Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Swimming Lessons & I'm the One Who's Learning

For the boys, summer's greatest pleasure is time in the pool.  Splashing and screaming, they spend hours in the water.  Michael learned to swim two years ago when two of my students (sweet, talented young men!) were willing to give him lessons.  After only three lessons, he was ready to take on the deep end.  This summer, he took his first jumps off of a diving board, and is thrilled at his new cannonballing skills. With just a little guidance, plenty of encouragement and a solid confidence in his abilities, Michael has made steady progress and I expect that progress to continue.

Lucas is my daredevil.  Last summer, he would jump from the side of the pool into the water without holding on to me.  He loved going under and trusted that I would be there to scoop him up and lift him to the surface.  This year he has been a bit more cautious, but has progressed to dunking himself under the water and jumping into the pool in areas where he can reach the bottom.  He wants to keep up with the older boys, so he is willing to try anything once and I am hoping to have him doing some independent swimming by the end of the summer.  For Lucas, youthful exuberance has cooled a degree or two, but with his brothers and other kids having so much fun around him, he is willing to trust me and challenge himself each time we are in the pool.

Nicholas has had the opposite experience.  He loves the water and being in the pool, but an incident two years ago -- he went a few steps too far in a friend's pool and ended up going under for a moment until I "rescued" him -- had left him very reluctant.  In fact, he has been terrified of learning to swim ever since.  All summer I have been trying to encourage him to take small steps -- put his face in the water, jump into the shallow end of the pool, use a kickboard to get across the pool - to almost no avail.  His fears were so great that he he was completely illogical about the risks associated with the tasks I was asking him to complete.  He wanted to be in the pool, but his fear has kept him from fully engaging in the experience and so his growth has been minimal.

Watching my boys in the pool this summer has made me think about the students in my classroom.  They are all in the pool, but how is each one feeling about the challenges that lie ahead?  Who needs some basic guidance and support and will then be confident enough to push himself further with expectations of success?  Who is trusting and willing to grow, but really just wants to be able to keep up with the other guys? And who has had some experience in the past that may be keeping him from trusting and trying?

On Independence Day, Nicholas had a breakthrough.  In the same pool he had the scare in which caused his fears of swimming, he began going under the water on his own and using a float to practice his swimming kicks.  The pride on his face made my heart shoot skyward and nearly explode.  All of my cajoling, my promises of keeping him safe, my bribery tactics had not worked. What he needed was time to find the right moment. He told me later that being in a pool with deeper water gave him room to try something new.  Also, he said that he wanted to see how happy I would be when he accomplished  these new skills.

Even though my students are in the pool, they are certainly not all having the same feelings about being there, even if they seem to be enjoying themselves.  I have to be what each of them requires for their growth to occur.  I need to be trustworthy and encouraging.  I need to give guidance to those who are ready and space to try new things to those who need it. Most importantly, I need to be patient, I need to believe in all of them and I need to show sincere joy in their accomplishments. Yes, this is challenging and exhausting, but boy the fireworks that go off when a student experiences real learning!!  Summer's greatest pleasure for my sons has prepared for some of my greatest pleasure as a teacher -- I am sure of it!

  

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