Or, What I Learned Being A Hockey Player All Summer
Disclaimer: I grew up in Massachusetts, and until I was about 16 I actually believed my dad when he said that the only way he could remember when I was born is because the Bruins won the Stanley Cup that year. Dad got me out on frozen ponds early on and this skating ability came in handy when I moved to Canada, where skating is pretty much a requirement for citizenship. When I moved here, I joined a women's hockey league and played right wing till I was four months into expecting my eldest (spoiler: that was 15 years ago, so it's clear where my on-ice prowess is these days).
Back To Life
This eldest daughter now plays competitive hockey, which means year-round ice time (together with me freezing my Yankee ass off in rinks all over the northern hemisphere, while also having gigantic respect for the student-athletes in my classes). This summer said child enrolled in an advanced skating class and dropped an epic bomb when she said, "You know, Mom, you should just take the class with me. It's better than sitting in the stands." There was no way I was doing that. Until I was. After a colossal trip to buy new equipment (shoutout to the dudes at Hockey Life!), I stepped on the ice again after 15 years.
Aaaaaaaand, I Sucked (At Least Comparatively)
This advanced skating class consists of children aged 6-16... and me. The coaches are all former OHL or NHL players, and most are involved in coaching the men's and women's hockey teams on campus. On the first day, I was feeling okay after a few strides, then the coach blew the whistle and everyone (including my own kid) left me in the dust. As in, suddenly, I felt my age (which I generally refuse to do).
One of the young girls in the class wore a practice jersey which read, "You miss 100% of the shots you don't take." (The Office joke aside, this is a classic Canadian quote.) At least I was there, at least I was trying, at least I was taking my shot. The same can be said for university students. At my university, we have many first-generation students, many of whom don't have the parental guidance or experience to get and keep them in the classroom. They're showing up, and taking their shot. Some students transfer from college into a university program. They're taking their shot. Some students show up wondering how they will work full time to make ends meet and still be a full time student. They're taking their shot. And taking a shot is not easy.
Scaffolding As A Best Practice
Many of us include scaffolding as a pedagogical practice -- start out with small exercises or assignments, and build up to a larger project. The same happens on the ice. We practiced c-cuts, added crossovers, then double crossovers, and stops. Being a student this summer in a totally different arena (literally), reminded me how important scaffolding is in an overall program (such as a university course or a hockey class).
Encourage, Encourage, Encourage
I'm no Hayley Wickenheiser, though it's great to feel awesome every so often. During one exercise, I was carrying the puck down the ice (probably very badly) and the coach said, "Go! Go score!" That very simple encouragement made me smile and let me play the part even for a short while. And I did score (on an empty net, still, it felt good). I can take that into the classroom by encouraging students to go the extra mile, providing clear feedback, and being a positive academic coach.
Acknowledge The Challenge
Coach was introducing a drill and said, "Okay, so this one is really easy." It's a good thing I had my helmet on because my eyes rolled so far back into my head I nearly fell over. NOTHING about that class is easy. And I had a reckoning in that moment. For me, writing is easy. For many students, it's not. My goal has always been to help students to develop their writing and I provide loads of personalized feedback. However, it occurred to me in that moment on the ice that some students - for any variety of reasons - will do the proverbial eye roll even when I say, "Don't worry, it's just a paragraph." There are high standards in both hockey and in writing, yet acknowledging where students are coming from, what their barriers are, and that they are trying, is helpful and right.
As I head back into the classroom in a few weeks, I will have the fresh experience of being a student of something that I found very challenging. As an instructor, I will bring in the humility of showing up, trying, and taking a shot. If I can encourage all of my students to take their shot, empower them to score, and acknowledge their academic training, then we're going to have a winning team this semester.