When we play, we learn

Harvard-Yale 2012. 34-24. 6 straight years of victory.

I’ve been figure skating for a few years more than that, but needless to say, that’s a different sport altogether. And in the football department, you will quickly find that I’m not just in deep water, but probably swimming in the wrong body of water altogether. So, you could say that I’m not exactly your typical football fan, but on THIS weekend, football was every man and woman’s game, whether or not he or she had a clue what people meant when they started talking about scrambling, downs, and punts.

Last weekend was The Game. The annual showdown between Harvard and Yale which, after this year’s game, has been a 6 year winning streak for Crimson. As I walked across the river to the stadium last weekend with plenty of crimson and deep blue all around, there wasn’t a paper or midterm worry that could touch my mind. My assignment list for the day was blissfully short: 1) Figure out what a “scramble” is. 2) Manage to plaster the small “H” tattoo that was currently in my pocket on my face. You see, on this day, the most important thing was and will always be,

SPIRIT.

The Monday after The Game, I got up bright and early and made my way to the Bright Hockey Center rink to teach my ice skating class before my own day of classes would begin. It was a routine morning and I was particularly cheery to have had a cup of steaming coffee, to still be riding the waves of a wonderful weekend, and to feel the inching excitement of Thanksgiving break. And that morning when I stepped on the ice, I saw the familiar faces I had seen for weeks, except one–Rudina’s.

Rudina is a young woman from Albania, bright and eager to learn as she focuses her blue eyes with a determination that I would more readily associate with my Organic Chemistry class than the ice skating I had been a part of since a young age. But here at this rink, Rudina was my student, and I, the teacher who was demonstrating crossovers and how with power and grace, they could get you from one edge of the rink to the other.

What had become second nature to me, was clearly a new concept for her. Try not to focus your mind so much; focus your movement. That was my blanket advice for the graduate students, postdocs, PhD candidates, and adjunct professors who had been through my class. They were all masters of using their minds, but here–just like the intensity and focus of a football game–there was a clear component that had to be all physical, and not mental.

After class, Rudina and I got to chatting about her studies and how she liked being at Harvard. This was not her first home, she explained, since besides hailing from Albania, she was also a visiting scholar from Oxford, and was now studying international law at Harvard Law School for the semester.

In that moment, I felt like I did while I was watching our team go for victory this weekend. Proud, amazed, and so incredibly humbled. This had been a sports-filled couple of days–a collection of moments, shouts of pride, and realizations that reminded me once again that some of our most memorable learning in fact happens outside of the classroom. But back to Rudina.

Not moments before I had been patiently holding her hand, trying to swat away her frustrations and guiding her through a basic move that had been taught to me when I was just a kid at my local ice skating rink. In that moment I had been teacher to a woman who had proved herself in scholarship in some of the the world’s most famous institutions of higher education. In that moment, I was the teacher and yet, in no instance had I ever ceased being the student.

My lesson of the day: you never know who you are surrounded by and the amazing stories behind their focused eyes and requests for help. So help them. Teach where you can and learn in the process. That morning, I had the privilege of teaching an Oxford Law Scholar how to ice skate. Who are you helping today?

Here are some snapshots from Game Day. Enjoy and have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

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