It was a beautiful fall day, 65 degrees, clear, with no wind, so we decided to bring our classes outdoors. While I love being outdoors, teaching outside at my school does not provide for the best learning environment. The outdoor space consists of a grassy area the size of a soccer field, a small blacktop, and a playground. Therefore, during the lunch periods, we are competing with the myriad of distractions that come with seventy-five children at play.
We were working on kicking a stationary ball, so we chose to kick a football off a tee. We used dynamic football warm-ups to begin the class. These warm-ups consisted of agility courses in which the students had to jump small cones, run through hoops, and zigzag through larger cones. Between the kicking stations and the warm-up, we set up 72 cones and 40 hoops. It took nearly a half hour to precisely line up all the cones and arrange all the colorful hoops.
The time spent was worth it, the day was going really well until the 4th class came to an end. We had just finished our lesson and had begun walking toward the school in our two straight lines when I stopped dead in my tracks.
I have been teaching for 27 years. As a result, there is rarely an occasion that causes my blood pressure to rise. Furthermore, if something does transpire to make my insides grow hot with emotion, I have learned to gain control and respond in an educationally appropriate manner.
However, on this day, I had an out of body experience as I watched a 3rd grade student proceed to kick, with reckless abandon, all my beautiful cones! One after the next, he launched each cone into the air with what would have gotten him a level 4 on my stationary kicking rubric. Left, right, left, kick! Left, right, left, kick!
While his actions were surprising, my response was as equally bizarre. After shouting his name and running to him, I said something I have never said in all my years of teaching! “You are losing recess tomorrow!”
My brain immediately reset into teacher mode but it was already too late. I don’t believe in taking away recess as a consequence for behavior and especially not for students that need to move as much as this one; but I had said it, and I wasn’t taking it back.
That night, while surfing Facebook, I came across this post shared by the Mankind Project via my friend Carol Ayres.
He met me in my office after lunch and we put on pedometers. We each made an estimate as to how far it was around the perimeter of the school grounds and we set off on our “walkabout.” I asked him about the punting incident and got no response. My guess is that there was no real reason rooted in logic. He was caught up in the glorious feeling that one gets when an object goes flying into the air after coming in contact with the foot! We continued our walk and talked about his family make-up and other no threatening topics. We discussed why although we had walked the same distance, I had fewer steps. We walked past the playground where all of his friends were playing. For one third of a mile we made a connection that I would never have made in the gymnasium during P.E.
Now, I don’t want to imply that I somehow changed this child’s life with a “walkabout” but I did change our relationship and that has made a difference in how we treat each other, both in and out of P.E.
So, what did I learn in recess today? Well, there is an old adage that states: Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. I believe in consequences for inappropriate actions but too often I rely on the same consequences even though they make no changes in student behavior. I learned that if I take something away from a child, I should be replacing it with something that will make a difference. I learned that children need more than a good curriculum, authentic assessments and precise feedback on their performance. They need sincere individual person to person interactions and relationships.
I’d love to hear from other teachers. When you have a “cone punter” in your class, what do you do? How do you build relationships with your students? How do you make meaningful changes in behavior? And “What did you learn during recess today?”