A few years ago, I got to spend a weekend at a coaching clinic with an assistant coach of the UCLA Bruins Mens’ Basketball Team. For me this was a big treat, as I am a big fan of their team and the head coach, Ben Howland. I learned so much during that weekend, but one of his stories really stuck with me.
When talking about getting their players to “buy in” to the program and to not be afraid to make mistakes and work together in practice, they had to get them to take off their “Cool” jackets. He explained that the “Cool” jacket was how they described that tough-guy or aloof attitude many players entered their program with. He talked about how the players were afraid to show weakness or make mistakes and that they were above committing to working on the fundamentals in practice. He was adamant that you can’t get your players to really work hard, to sacrifice and to become a team until they take off their “Cool” jackets and be themselves.
I had the opportunity this year, in my role as Assistant Principal, to have many one on one conversations with students. Most of the time, given the fact it was only the two of us, kids would be honest and real with me in my office and I would get a great deal of information out of them about what was going on with them. Without an audience of peers, without the pressure of saving face, students will often show you their true colors and let you in.
I know going back into the classroom, I won’t be afforded the luxury of a private space to talk to students, and the time necessary to have the conversations with them immediately. I remember, as it was only a year ago I was in the classroom, I tried to find the time and the arena for those conversations to take place in the right way, to allow the student the best opportunity to not feel judged by peers or embarrassed by the moment.
In many of our schools, we still have the cycle of discipline that includes teachers sending their students to the office, removing the problem from the classroom, but also passing the problem off to somebody else. As I said in my post “What My Job Isn’t”, I don’t believe it is a good idea for the administrator to get the chance to “Save the day” while the teacher is left with a broken relationship with the student. Why don’t we try and flip this more often, and have the teacher get the one on one time with the student, while the administrator comes in and covers the class. It is after all, the relationship between teacher and student that is the most crucial to the learning, not the relationship with the administration.
Whether it is switching out with the administration to allow for one on one conversations, following up with a student after school or the next day, or taking a student out in the hall to discuss an issue, are we doing enough to make sure we can get our students to take off their “Cool” jackets and really communicate with us? Next year, this will again be my challenge too, and it will not be any easy one to solve all the time. As teachers we need to treat our students with the respect they deserve, give them the space they need to feel safe and provide them the compassionate ear to allow them to be heard. Before we will ever see the real person inside our students we need to first help them take that “Cool” jacket off. Only then will we have the chance to connect with them the way we want and the way they often need us to.