Finding the Strike Zone

It’s hard to throw strikes.

Being a dad means knowing a little bit about a lot of things and learning more about subjects you never thought about that matter to your kids. It means helping with long division, playing Settlers of Catan, and helping small fingers learn how to tie a shoelace. This week, it also meant throwing batting practice.

I was a catcher back in the mid-1880s, when I played baseball wearing wool knickers and a handlebar mustache. Throwing the ball back to the pitcher was never a problem; it was “just playing catch” as I reminded my higher strung battery-mates.

photo 1 (6)How hard could it be then to toss softballs to my daughter at the sandlot? I’m close. They’re softballs. It’s hard.

But I’m her dad. I was going to take the mound.

I threw high. I threw low. She waited patiently, bat bobbing at her shoulder, as I tried to get a pitch over the plate. This was not comfortable.

Ah, comfort, sweet, overrated comfort. As an educator, I know that the meaningful stuff: change, growth, innovation, comes outside our comfort zones. Great teachers not only push students to try new things, great teachers try new things themselves.

Whether it’s blogging or drawing or working out equations, teachers who roll up their sleeves and push themselves as they push their students have a chance to make a huge and lasting difference.

It’s like that for schools too. Uncomfortable with kids on their cell phones in class? Not sure how the new bell schedule will work out? Leaving your meeting with the journalism class unscripted? Good.

Ossification isn’t something that happens just to bones. To remain relevant, flexible, and useful, school must embrace the uncertainty of change.

The way forward is along a path of new ideas, some that work and some that don’t. Systematic evolution comes one step forward and one step back, another sideways, and then a lurch in the right direction.

photo 2 (8)It took me dozens of throws before my daughter got a pitch she could hit. When she connected, we both applauded.

…and kept going.

Ball after ball I noticed three things…

She was patient with me, even as at first I didn’t succeed. As we, as humans, allow each other the opportunity of failure, as patient as we can be with ourselves and those around us, we give ourselves the chance to improve.

We got better, both of us. After a time, I began throwing strikes. She began knocking them onto the outfield grass. Working together we helped each other improve. It reminded me of the interactions I see in classrooms every day.

We had fun. With each ping of the bat (or puff of dust when I bounced a ball in front of the plate) we developed a closer relationship that couldn’t help but lead to a smile.

photo 5 (3)One of my most important jobs as a principal is to encourage an environment where teachers and students are willing to try things they haven’t tried before.

I know they may not throw strikes the first time they pick up the proverbial softball, and that’s okay. If we’re patient, keep trying, and can laugh together, sometime soon we’ll hit it out of the park.

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