“The journey itself is delight.”— Rousseau
Last week Partners Club (a group I co-sponsor that connects students with and without disabilities through athletics and social activities) resumed its weekly ski outings. Although it had been uncharacteristically warm throughout the last week or so, there was still plenty of snow on the mountain.
As the kids climbed the hill in sets of twos and threes, I was genuinely moved by how our club really does impact every student beyond the classroom. In every sport, but especially in skiing, there’s a level of trust and care required to get students not only up the hill in cold weather, but also down again in a way that respects their level of athletic, psychological, and spiritual comfort. However, long before a student with a disability buckles into ski boots, he or she must hop over the first hurdle to getting involved with the club: getting out of the house.
Each Monday morning, my class discusses what they did that weekend, and the only response more common than watching television, playing video games, or sleeping is the ever-ubiquitous “nothing.” I often find that for some students this response is the ticket out of talking. But for a few of them, I realize that “nothing” is really an accurate summation of their weekend. And for a teacher who values student skills like connectedness, independence, and engagement, that realization is tough to make.
In my short time with Partners Club, I’ve learned some strategies to help increase student and parent comfort level when it comes to getting more involved in recreational opportunities in the community and beyond.
- Start small and build on — Getting a student to attend a single club meeting or activity is an important bridge to establishing a comfort level among students, parents, and teachers. Short activities during lunch or immediately before or after school are often the ideal starting place.
- Let students lead — I’ve learned that some of the best ideas come from the students. With a little support from Partners, a pre-planned activity shifts quite seamlessly into spontaneity, better communication, and real student engagement. When students are left to lead, each of us becomes a natural social support rather than a prescribed one.
- Sell it, sell it, sell it! — Sometimes students are skeptical. Other times it can be the parents. Even while I’ve always fancied myself as a terrible promoter, I’ve learned that if it’s a skill that helps students connect to their community, then it’s a skill I’m willing to sharpen.
- Always leave the door open —There are always cases in which students or parents aren’t keen on participating . . . and that’s okay for now. But remember to present them with the opportunity to participate at every turn. You never know when a student will suddenly be ready to give it a try.
Skiing is a great activity to challenge someone and put them out of their comfort zone for a while. Just being willing to buckle on the boots and walk to the crest of the hill is the first step in a gradual process.
I have a student who’s almost there. He’s interested. When he listens to others talk about skiing, I can see him thinking. But last week, on the day of our outing, even after I received the signed permission form, he slipped away out the door and avoided his first lesson on the hill.
As the other students and I drove to the mountainside, I thought to myself, “Maybe next week he’ll be ready.”