If You Build It, They Will Come
Sharing love of sports is a powerful tool for building relationships with students. My town of Washington, DC is currently obsessed with the Washington Nationals and their winning streak in the playoffs. Like so many other fans, I've on a roller coaster ride of emotions. Standing in silent frustration in a hushed stadium as we lost to the Dodgers 10-4 in Game 4 to jumping up and down in my living room multiple times in recent weeks as we managed to do what seemed impossible earlier in the season, including winning the Wildcard and advancing to the NLCS for the first time ever in the 10th inning with a grand slam (Howie is my hero). For baseball neophytes, the Nats are one game away from clinching a spot in their first World Series (not that it is going to happen - I don't want to jinx it). It's been such a fun ride for fans but one of the things that has brought me the greatest joy this season is the connection that this epic streak by the Nats has allowed me to make with my students. Believe me: sports moments like these are magic for classrooms. It's lightning in a bottle for relationship building.
Here's how I've capitalized on the moment to build relationships. First, I just talk about how I love the Nats (and sometimes I show Nats highlight reels before schools starts). Then I put some signs outside of my door. On big game days, I wear Nats gear -- earrings, sometimes my shirt, sometimes a jersey. On my class instagram I share photos of my family at the game to let the kids see a slice of my life. By amping up my Nats fandom, I am able to form special bonds with fellow Nats fans. Kids stop to tell me how their Dad woke them up screaming about the game or how their Mom let them stay up late to watch. They stop me in the hall to talk about how a certain play was incredible, or to discuss stats with me. But it isn't just the baseball kids that are in on this -- my students who could care less about baseball but love watching our class's reactions troll me by talking about how bad the Nats are (I jokingly tell them they'll have to clean up the classroom). Other kids engage me in conversations about how much they hate baseball and why soccer or football is better. I even have kids who now check the score just to make sure they can chat with me. Perhaps I am helping baseball find new fans? Bottom line, it gets kids talking and -- the best part -- it's often kids that don't naturally start conversations. I am loving it. This is pure gold when it comes to relationship building. And don't think that I am the only one. Tons of teachers are wearing their jerseys, putting bobbleheads on their desks, or even asking kids to wear Nats colors for homework. It's all easy stuff, but it's also not an accident. It's teacher planning to capitalize on this moment to help kids learn.
Through sports, kids see what it is to handle winning and how to handle losing gracefully - how to laugh through disappointment. They see how we can relate to people who aren't on the same team. They can see us model what it means to care about something bigger than ourselves. And while many kids will be lucky enough to learn this by playing sports themselves they can also learn these lessons by watching their favorite teams compete and debriefing with teachers at school the next day through friendly chatter between classes. Just today, I gave a pep talk to a Cards Fan in front of the class, telling him that it isn't over until it's over and saying that I respect his fandom. As if to say "See, we can all play nice in sports and in life."
o, what if you don't have a sports team? Consider finding one. It's never to late to delve into learning about a new sport. I've only recently started to love soccer (and trust me, I never played sports as a kid so being a spectator is my jam). But if sports just isn't your thing, find your equivalent fandom and share it in small and big ways. Maybe it's Harry Potter. Maybe it's Hamilton the Musical or board games. Maybe it's a TV show that kids watch that you can't get enough of. But the point is, don't just love what you love -- share it with your students. Kids learn from people that they trust and that starts with relationship building. Maybe my favorite baseball movie says it best, "If you build it, they will come."
Now, let's play ball. Go Nats!
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