Check out this reflective experience submitted by National Middle School Teacher of the Year, Jessica Shawley.
I am always thankful for and greatly humbled by those experiences that remind me of how much influence I can have as a teacher in the life of my students. It makes me a better teacher and person. I still remember the day when “Johnny” came to class and just wasn’t his normal self. I pulled him to the side during our first transition out to the play fields and asked what was going on because he just seemed off that morning. He was a hard working young man and average student. With his head down and a soft voice, I was shocked at his answer to my question and the short summary is: his dad was just sent to jail for doing something very bad. I was heartbroken for my student. I was thankful I’d developed a positive enough rapport with him that he felt he could open up to me so I could be a part of his support system.
Some time later I sat drinking my morning coffee one weekend reflecting upon this situation and a question came to my mind: What if I had planned to play those traditional games that day involving the terms “jail” or “jailbreak?” My stomach knotted up in angst…that would have been terrible. We know our students have enough challenges outside of school and we want to make our classroom a positive and fun learning environment. So I should remember to keep ALL terminology positive as well. In my teacher of the year presentations this year I am challenging attendees to throw out the traditional wordplay “jail” and “jailbreak” and replace them with a more positive spin. For my games that include that temporary “out” location, I now call these areas the Fitness Center or Health Center and provide fitness equipment stations, exercise spots and/or jump ropes. Dedicate part of the center to different activities that tie to the Health Related Fitness Components. Students complete a certain number of reps of the exercises and return to the game or do the exercises until it is their turn to get back in the game. At the end of the lesson ask students which fitness components stations aligned with and so on.
This keep game terms more positive and ties them in with our core curriculum health and fitness concepts. You could even extend this by explaining to students this represents how our bodies function with proper health and nutrition. In beanbag slide tag games you can tell students the beanbags represent the bad food choices and stressors that occur in life that are always zooming around and being thrown at us each day. You can then brainstorm and discuss this with students, asking questions such as: What are some examples of stressors? What kind of bad food choices are you faced with at home or at school? Where do these stressors and food choices come from (media, friends, etc.)? How can we overcome these obstacles? What are some better food choices?
Next, explain that when we exercise and eat right it allows us to strengthen our bodies and minds to be able to fight or dodge life’s curve balls/challenges (the beanbags) and helps us stay healthy overall. You can then discuss with students what happens when we get hit by stress and/or make poor food choices (we get out of shape, sick, experience physical/mental exhaustion, etc.). Overall, our bodies weaken and we have to do something about strengthening our bodies so we can play the game of life in the best possible shape. So, in those traditional game, when you get hit by a beanbag (or your pin is knocked down), it means your body is in need of a “Fitness Fuel Up” to recharge and help you return to the game of life.
I challenge all of us to not use the traditional terms “jail” or “jailbreak” and to use more positive terminology and to weave in the health and fitness concepts into game play with “Fitness Centers.” I would love to hear from others on their cues, analogies, stories and terms they use in the classroom to connect with students and extend learning.