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.

Sep 22

Kurt Vonnegut, Facebook and the Teaching Life


SLA Ultimate

SLA Ultimate

 “Listen: Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time.”

— Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse Five

Slaughterhouse Five was one of my favorite books when I was younger – and it probably deserves a re-read now – and I was always struck by the idea of being able to live and relive the moments of one’s life at all moments of one’s life as the Tralfamadorians do, seeing life across four dimensions rather than three.

I am starting to think we all have become unstuck in time.

The other day, I posted a photo of the SLA Ultimate Frisbee team warming up before our first game of the year. Within an hour or two, there were “likes” and comments from former players, folks I used to coach against, former students and, of course, members of the current SLA community. What is incredible about that is that it connects the generations of my coaching and teaching life in some really amazing ways.

The teaching life is a strange one… as educators, we have these incredibly powerful relationships with kids at a moment in time in their lives and then they go on their way… and we do that over and over again. And over time – at least for me – it becomes harder to remember who overlapped with whom in the time they spent with you, especially because the time line is less important than the time spent.

And now, with Facebook, the teaching life overlaps more. Former students interact with current students with comments on photos like, “I remember 6:30 am…” and such.

My teaching life has become unstuck in time, and all of the students of my life can interact regardless of the moment in time we were teacher and student.

What a wonderful evolution of the teaching life.

Apr 18

To Our Philadelphia Sports Teams – We Need Your Help

[Update: I’ve started a change.org petition to gather support for this issue. Please take a moment to add your name.]

To the owners of the Philadelphia 76ers, Eagles, Flyers, Phillies, Soul, Union and Wings,

The kids of Philadelphia are some of your biggest fans. They wear your shirts and hats. They go to your games. They cheer for you. They celebrate with you when you win, and they agonize with you when you lose.

And now, the kids need your help.

I’m sure that you’ve read about the dire conditions facing the School District of Philadelphia. The schools are facing down $300 million in cuts. Next year, the School District isn’t able to provide any funding for counselors for schools… there isn’t even funding for secretaries, and we all know that school secretaries are the ones who really run the schools.

And in that context, the School District has had to de-fund high school athletics.

You can help us there.

Last year, Philadelphia sports teams had over $800 million in revenues. The entire athletics budget of the School District of Philadelphia was $7.1 million this year. Less than one percent of your revenues would fully fund athletics for the students of Philadelphia.

No one needs to tell you how important sports are for kids and schools. You know the joy a community takes in a winning team. You know all the lessons young people learn when they work hard and sacrifice for a team. You know that for so many of our student-athletes, sports are the reason they finish high school. And you know that for so many of our student-athletes, the relationship they have with their coaches are among the most important mentoring relationships in their lives.

We need your help.

We cannot lose all that athletics mean to our schools.

Our kids are your fans, a couple of our kids will be your future stars, our kids are your city.

Fund our student-athletes. They need the chance to play.

Thank you for your time,
Chris Lehmann
Science Leadership Academy

[Philadelphians and friends of Philadelphia – feel free to add your name as co-signers in the comments.]

May 29

Football, Concussions and High Schools

So SLA has never had a football team, not because we were morally opposed to it when we started, but rather because it is such an expensive sport and it requires so many players. So on some level, we had this decision made for us for reasons, but I’ve been giving the issue of high school football a lot of thought lately.

I’m starting to wonder how long high schools can support having football teams.

Right now, there is a growing sense that football is causing Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy in professional football players, and there are questions as to how the hard hitting of football may be having an effect on high school players as well. For me, it is enough that school administrators and coaches should be asking themselves some very hard questions about the sport that has been a mainstay in American high schools all over this country.

I understand that there are many sports that can result in concussions – I’ve gotten a few playing Ultimate (no comments on how that explains a lot, please.) But football is about hitting the opposing team hard. And we may be on the verge of learning that that is causing serious neurological damage to the kids who entrusted to our care. How conclusive does the evidence have to be before we decide this isn’t something schools should be doing? What parameters should we be putting in place to be sure we aren’t doing damage to our kids?

I don’t know that I have answers here. I know that Kat and I are not ok with Jakob or Theo ever playing organized football. And I know that, as the administrator of one small school in Philadelphia, I wouldn’t be comfortable having a team at SLA. What that means beyond our walls, I don’t know. But I think the time has come for high school administrators, athletic directors and football coaches to start asking some very hard questions.

Apr 23

Coaching, Care and Kids

So… I’ve come out of retirement.

I’m coaching again.

Roz Echols and I are coaching SLA Ultimate – we’ve got 30 kids coming to practice at 6:30 am every morning to work together build two amazing teams and one incredible community. And I’ve been reminded of how much I really, really love coaching. There is something incredible about working with kids first thing in the morning, all of whom have chosen to be there, working toward a common goal that is bigger than ourselves as individuals that has always just been incredible to me.

I love it. And I missed it even more than I realized.

And it got me thinking about the way we progress in the education realm, where with every move "up" away from the classroom, there is less and less direct contact with kids. I’m a really hands-on and involved principal, but, with the exception of my advisees, I have never been able to be as close to a specific group of kids as I was to the kids I coached. (Individual kids, sure… but not a group…)

And that seems wrong.

Having that incredible relationship where we, as educators, really have the opportunity to care for kids and have that transactional relationship where both teacher / coach / mentor and student make a difference in each other’s lives, is a big part of what makes teaching such a profound profession.

Why is it that, in most districts, we discourage our administrators from working directly with kids?

What would happen if curriculum directors were still basketball coaches? If special education case managers ran the drama production at a school? If assistant superintendents ran after-school math help a few days a week? What if a district prioritized that and created the time and space for it?

How about this… what if corporations that had products in the "education sphere" actually had their employees and executives volunteer in school several days a week – not just as a one-off, but actually establishing the kind of caring relationships that we desperately need?

What if we worked to ensure that everyone who works with schools or works in education didn’t merely talk about how important it is to make a difference in the lives of kids, but rather actually did. Not indirectly, not through a policy or a product, but by working directly with and caring directly for kids.

Wouldn’t that move us just a little closer to building the kind of educational community — in and out of schools — that we so very much need?

(Oh… and Go SLA Ultimate!!!)

May 11

Let’s Make It Better

Sean Avery is a hockey bruiser who plays for the New York Rangers. In the very macho world of professional ice hockey, Avery has made a career out of using whatever tactics he needs, physical and mental, to give his team the edge. He’s the kind of player you love if he is on your team, and you hate if he’s not.

Against that back-drop, Sean Avery joined the Campaign for Marriage Equality in New York.

A month after Kobe Bryant used a homophobic slur to insult a ref in a basketball game, Sean Avery publicly stated his support for gay marriage.

He even made a video about it.

In the still homophobic, overly macho world of professional male sports, Sean Avery spoke out for marriage equality.

And hockey agent Todd Reynolds, of the Uptown Sports Management agency, said he was sad to see Avery do that when he tweeted out:

Very sad to read Sean Avery’s misguided support of same-gender “marriage”. Legal or not, it will always be wrong.

And when he got called out for doing so, he answered by saying:

To clarify. This is not hatred or bigotry towards gays. It is not intolerance in any way shape or form. I believe we are all equal… But I believe in the sanctity of marriage between one man and one woman. This is my personal viewpoint. I Do not hate anyone.

Now, see… this isn’t about whether or not Todd Reynolds hates someone. It is about how he would use his position as a sports agent to try to silence those who would speak out for equality, understanding and love.

I care that he, as an agent, would publicly express his viewpoint that Sean Avery’s support is “misguided.” If I am a player represented by Reynolds, do I feel comfortable supporting gay marriage or Avery’s stance? Do I wonder how that will affect the way Reynolds will promote my career?

I care that one of the first professional male athletes to make a public stance supporting gay marriage got immediately called out for it by part of the “business” of sport. And I care that will make the second athlete who might publicly support gay marriage think twice.

And most importantly, I worry that there are thousands of young, gay athletes who stay in the closet because of the homophobia of too much of the sports world.

And I worry that Todd Reynolds either doesn’t know or doesn’t care about any of that.

So let’s make it better.

According to both his agency page and the NHLPA.com agent page, Mr. Reynolds’ email is todd@uptownsports.ca. Let’s help him see how important it is that he understands why Sean Avery wasn’t misguided, he was right. He was brave. He was strong.

And he was needed.

Let’s all send Mr. Reynolds our favorite It Gets Better videos. Let’s tell him the stories we know of kids who need to see gay as normal, as o.k., as accepted.

I’m going to send him one of my favorites. This one:

Let’s make it better.

Mar 08

An Important Win

I’ve been thinking a lot about Wes Leonard the past few days. I’ve been wondering about how his teammates are holding up. I’ve been awed by the footage of his coach talk about what happened… somewhat stunned by how he had to answer questions that there was no way he could answer…. thinking that if it was me who had lost a player, I would have been more of a wreck than he.

The team, after asking Wes’ parents for permission, decided to play their state playoff game tonight. I thought about them several times today… how could they prepare for emotion of this game? How do you, as the coach, honor the fact that they were clearly playing this game to honor their fallen teammate while also trying to temper the emotion of that. I kept thinking about how I would try tell them that, win or lose, the decision to play at all was to honor Wes…. to try to let them know that they didn’t have to win the game… that playing at all was the point.

I thought about how much those boys mean to each other. The bonds that are created on a high school sports team are incredible. So many coaches – myself included – have preached the "twelve players, one goal" mantra at practices and games… and while it may sound cliched or trite, it isn’t. The love you feel on a team is hard to explain. I still remember a time-out late in a playoff game where I just looked at my girls and said, "There is nowhere in the world I’d rather be than right here, right now, with you all. Let’s win this game." Even seeing the words on the screen make them seem silly now, but they weren’t. I just loved coaching those girls more than I could ever express. It was clear from the interviews that the Fennville coach felt the same way about his boys.

The boys won tonight, 65-54, after announcing only four players in the starting line-up to honor Wes. The photo that goes with the article shows the emotion that they felt after the game. I want them to win States. Odds are against them, but I want them to. But even if they do, at some point in time, the season will end and all the adrenaline that is sustaining them through their loss will end, and Wes’ loss will be final. The hope is that the grief counselors will know to come back then to help those boys and their coach.

But for now, the boys won their game. They have another one. They will take the court to honor their teammate and try to achieve that common goal.

They have more fans than they could possibly know.