My teaching partner, Paula, has a real knack for connecting with kids. She taught me a lot over the years when we worked together. Paula regularly reminded me that we have to find authentic ways to develop relationships with students, and oftentimes, it’s those children who are the hardest to connect with that might need these connections most of all. I thought about this on Friday.
I was on duty of Friday afternoon, and with all of the Grade 1’s and some Grade 2’s on a field trip, the primary blacktop duty was a lot quieter than usual. This gave me an opportunity to really look around at everyone playing together and notice those students that might be playing alone. Now don’t get me wrong: some children want and need independent play or some quiet time at recess. As an adult, I’m like those kids. But not every child who’s playing alone is making the choice to do so, and these are the kids that I was taking special notice of at recess time.
One of these students was holding a basketball. He started to dribble. There were groups of children playing basketball together, but this child was dribbling alone. It’s important to mention here that I know almost nothing about basketball and have questionable skills related to the sport, but I do kind of know how to dribble. I have a Phys-Ed teacher to thank for this. Many years ago, this teacher was teaching me how to dribble so that I could teach my Grade 1 and Grade 2 students. She suggested that it’s like “walking a dog.” Make the ball bounce around waist height and move with it as you would when you’re walking a dog. Now dog walking is something that I know, so I could connect to these instructions, and I actually learned how to dribble a ball and teach others how to do so. I decided to move a little closer to this student. I watched as he dribbled some more, and then I went in and got the ball. He beamed! He couldn’t believe that I was dribbling his ball, and that I managed to keep it going. (I was pleasantly surprised myself. 🙂 ) He asked me, “Do you know how to play basketball?” I truthfully admitted that dribbling was about all that I could do, but that didn’t seem to bother him. For the rest of the recess, this student found me around the blacktop space, and started dribbling around me in a circle, so that I would take the ball and continue dribbling myself. He was so excited!
Fast forward to the end of the day, and I was dropping a few kindergarten students off at one of the bus lines. This student found me again. Not only did we dribble a bit more, but another child took notice. He also had a ball and started dribbling, and I managed to perform my same little bit of “basketball magic” with him (getting and dribbling a ball might not be magical for many, but doing so consistently is like a little bit of magic for me). I realized as the bus lines were filling up that bouncing basketballs could be problematic, so instead I said, “Maybe we can continue this the next time that I’m on duty.” Both boys agreed, and I even got a couple of fist bumps.
Here’s what I didn’t share with you yet. Both of these students often exhibit behavioural outbursts. A teacher even spoke to me about one of the children a few weeks ago, mentioning how unlikely he is to talk or work with known, or unknown, adults. Neither of these students are in the grades that I currently service, and I’m not going to pretend that just because they dribbled a couple of basketballs with me, that I could get them excited about reading or sharing more learning in class. I do know though that learning starts with relationships, and possibly for these two students, those could be formed over basketball.
This is my 22nd year of teaching, and I’ve taught all grades from Kindergarten to Grade 6 (in some capacity) at nine different schools. I know that some children are easier to form these bonds with than others. As an avid reader, I can always connect with those students sitting with a book in their hand or discussing books with friends. But there are other students that are much harder to connect with, and sometimes I need to find different entry points for bonding. Maybe I needed Friday to remind me to look for these more challenging students when in classrooms and on duty. How might I find my way in? How do you? I hope that we can all have some of our own basketball moments in the week ahead.