Teaching, Learning, and Softball

The point is to learn, not just be taught. Teaching happens along the way, formally and informally, and at its best provides the inspiration and information needed for real learning to take place. This result, however, is what matters most, the answer to the question: “Did they get it?”

I was reminded of the difference between teaching and learning today when my kids and I went to the park to play catch. My daughter is trying softball for the first time this spring, and this afternoon was her first time with a new mitt and bat. She was hungry to learn.

Having coached my son’s T-Ball team, I thought myself a qualified teacher. I pulled my own mitt out of the trunk, bought two new softballs, and thanked my stars to live in a climate that has sunny days in December. Her brother, already looking forward to his own baseball season this spring, put on his Storm cap and joined us.

photo 3We played catch, she took some swings, and drew a smiley face in the infield dirt. As we played, we talked and laughed, connecting with each other while she learned. When one of my throws bounced off her stiff new mitt and into her nose, I hugged her until she stopped crying.

And she learned.

We’ll go out again this week, weather permitting, and she’ll learn some more.

I know that it isn’t my teaching that will make the difference; I’m really just being a dad. As in a healthy classroom, the real learning comes from a curious and motivated student being encouraged, supported, and cared about.

I see this on campus every day, in classrooms, science labs, and art studios. I see students in business class taking chances as they pitch ideas they’ll actually put into action on campus, students in theater bravely performing in front of their peers, and students learning a language new to them embracing the opportunity to understand more about other cultures and ways of communicating. Any of these students could struggle or stumble in the moment, but around them I see teachers ready to hug them if they get bopped in the nose by that metaphoric softball, failure.

It’s what’s best about education, the focus not on teaching, but on seeing students learn.

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