Jul 07

Gender Equity and Schools – One Easy Change

Anyone who follows me on Twitter knows that I have watched many… many… hours of the recently concluded Women’s World Cup. The soccer was just brilliant, and of course, seeing the US win their third World Cup was just awesome.

And as a former Girls Basketball coach (and huge soccer fan,) it was incredible to see so many people get excited to watch a women’s soccer match. And while FIFA’s behavior – from turf fields to ridiculously unequal and inequitable monetary awards – shows we still have a long way to go for women’s sports, this was a fantastic moment for all of us who care about seeing women’s sports get the respect they deserve.

And there’s an easy change our high schools can make to take this further:

We can stop calling the girls’ teams at our schools the “Lady <Mascots>.”

This matters more than it seems. When we make the girls teams have a qualifying descriptor but we don’t make the boys teams do the same, we send a none-too-subtle message about which team is the “real” school team. And that message can serve to undermine all of the incredible lessons students – young women and men – can learn from playing on a high school team. In too many schools, the girls teams have had to fight for court time, field time, fans, legitimacy, or even the right to exist. No longer should they also have to fight to have their team name be the mascot of the school with no need to qualify it.

Our language matters, and I’ve yet to see the school that has “Gentlemen <Mascots>” on their uniforms. The era of high school girls teams having “Lady” in front of their name or worse “-ettes” at the end of it needs to end. Our girls teams are Tigers and Rockets and Lancers and Falcons. They need no qualifier in their names. There’s no reason anymore to send the message that the boys teams have any more claim to legitimacy than the girls teams do.

There’s no reason other than tradition not to change, and if the past weeks have taught us anything, it is that tradition cannot be a reason to resist change.

Apr 10

Share Your Passion – Learn Your Best Teacher Self

This afternoon, the SLA Boys Varsity Ultimate found themselves with a home field for a game and no opponent. So the boys split up and scrimmaged in a game filled with some really amazing plays and more trash talk than I have heard in an Ultimate Frisbee game since I played in New York Summer League. The game was awesome – it was sixteen boys doing something they loved with people they love.

I got to coach the game. I love it in a way that is visceral.

Most mornings, you can find me coaching Ultimate. We don’t have fields or a gym at SLA, so all three of our Ultimate teams (Girls Varsity, Boys Varsity, Junior Varsity) practice from 6:30 am to 8:00 am in the morning. So does our softball team and our girls basketball team, and I think our track team is about to start. Our Students Run Philly Style team is going to go for a ten-mile run tomorrow (Saturday) morning.

Our debate kids are flying to Florida for Nationals with their coach, Jason Todd. Matt Kay’s poetry team is brilliant, and they write and perform after school what seems like every day. Doug Herman spends somewhere in the neighborhood of four zillion hours doing film projects with kids. Our robotics team…

You get the idea.

So… after-school activities. In most schools, they are the things that kids love most. It’s what they get to choose. That’s nothing new.

But I don’t know that we talk enough about what we as teachers can learn by doing after school activities with kids. In fact, I’ve heard teachers talk about how they are so different with their after-school kids than they are with their students, to which I always think, “Why?”

I think there’s a ton we can learn from the teacher-selves we are when we do are sharing something we love with kids who have chosen to be there too.

Years ago, when I was at Beacon and coaching girls basketball, there was a student teacher who asked to assistant coach with me. She was awesome. She had an incredible rapport with the kids. She was knowledgable. She laughed easily with the girls, and she could get them to push themselves to greatness.

So I was shocked when her cooperating teacher told me she was struggling deeply as a classroom teacher. I went in to watch her teach, and I didn’t recognize who I saw. She was tentative, unsure of herself, and deeply unsure how to bring out the best in the kids. After the class, the three of us sat down and talked about her teaching and her coaching. We told her simply, “Teach like you coach.” And it made all the difference for her. She really unpacked what made her successful on the court and found the ways to bring that into the classroom.

If we want “the curricular” to be infused with as much joy and passion and energy as the extra-curricular, we have to examine the role we the teachers bring to the student experience of extra-curriculars. And, yes, it is easier to be joyful and passionate and playful when everyone is choosing to be there together, but what if we brought that same persona to our classrooms?

The best teaching I ever did was on the fields and on the courts at 6:30 am. It was there I discovered my best teacher-self. It was in the relationships I developed with the kids who shared that time with me that I learned how to listen and be the adult the kids needed me to be. It was in the dedication of the kids who showed up every morning to practice that I learned what it meant to feel the need to work hard enough so that you never let down the kids.

All over the country, every day, teachers and students collaborate after (and before) school in service of a shared goal and passion, be it Ultimate frisbee, drama, robotics, the school newspaper. In doing so, students and teachers often find the best versions of themselves. The stories of what those activities do for teachers and students are multitudinous.

But maybe it’s time to unpack the people we are when we do those things so that we can take the best of who we are in those moments and bring them back our classrooms every day.

I’d argue that the people we are in those moments are our best teacher-selves. I think everyone wins if that version of ourselves found its way into the classroom every day.

 

Apr 01

A Modest Proposal

I, like many people, am horrified by the passage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in Indiana. And, as such, I am deeply concerned that the NCAA Final Four is going to be held in Indianapolis this weekend. I was heartened to see that three of the four teams and the NCAA itself have expressed concerns about the law.

But expressing concern isn’t enough. The Final Four is a massive money-making enterprise to the tune of over a billion dollars. And while much of the money made is due to television and advertising revenue, there’s certainly a powerful economic boost to the hosts.

So let’s take that away.

I get it… contracts, flights, hotels, etc… but right is right. Let’s move the game.

Let’s move it to South Philadelphia High School. I’ve spoken with the principal, Otis Hackney. No one is using the gym this weekend. Philadelphia has been a leading city in LGBTQ advocacy. Philadelphia is one of the great sports towns in the country. Let’s make this happen.

And the South Philly High gym has 1100 seats. Granted, that’s smaller, but we could make the seats just for students of the schools and families of players and coaches. We could allocate ten VIP seats for each school so that Ashley Judd could still attend if need be. The country will still watch. The TV cameras will still be there. But the NCAA could make the statement that no contract, no revenue is worth sacrificing the safety, dignity and honor of even one athlete, employee or fan who might be discriminated against during the Final Four.

Think of the message it would send. Think of the pride athletes could take in their schools – in the NCAA. Think of the message it would send to legislatures all over the US (I’m looking at you, Arkansas) that bigotry will not stand – will not be tolerated – and that it will hit you in your pocketbooks over and over again.

Think of the message it would send to teenage LGBTQ athletes who are questioning if their teams, their sports, the very states they live in are safe spaces for them.

South Philly High School is ready to host, NCAA. The ball, literally, is in your court.