those teachers love their game so they can play their best.