Skating and School

So I went home to eastern Canada this past Christmas for the first time in six years and it was amazing. A cold and snowy winter wonderland that provided my two kids with some new and challenging experiences like skating, snowshoeing, sledding, and snacking on freshly fallen snow and icicles…yummy! We spent a lot of time at the rink (as you do) watching hockey, sipping on hot chocolate, and for my two little ones, learning to skate. It was a challenge that they both embraced wholeheartedly, and after several hours of practice and a bunch of bumps and bruises they finally got the hang of it. It was a highlight of our holiday for sure, and it made me feel a lot less sheepish about being a Canadian father with two kids who had never been on the ice. Anyway, throughout this entire on-ice adventure with my little ones it became crystal clear to me that skating is a lot like learning and a lot like school, and the parallels between learning to skate and navigating through our lives are impossible to miss. It reminded me so much of Carol Dweck’s work with “Mindsets”, and I want to quickly share something with you that played out right in front of my eyes during our first day at that rink, which brought this idea of mindset and perseverance to life in a very real way…

On the first day that we went skating we were all really excited as well as a little bit nervous. We just happened to show up on a day that hardly anyone was there, which was nice because it gave my kids a chance to do their best impression of Bambi on ice without anyone watching. Just as I was doing up their skates and reminding them that learning to skate is a long process filled with frustration, excitement, and a series of small successes, two other kids showed up with their fathers. They were both about to lace up the skates for the first time, and right away you could tell that the attitudes or mindsets of the two children were markedly different. So we all got out on the ice and the kids were falling everywhere as you imagine….getting up and falling down….getting up and falling down……trying and trying and trying again…..watching and listening and fully engaged in the process and it was awesome. About 30 minutes into the session however, one of the other kids started to get super frustrated and began to cry. He said things like, “I hate skating”, and “I’ll never be good at this”, and “Skating is too hard and I’ll never learn”. The father tried to get his son to soldier on encouragingly for a little while, until suddenly his tone changed and he began to get angry at his little boy for not “getting it” like he did when he was young, and for not trying hard enough. It eventually ended in a melt down with the young boy desperately pleading to go home and to get these “stupid skates off of my feet!” The father was at that point more than happy to oblige and away they went, and I didn’t see them again for the rest of our time at home. The entire time that I was watching this happen I couldn’t help but be taken back to when I was struggling with math as a Middle School kid, and my teacher getting angry at me for not “getting it” and telling me that I wasn’t trying hard enough. I wonder if that little boy will ever lace up a pair of skates again, and I wonder about how he’ll view all the rest of the challenges in his little life.

It’s pretty obvious I think to see the connection that I’m trying to make with how kids approach their learning in school, and how teachers approach their teaching. Learning for most kids in a traditional school setting can be difficult at times, and they will all face challenges that they need to overcome. It’s how they approach these challenges that makes all the difference, and it’s how we respond to our students that can make or break a child’s experience. Life and learning is all about falling down and getting back up…..trying and trying and trying again …….taking risks and failing and celebrating the step by step small successes. It’s about perseverance and resiliency and attitude and mindset…..and from what we’ve learned from Carol Dweck’s research, this can be fostered in all of our students. So with the second semester just underway, and the new concepts and units of study being introduced, I’d like to ask that you keep an eye out for kids who need a little bit of a mindset adjustment. Kids learn at different rates and in different ways as you all know so please celebrate the small successes and the process that is the coming to know…’s a beautiful thing. Remember that skating is like school, and for many of our students it can be very much about the falling and failing and trying and trying and trying again…….let’s make sure that they’re excited to get back up! Have a wonderful week everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other.

Quote of the Week…….
If you get up one more time than you fall, you will make it through.
– Chinese Proverb

Resilience Articles and Websites –

Wonderful and Inspiring TED Talk – Diana Nyad