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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Appreciation

_img_0175Close on the heels of Thanksgiving Break, the prompt for this week’s #YourEdustory blogging challenge asks what, as educators, we’re most thankful for. In this sentimental time of year, a topic like this invites an emotional response, and I’ll admit that my heart is on my sleeve as I jot out my answer.

So… I’m thankful for a job that is fun, and hard, and worthwhile. I’m thankful to work with people I admire, people who make me laugh, and people who inspire me to be the best I can be. Some of these people are adults, teachers, staff, alumni, and parents; some of these people are teenagers. I’m fortunate to be surrounded by exuberance and passion for teaching and learning every day.

photo 3 (2)I’m also thankful for my family. Not to go too far off topic, I know that any balance and sanity I’m able to bring to my work is a direct result of being married to a kind and supportive wife and gaining the perspective of being a dad to my amazing kids. Without my family, I wouldn’t be half the person, or educator, I aspire to be. They, more than anything else, make me who I am.

And finally, I’m thankful for the future. Being an educator means always looking forward. Filled with both possibility and uncertainty, what lies ahead encourages me, engages me, and motivates me. You’ll hear some say that working with students keeps us young, and while the fellow in my mirror doesn’t appear overly youthful, I do believe that those of us who have the privilege of working in schools do believe in the goodness of the next generation. We see in our students hope and change, passion and purpose, and the potential for greatness unimaginable.

For all these things, and the thousand small kindnesses I see around me everyday, I’m thankful. Moving into the final three (school) weeks of the calendar year, I hope to slow down enough to share my appreciation with those around me. It’s a busy time, a potentially hectic time, and (maybe because of this bustle) the perfect time to seek out those around us and say “thank you.”