If you didn’t follow this month’s Little League World Series, you missed out on some amazing baseball and really great kids.
I live in Lewisberry, PA. We are located approximately 100 miles from Williamsport, PA, the home to the Little League World Series. The close proximity makes it a given that I will pay attention to the series each year. Not to mention, it is just good old fashioned fun. This year, however, there was an added incentive to draw my attention. My hometown team, Red Land, powered their way through the series to make it to the finals, yesterday, for the world title. (Even though they lost in the final game against Japan, I had the pleasure of watching them win the U.S. Championship on Saturday, in Williamsport!) Our small town of only a few hundred residents pales in comparison to the other areas around the nation which are supported by much larger populations. That’s part of what made this win so special. But, I digress.
My real reason for writing this blog is because school just started in our part of the county this past week. The boys, through the series run, were housed in bunks in Williamsport. They did not make the first day of school. So far, they have missed all four days of school. I’m betting, due to a well after midnight police and fire truck escort arrival home, they won’t make it to school today. I can guarantee the lessons learned during those missed days, however, far surpass what they would have “learned” in the classroom. There are also a few lessons we can learn as educators from the Little League World Series.
Little League Baseball “is designed to develop superior citizens rather than superior athletes.” In doing so, the Little League World Series (LLWS), itself, promotes so much of what we as educators strive to espouse in our classrooms. However, the LLWS does so in such an authentic context! In the classroom, many educators attempt to teach communication and collaboration skills through inauthentic means. As I wrote in a blog post on the Top Ten Ways to Fake an Authentic Classroom, simulations and non-stakeholder audiences leave little room for learners to need to communicate effectively outside of a grade. Similarly, requiring teamwork does not teach learners how to work together effectively. This is quite the opposite in the LLWS.
The Red Land team spent the last several weeks perfecting their teamwork. Sure, there are a few breakout “stars” of the team, but they don’t make the team, nor do they carry the team. The LLWS has rules in place to protect the preteens athletically. This includes limiting the number of pitches they may throw during a game and the number of days of rest required between games. No one pitcher was able to finish a full game and in several of the close games, another team member stepped up to close out the game. Adam Cramer pitched 13 strikeouts in 5 innings in last Wednesday’s game, beating nearly every MLB pitcher for that week. However, Jaden Henline had to close the game. With the bases loaded in the top of the 6th, he struck out the final two batters to save the game with a score of 3-2. That is teamwork. The team, as a whole, outscored their opponents this season, 288-41. That is not the work of one or two power hitters; that is teamwork. The boys, on multiple occasions during the series, came off their positions to check on a teammate, offer congratulations, or to give words of encouragement. That is teamwork. All 13 players worked toward an authentic goal and even though they fell short in their last game, they could not have become the U.S. Champions without teamwork.
In the classroom, developing projects or learning experiences that require teamwork, don’t necessary promote collaborative skills. Ask yourself this question: “Could the learning experience have been successfully accomplished on an individual level?” If the answer is, “yes”, you may need to rethink your design. If you are assigning team roles, can those roles be filled by anyone on the team? Can another team member step into a role and make the save when required? And remember, not all roles are equal. If you have one learner who is “the researcher,” have the others on the team learned anything about how to conduct effective research? It is also important to note that collaboration does not equal required teamwork. Where can you embed opportunities for learners to collaborate with experts? Just like the LLWS offers players the opportunity to interact with baseball greats, expert coaches, or just other Little League players that may be able to offer advice, our authentic learning experiences in school should offer the same opportunities for expert connections.
The LLWS is about authentic as you can get for a stakeholder audience! The crowd on Saturday’s U.S. Championship game alone was a record setting 45,000+. Many of the fans were part of the “Red Sea” who drove the two hours north to support the Red Land team. The boys won graciously during the series and those teams which they beat held their heads high and offered congratulations. (Check out the face on this MO pitcher after the grand slam hit by Cole Wagner, earlier in the series!) Throughout the series, the boys also became more and more comfortable in their role as LLWS ambassadors to the game. They were interviewed on national television and given the opportunity to improve their communication skills. The difference in the first interviews, at the start of the series, to the final interviews at the close of the last game was impressive. The once short answers were replaced with real conversations. Believe me, the skills that these young men have gained through this experience will propel them as individuals in the next stages of their lives and help to mold them into the “superior citizens” that Little League Baseball strives to help shape.
While we can’t always offer our learners the opportunities to engage in live television interviews, we can promote the work that they do. What opportunities exist for you to connect with experts in the field who are true stakeholders in the outcome of the learning experience? What does your community have to offer for your students to potentially effect change? In what ways can you use the learning experiences to create a public relations connection to your community?
In the end, while the baseball is fun and I am so proud of the accomplishments of the Red Land team, it shouldn’t just be about 12 and 13 year olds winning in baseball. The next step is to put Red Land within the West Shore School District and every other district in the United States on the map for the amazing authentic learning experiences they can offer the whole of their learner populations. Is your classroom and district ready to be recognized for the authentic work that can be achieved? What will be your game plan as this school year begins? How will your learners be empowered through authentic learning experiences?