Summer Learnin’

A few years back, a student wrote something that stopped me in my teaching tracks. She said, “I feel like this class gave me the opportunity to slow down and think more.” I…well, I hadn’t set out with this objective in mind, but I have since made it an expressed intention. It’s become one of teaching tenants. It’s also become a personal goal. And, for me, summer provides the ultimate opportunity to slow down and think more.

This week I started a new book. I started a few, actually (yup! total nerd), but one that’s got me sitting down to write right now. It’s Five Practices for Equity-Focused School Leadership. So good, really thought-provoking. And I mean the latter quite literally. The authors regularly prompt readers to pause and reflect. 

PD on the back patio

Today was a deep dive. Chapter 2: “The Stories We Tell About Why We Don’t Do Better.” Lots to unpack, as they say. And then something interesting happened. And by interesting, I mean awesome. And by awesome, I (of course) mean synthesis.

I get downright giddy about synthesis. Meaning making. Pulling thoughts and ideas and texts together to come to a deeper understanding. It’s what gives you that “ah ha” moment or that “Ohh, so…” moment and, really, there are few nerdy feelings better than that.

Here’s where I have to admit that I sometimes study like the kids. I can be just as susceptible to my phone and social media and the internet rabbit hole as the next twenty-first century human being. So I was scrolling through Facebook when I came across an article titled, “Swimming Caps for Natural Black Hair Ruled Out of Olympic Games.” Huh, I thought, that doesn’t seem right. It’s not, and yet it’s happening. The International Swimming Federation did not approve this particular cap for use in Olympic competition. According to the article,

The body said the caps did not fit “the natural form of the head” and to their “best knowledge the athletes competing at the international events never used, neither require … caps of such size and configuration”.

Here’s where I started thinking back to chapter 2 of the book in which the authors state, “Our purpose is to highlight the role of stories and how they can encourage or inhibit your progress toward equity.” It seems to me, the International Swimming Federation based their decision on stories they knew/told themselves rather than listening to the experiences of athletes and making progress toward equity.

And here’s where I get real…

As a swimmer and a swim coach, I was completely unaware of such consideration. It does not affect me, personally, as an athlete. Although, it definitely does factor into my work as a coach. And I could have used this insight this past season when working with an athlete. I was frustrated that he kept stopping every few lengths to adjust and readjust his cap. It was a time-consuming process that, admittedly, I thought was his way of skipping out on yardage. I told him he needed to figure it out. I told him that he needed to keep swimming. I told him that he wasn’t going to reach his potential, that he wasn’t going to reach his goals if he didn’t put in the work. I told him all of this because I thought it was for his own good.

Yes, I had good intentions.

No, that does not matter.

I was wrong. I need to, as the authors of Five Practices encourage, “Step back from certainty and engage with curiosity.”

Can you imagine how much goodwill I could have gained with that student-athlete had I considered that perhaps trying to gather his curls into this “one-size-fits-all” cap may not be as easy as me wrapping up my ponytail into one? Actually, forget about gaining goodwill as a coach — I could have been a more thoughtful, compassionate human being. But I was certain I knew what was going on when I should have engaged with curiosity.

I should have slowed down and thought more.

I owe him an apology. Moreover, I owe him a promise. I will do better.

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