Scaling the Heights - Starting with Heart Outside the Classroom

It’s Spring! The weather has warmed (mostly), and many of us have students competing in all sorts of events this time of year.  Baseball & softball have begun, track & field events are happening all over the place, and at least in Kansas, girls’ soccer has kicked off and the season is nearly half over!  To top it all off, the school year is winding down (brief moment of tears as some of us say goodbye to our kiddos who head off to new schools), so with all that going on, it felt appropriate to revisit where the philosophy of Summit Seeking begins: Start With Heart, and look at how this works outside the walls of our classrooms.

Starting with Heart is all about building relationships with students and showing them how much you care about them as people and value their lives.  One of the best ways to do this to attend their special events and activities that help shape them into the person you see everyday in your classroom.  Most of us strive to attend the athletic and artistic events the school puts on to showcase our students, but so many of them participate in competitions or performances that are completely unrelated and unattached to the school.  These are the events that can truly help cement that relationship and show your Heart to those kids, so go attend them when they invite you. If they haven’t invited you, ask about their next performance or competition, and make it a point to go see them!

Okay story time!  This past weekend I had the chance to attend a performance of two of my students in an aerial arts show.  If you’ve never been to one, it is very similar to Cirque du Soleil, a combination of acrobatics, contortion, ballet, and interpretative dance!  I wasn’t sure what to expect, but their mother invited their teachers, so I decided I needed to see this. I was stunned! The beauty of the choreography and the sheer physical strength on display was incredible!  It was a two act performance that made my jaw drop. Watching the performers climb silk using pure arm and in some cases, foot strength, was striking enough, but then to watch them twist and drop and get caught at the last second by the silks left me amazed!  After the show, I made sure to see both of my students, give them a hug and congratulate them on their performances. Seeing their faces when they saw a teacher take time on a weekend to come see them perform in something they have a real passion for was definitely worth it!  Later that week at school I had them both sign my program, because that’s what fans do! So go become a fan of your students and let them show you what makes them who they are!

Finally, a word on school-sponsored events.  Definitely attend as many of these as you can, but also, look for areas where opportunities are lacking for students, and find a way to help.  Four years ago, I had such an opportunity. My 8th grade students were looking at the various activities available to them in high school and several began asking me about girls’ soccer.  I had to tell them that our high school did not have a girls’ soccer program, but that they were welcome to try out for the boys’ team. You should have seen their faces. Disappointment was first, then a bit of frustration, and even a little anger.

“Why don’t we have a team?  That’s not fair!” they asked and almost shouted.  

I told them I didn’t have a clear answer, but that I would do some digging and get an answer.  I started asking veteran teachers and administrators who had been in the district longer than me and had worked at the high school.  Every time I asked, the response was “There’s never been any real interest.” Or, “Well they’ve started petitions in the past, but not enough girls signed it for us to take it to the board.”  I couldn’t believe that, so with some help from our science teacher, Susan Helvey, we put out a survey among the 8th graders and got about 30 names. The girls in my class were excited when I told them what the data showed us.  They started asking, “If we get one, will you be the coach?” I looked at their faces and couldn’t say no. Now, I was committed, I couldn’t let them down and not get this thing going.

Another survey went out to the high school students and we had about 75 names by then.  That summer I agreed to stop coaching football and took over the boys’ program as well. By November, we were holding a preseason meeting, and we had those same 75 girls show up!  When tryouts started in the Spring, we had 33 girls eligible and ready to compete! I was blown away by their desire & hunger, and coachability. We didn’t win a game that first year, and there were frustrations and some tears, but we were improving every day, and the next year we were able to get some draws and wins, with 3 players being named 2nd team all-league!  The third year was my final year coaching them and we kept getting better, but it was so hard to say goodbye as I left the district and took my current job. The banquet was full of tears and hugs, but getting the program started and getting to coach with one of our first captains that final year, was the biggest highlight and joy I could have asked for. The stuffed bear they gave me still sits on my shelf at school, and I’ll never forget how much joy those ladies showed in getting their program and watching them grow up together still fills my heart.  

The lesson from all of this is where Summit Seeking begins: Heart.  Neither of these these stories happen without having a heart for students and caring about them as people first.  As teachers we know we need to love our students and care about them, but sometimes we in the haste to get content taught before an assessment or to get projects completed, we can lose sight of the fact that they are young people growing up in our classrooms.  They need our support, our care, and our hearts. Start with Heart, and your journey to your Summit will give you more joy than you can possibly imagine.

Summit Seeker(s) of the Week: This week I’m shouting out another amazing educator and colleague: Dawn Ayers. Dawn is currently a FACS teacher near Topeka and I had the honor of coaching with her that first year of girls’ soccer at Turner High School.  Dawn stepped in and volunteered to help me out when I was desperate for a female assistant coach to help manage the locker rooms and handle the logistics of both a varsity and junior varsity team.  Her advice and awareness of possible issues and great questions helped set the foundation for not only the program as a whole, but also for me as a first time head coach. What really stood out was her connections and relationships with our players.  She knew their stories and was for many of them the mom they didn’t have, but needed. Her impact on that program is still felt as she made us a family that year and kept us positive through all those tough losses. That leadership was reflected in one of our captains, Brittany Ortiz, who later became the JV coach in program history, just one year after graduating.  I see a lot of Dawn’s influence in Brittany, which is what makes her not only a great coach, but a great person as well. You can follow Dawn on Twitter @ayersda06