In our house, back-to-school time means football. Both my oldest and my youngest son play, and I have gained a great deal of respect and appreciation for what the game teaches. Last night before practice my seventh grader said, “Mom, I don’t think I want to play football anymore…I’m afraid of hitting.”
“You need to go to practice tonight, son,” I replied compassionately.
“But, mom, you don’t understand…you’ve never played football before. It hurts!”, he continued with the sound of fear in his voice.
This back-and-forth continued as I probed further. We then talked about other sports that may be of interest, such as wrestling, track, and basketball. I pointed out that middle school is the perfect time to explore. “But I’m not good at basketball. I can’t dribble, and my footwork is lousy.”
“That’s why you practice. Anyone who is really good at a sport practices…a lot,” I explained.
“But tonight you are going to football.”
He reluctantly got dressed for practice. Again in the car, “Mooooommm, do I have to go?”
“Yes. Go tonight, and we will talk more later.”
After practice he got in the car with a smile. “I did it, mom,” he announced proudly.
“Aren’t you glad you didn’t give up, buddy?” I asked with a high-five. He nodded.
How many times is a scenario like this repeated time and again either at home or at school? A child questions his or her own ability and seeks permission to opt out of the challenging situation. Whether it’s sports or literacy or science, students may say, “I can’t!” We have the privilege of leading them through these scary moments by seizing teachable moments.
Reflecting on this conversation with my almost-teenage son, I realize that it was impactful for both of us. It would have been easier for me to say sharply, “You’re going to practice. That’s it!” or “Stop your whining!” It took extra time and energy during a busy part of the day as we shuttled from camp to home to field, but he is worth the investment.
As parents and educators, we are in the business of building people. We are preparing kids for life. According to many employers, the greatest area of weakness for new recruits is social skills. In the world of Google, kids do not need to memorize facts and figures. They need to learn how to solve problems. It is our job as caring adults to teach these competencies. In my conversation with my son, we worked through issues related to self-awareness, self-management, and responsible decision-making.
Heading back to school is an exciting and stressful time. It’s important that we stop and take time to think about our goals for our students this year. Besides great test scores, what do we want to accomplish?
Here are three suggestions for Building People:
- Show You Care – Create a warm and nurturing environment by calling children by name, greeting with a smile, and giving high fives each day.
- Value Conversations – Give time and space to listen to students’ thoughts, ideas, and opinions.
- Utilize Project-Based Learning – Instead of worksheets or multiple choice tests, let students struggle with the complexity of a real-world challenge. Coach, don’t rescue.
By intentionally integrating a common language for social-emotional learning into all that we do, we can do what Hawkins and Catalano suggest: foster relationships, establish high expectations, and create meaningful engagement. As Mister Rogers said, “Knowing that we can be loved exactly as we are gives us all the best opportunity for growing into the healthiest of people.”