Our girls both take swimming lessons at the local pool. We’ve been very lucky with some wonderful teachers but last term our eldest, Chloe, had a teacher she wasn’t impressed with. She had gone up a level and moved to a new class, leaving her old teacher, Kai, behind. She adores Kai with good reason – he is gentle, patient and tremendously encouraging. I thought her new teacher was merely suffering by comparison, until Chloe split her chin open on the bottom of the pool, doing dolphin kick.
That was the start of a rapid deterioration in Chloe’s relationship both with her teacher and the water. She became increasingly phobic, getting stomach aches in the lead up to each class. Finally, when her class went into the big pool (as they did for the last 5 minutes of each class), Chloe refused to get in at all. Kai, who was taking a class in the next lane, did his best to encourage her, but even that was no good. There was no way she was going back into the water.
Meanwhile our youngest, JB, was happily ensconced in a class with Simon – one of the best swimming teachers I have ever seen. He creates an instant rapport with every child in his class, spends every lesson wreathed in smiles and getting the best out of all of his students. I’ve seen Simon teach varying age groups and handle a wide range of challenging behaviours, and he is a natural teacher of immense talent. I find myself drawn to watch his classes even when he’s not teaching my kids, taking delight in the sheer magic of his teaching style.
I didn’t want to move JB, and I really didn’t want to have to attend two different swimming lessons in an already crowded week, but it was very clear that we had to move Chloe out of the class she was in. Fortunately the swim school manager was supportive. She switched Chloe to a different day and time so that she could go back into class with Kai. She even found another class for JB – sadly not with Simon, but with another wonderful teacher by the name of Jacinta. I was thrilled with Jacinta, but JB was even happier because Jacinta’s bathers were pink (these things are important!).
Kai was amazing. Almost immediately Chloe was happily doing dolphin kick again, having completely regained her confidence and composure. For the rest of the term Chloe worked blissfully with Kai, in whom she had complete trust. Any time her confidence wobbled we talked about how Kai would look after her, and she was fine.
Then came the challenge – the girls passed all their tests, which meant they were ready to move up to the next level. This meant new teachers for both of them. While JB was relaxed about it, Chloe worked herself into an anxious state, and when we met the new teachers my heart sank – Chloe’s new teacher, Michael, seemed very solemn. I couldn’t imagine my fun-loving girl building that crucial rapport without lots of smiles. I had been secretly hoping for another Kai or Simon, both of whom smile a lot, splash a lot, and keep the lessons both light hearted and productive. Chloe had been incredibly anxious about going into the big pool, and in this new class she had to get straight in, without any preparation time in the shallower waters.
To my surprise, Chloe got into the big pool quite happily with Michael, and as I watched carefully throughout the lesson, I could see that she was happy and confident about the very things she had spent the week developing intense anxiety about. She was diving to the bottom of the pool, swimming away from the guide ropes, and generally splashing her stuff with confidence and ease, as though there had never been a problem. There is an air of safety about Michael – a sense that, smiles or no, he holds every student in the palm of his hand. He watches them carefully, and never lets them founder. He is quick with praise – delivered solemnly, and sincerely – and his students hang on his words.
In a strange way, Michael reminds me a lot of Simon, but with less clowning about. With both of them there is a strong sense that they are the guardian angels of their group. They exude confidence and a comforting strength that seems to rub off on their students. At the end of the class Chloe came bouncing up to me raving about how wonderful Michael had been, and how awesome it was to be in the big pool.
I learnt an important lesson, watching Michael and Chloe in the pool. Smiles are cheering and reassuring, but you don’t have to be wreathed in smiles to connect with kids. They are quick to sense sincerity, and someone who cares scores major points every time. After her third lesson with Michael she is, if anything, even more impressed with him. Naturally I didn’t waste a teachable moment, and pointed out how unnecessary all that anxiety had been, and how everything had turned out well. After all, isn’t Michael amazing?
“Of course he is, Mum. He’s Simon’s brother.”