In my Motivating the Unmotivated seminar, there is a section on how and why to build relationships with students. I talk about how to create the “our classroom” feeling whether you teach second grade or are working with students second hour. I go into detail on the value of creating group products, setting group goals, assigning service projects, using connective Teacher Talk, designing class rituals, and other bonding strategies.
An integral part of building the “our classroom” feeling is the creation of a class name. Snyder’s Spiders, Olsen’s Owls, The Banana Splits, The Third Hour Hummers, Science Investigators, and History Hunters are examples. If everyone is involved in creating the name, that process builds feelings of oneness and a sense of being part of a greater whole. Once the name is selected, it can be used for note pads, bulletin boards, communications to parents, a display case, a logo, and a class motto. It can be incorporated into a class flag, song, banner, t-shirt, or creed. All of this builds belonging and connectedness.
At one workshop I noticed a participant with negative body language during this part of the presentation. I knew he taught in the high school. I did not know he was a coach. His posture and facial expressions told me he was bored, disinterested, and in disagreement with the activities I was suggesting. I suspected he thought the material I was presenting was for elementary teachers, not people like him who taught teenagers. I was wrong.
At the conclusion of the seminar he stayed and talked. He talked and talked for over half an hour. He began by being open and honest, saying, “You have given me something to think about for use in the classroom. I have been teaching twenty years and have never done any of this in my math classes. I’ll think about it, but I’m not promising anything.”
“Fair enough,” I told him, and then added, “I was thinking maybe you thought this stuff was too elementary for high school.”
“I’m still undecided about that,” he said, “but I’ll tell you something else and you can tell all the other teachers if you want to.” He then proceeded to share that while he had never done any of the activities to build connectedness in his classroom, he had done it every day in his coaching career. He was the head football coach at his school and has held that position for fifteen years.
“You talked about names,” he said. “We have a name. We’re the Gladiators. I didn’t get to pick that name. That was the name of our team well before I got here. But I created other names. We have a name for the offense, the defense, and the special teams, the ones that cover punts and kickoffs.”
“What are the names?” I asked him.
“The offense is called the Silver Stretch. Our colors are silver and black so silver fits. Stretch comes from our mode of attack. We line up stretched out and pass on almost every down. Our goal is to stretch the defense.”
“What do you call the defense?”
“The Junk Yard Dogs. We are an attack defense. We blitz on almost every down. I want them to act hungry like a junk yard dog.”
“You stole that from the Chicago Bears,” I challenged.
“Yeah, but they don’t know that. I’ll tell you something. I have three senior co-captains who, on occasion, keep the squad after our workout has ended and practice barking like a junk yard dog. It’s not just any bark. It has to be our junk yard dog bark. During the games I sometimes hear that bark coming from the field or from the sidelines. It’s a way teammates encourage the defense.”
“What about the special teams?”
“We call them the Set Up Crew. When they cover punts and kick offs, they set up our field position. Kids really battle to get on that unit. For some of them, it is the way they earn their first high school letter.”
“Now, the spectators have even gotten into the act on this naming thing. They call themselves The Extra Ingredient. They made t-shirts and buttons. I guess they want to feel a part of the team, too. They want to belong.”
“We have a team motto, Oneness leads to Won-ness. We stress that we win or lose as a team. We are one. If the defense is mad because they held the other team to seven points and the offense only scored six, I remind them if they had shut the other team out we would have won. It the offense is mad because they scored forty points, but we lost because the defense gave up forty-five, I remind them if they had scored fifty we would have won. We win or lose together.”
“You mentioned rituals in your presentation. Well, we have a ritual we do before every game when we run out on the field. We line up by grade and jersey number. The seniors line up first from highest number to lowest. Then the juniors do the same thing. This year we had two sophomores on the team They get in line last.”
“Why do the highest numbers go first?” I asked.
“Because the higher numbers are usually the linemen that work in the trenches. They do the dirty work. The lower number players are usually the backs. They get most of the glory because they score the touchdowns. Their name gets mentioned in the paper. I want the linemen to know how much I appreciate what they do. This is a way our entire team can show them some respect.”
I just nodded as he kept talking.
“This particular ritual of lining up this way is interesting. I lined them up that way before my first game as a head coach fifteen years ago. I have never lined them up since. They do it themselves with the seniors helping those who aren’t aware of the process. It has become a ritual.”
“There is one more part of this pre-game ritual. When they head out of the locker room to take the field for the game, they jump up and touch the sign that is posted on the top of the door frame. We take the sign with us on the bus for road games. It’s the student manager’s job to make sure it gets there, gets hung over the door, and gets returned to our locker room. Every athlete that has gone thought that door to play on our field has touched that sign. You talked about connectedness. When one of our athletes touches that sign he is connected to every athlete who has ever gone through that door for the past fifteen years. We make sure they know that.”
“What does it say on the sign?”
“There is no “I” in TEAM.”
“And one more thing. Remember, I said it is ok if you tell all the other coaches and high school teachers about what we do with the young men on our football team.”
I just did coach. I just did.
Chick Moorman and Thomas Haller are the coauthors of The Teacher Talk Advantage: Five Voices of Effective Teaching.They are two of the world's foremost authorities on raising responsible, caring, confident children. They publish a free monthly e-zine for educators and another for parents. To sign up for the newsletters or learn more about the seminars they offer teachers and parents, visit their websites today: www.chickmoorman.com and www.thomashaller.com
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