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Another season is in the record books for the McDaniel College Green Terror Football Team. It was not the record that we were all hoping for, and I was not able to travel to the last game, which was away. But I watched it on the livestream, and once again I marveled at the grit, resilience, and indefatigable spirit of the players, the coaches, and the fans - parents - who I knew were in the stands. I've come to love all aspects of the culture of this game, but it's the people who make it the best.

First, appreciation must go to the coaches, chief among them Head Coach Michael Dailey, who said yes from the start when approached to have a female art history professor as the first faculty mentor to the team. We reminisce now often about how we were going to "figure it out," and we have. I'm grateful for his patience, his answering of my thousands of questions (I am an academic!), and his embrace of just about every one of my ideas. I have made it a point to get to know the other coaches a bit better this year, though I could have done more on that score. Yet, I know how busy they are.

Second, the parents have been fun to get to know, too. What a hardy bunch! And these people know how to party! I can't name names, but I have been gifted with more sausage, sweets, and alcoholic shots than I have ever in my life. At first, it was overwhelming and I did not know what to say or do, which makes professors as a rule uncomfortable. But as I try to tell my students: lean into what makes you uneasy and take a risk. I am glad that I did so because interacting with the parents has been a joy I did not anticipate when I took on this role.

And finally, but certainly not last, is my appreciation for the students. Among the graduating bunch this year are some of the first players who sought me out when I did not know what I was doing. I don't know why they trusted me, as I hardly think I gave off an attitude of confidence about my role. All I can think is that my desire to help and to support somehow came through. And I listened. By listening I learned so much. Because many people read this blog and because it's public, I will not name their names. However, they will always be among the most important students in my twenty-year teaching career in higher ed. They (hopefully) know who they are. They made me a better professor, by helping me see how they came alive in debates, games, and other active learning in the classroom. Several of them taught me about what it is like to be a black young man navigating today's society and some first-generation students shared with me the angst at the costs they were incurring. They taught me about grit and resilience, which I have blogged about here before. They taught me collectively about teamwork and why that is important.

In the end they have offered me a new way to express my creativity as a professor, a (sometimes) administrator, and a speaker on student athletes and teaching and learning. I've been given a new outlet for the next few years to help guide and shape higher education, specifically on how institutions can better support student athletes holistically at the (NCAA) Division III level. I've spoken at a few institutions, have a book proposal in about my experiences, and will be speaking at the NCAA's Annual Convention in January.

To the entire McDaniel College Football Team: a huge thank you from the faculty mentor. Thanks for making me a member of the team. And when is Spring Ball?!?!

The 2018 Team (photo: Katie Ogorzalek)

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How did I get from professor, teaching art history, to a consultant, speaking about supporting student athletes? This fall in particular I have been looking back over the steps that got me here. I'm trying to figure out what it is that links them together. And I think I know what it is: curiosity.

I wanted to engage the five football players that I had in my class in Roman Art in the fall of 2015 after I saw them play in a home game. I was curious and wanted to know: what made them tick? What would engage them in my course material in the classroom? I did research, asked questions, took a few risks in the classroom and followed up a year later with them to assess what they learned and what had "stuck." That led to a conference presentation and a published chapter in a book on active learning. All because I was curious.

In the fall of 2016, I went to an away game of the football team in Gettysburg. I had a few more students in my classes and I wanted to see them play after winning at home the week before. So I went. And the next Monday, I was invited to be the faculty mentor to the team. I had no idea what that would entail, but I was curious. So, I said yes. And I had an eager and willing Head Coach, who said he'd figure it out with me.

That was two years ago. I have figured out some of it. What I have figured out so far has led to a book proposal about how faculty and institutions can support student athletes better. Student athletes make up about 40% of our study body, so finding ways to engage them and support them only makes financial sense, if no other reason (like simply wanting to support them because they are our students) comes to mind. And it has led to workshops on supporting student athletes, like my conversations at the Maine Maritime Academy this past March (2018). And later this fall I will consult with Barton College in Wilson, NC, where they plan to add a football team next year.

Most of all, I'm remaining curious. I think that the true mark of intelligence is to realize what you do not know and to be brave enough to ask questions to learn. Right now my curiosity centers around how *exactly* a game plan for the opponent is constructed. I know as I write this on a Sunday morning that the coaches are watching tape. I know from asking players that they will watch and analyze film throughout the week. I know that the game this past Saturday will be analyzed for what went well (shut-out!) and what did not (penalties!).

I hope that the coaches, the players, and the parents (yes, I'm coming at you next!) are ready for my questions. As the students (and coaches) likely know, I ask a lot of questions. As I told the students at one of their summer camp meetings, your curiosity has to be bigger than your fear of looking dumb. And my desire to know outweighs that fear, even if it might be there. So I will keep on asking questions, and keep being curious. Because there is so much more to know!

 

Last week I had the opportunity to speak at the Texas Lutheran Engaging Pedagogy Conference as their keynote speaker. Details of the conference can be viewed here. I am very thankful to their organizer, Dr. Chris Bollinger, and their Provost, Dr. Debbi Cottrell, for inviting me down and giving me this opportunity.

My talk centered around active learning in my art history classes.  There were a few tweets with images during my talk, including this one:

I have already written about this idea of creating classes where it is "OK to be wrong." You can read about it in this blog post from this past fall. This is an important concept that I am still thinking about with my teaching. If everything is about high stakes tests, and then we say we want our students to take risks, how can we achieve that when making a mistake on a test has such huge consequences today? Even something as basic as funding for schools is dependent on test scores. When such thinking is ingrained in students, it's hard for them to think creatively and problem-solve. Creating an environment where it is OK to be wrong becomes very important, otherwise, we do not teach students that failure is often what leads to the greatest discoveries and creative solutions.

While at the conference, I also had the audience participate in some active learning themselves, which you can see in this "tweet" from Dr. Steven Vrooman who helped me with tech and took the video.

It was great to be in a room with so much energy and enthusiastic professors. If you'd like me to speak at your event contact me at gkreahlingmckay@yahoo.com or leave a message!

I did not write last week because I was leading my first consulting workshop on supporting student athletes at the Maine Maritime Academy in Castine, Maine (and right before the nor'easter hit, which kept me in Maine until Friday!). I met with very interesting people who are committed to the student athlete during my time in Maine. McDaniel (and football) alumnus Steve Peed invited me up to campus.

From talking to them, it seems that some faculty members are less than enthusiastic about the sports teams on their campus. The focus should be academics, and for some, only academics.

I don't think that anyone will be surprised to hear that I don't really understand that type of thinking. It strikes me as a little bit like the false dichotomy that often springs up around the concepts of lecturing versus active learning. One doesn't supplant the other. It's not either/or.

And neither is it for students. It is not a situation in which they only want to play their sport. They are at the institution for an education even though they are also playing a sport. Yes, it can be irritating to faculty members when a player has to miss class. Like when one of my students this spring semester had to leave early from class to catch a flight to Florida with her softball team. She was playing a very important character in my Reacting to the Past game, so I'll admit to a moment's irritation when she said she had to leave.

But this week two students will miss class all week because of Model UN. I wonder if many faculty would be as upset about that as students leaving class for a game? When I learned about the UN absences, it caused me the same moment's irritation as the student on the softball team, but I know this is a good learning opportunity for those two students and so will work around it. Just like I did for my softball player.

Sports offer students learning opportunities, too, just like the Model UN. And it's not just the usual items that fall on the list of "team work" and "discipline." That is important. And I have already posted before about how sports helps instill grit and resilience, two characteristics so important for success in the world. But there is also a sense of identity that students connect with their sport. If that identity is somehow maligned, even in small ways, how does that make a student feel? Some of these young men and women have been playing their sport(s) since they were around six years old. If we act like it doesn't matter, what does that communicate to them about how we think of them?

Furthermore, we know that first-generation students often don't feel like they belong in college at all. Some students from minority populations often talk about the same thing. So how much worse can we as faculty make their experiences if they also play a sport (and they often do), and we disparage it? Doesn't that reinforce the idea that they don't really belong?

I argue in my workshops that faculty can make their classes more appealing to the student athlete by using more active learning techniques, not as a replacement for a lecture, but in addition to it. Making a classroom engaging and inviting will help all students connect to the material, but in my experience, most especially student athletes. I always say that the football players who I am currently teaching in Medieval art may never come to love that topic more than the sport of football, but I can make the class more engaging, encouraging them to come to class by cultivating their interest.

If you would like to have me speak on your campus about supporting student athletes, contact me at gkreahlingmckay@yahoo.com.

Right now, I have to get an engaging class ready for tomorrow. Spring Break is over and the Medieval Mongol Horde is returning!

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