Damp Hair and Chlorine

The air was heavy and heady with the scent of damp hair, post pool chlorine and the scattered excited chatter of some thirty plus year 3 pupils…

I was sitting on school bus with five or six of their teachers and support staff.

We were on our way back to school after their weekly swimming lesson.

I am often asked by schools who see the wider outcomes for curriculum swimming, to deliver bespoke training to teachers and other staff who want to play more active and more involved roles in their school swimming lessons. They set the training outcomes. “We need to know what we’re doing, why we’re doing it and the best way to do it. It is always about increasing their confidence.

On this occasion we had spent the morning working together in the school library space. Resources spread out on the floor and tables. They plan was to put it all into practice by teaching swimming in the afternoon.

None of them had ever taught swimming before; several had accompanied their class to the pool previously.

They knew I would be there to support in whatever way they needed. Now, on the way back, after just two amazing and effective half hour lessons – they were elated. On a new kind of high, they chatted together and shared stories. Sitting apart from them I listened with interest.

Only a handful of their shared stories were about their teaching experience, all the rest were about individual children.

I guess they used their classroom experience to know what had gone well, what hadn’t gone so well and what they could do to improve next week.

They were more excited about the LEARNING that had taken place; learning I would never have been aware of if I had been the teacher.

They talked about individual children as well as their classes as a whole.

I realised they has seen and heard things that were significant in a much wider context. Stuff of which I would have been totally unaware if I had been the swimming teacher. The sort of stuff that almost mattered more than the ‘swimming’ bit.

They knew every name and every little personality and a whole lot more besides about each child. How not? They spent some 5 hours a day, 5 days a week and 39 weeks of the year with them.

No swimming teacher taking that class 30 mins once a week for even 10 weeks could come close to the insights they now shared on the coach.

They were already planning to share their insights with colleagues back at school. They couldn’t wait.

Insights which in some cases sounded to me like they may have been breakthrough moments for children they knew well. Breakthrough moments in their relationship with their teachers, breakthrough moments in their relationships with their peers, breakthrough moments in their school learning journey.

The list was almost endless. I got the impression that they were fitting together insights gained from hours in the classroom and out in the playground and adding new ones from their swimming lesson.

Yes, timid Holly had put her face in the water – but Holly had had a rough week and nothing much had gone right for her. That had changed in her swimming lesson. Her teachers knew that the smile and excitement she showed in the pool meant massively more to her than any sessional swimming teacher might understand. Something had taken place which would now be followed up and built upon back in school. There was a sense that what had changed was important.

Jack hated PE lessons, I learned; he didn’t enjoy running jumping kicking or hitting balls and didn’t do ‘teams’. But he was apparently a different kettle of fish in the water. He could already float and kick his legs and when the learning assistant asked him to show the rest of the class, he seemed to grow taller, and afterwards they all gave him a clap. When she asked if he would help anyone who was finding it difficult, his smile went from ear to ear. She heard him repeating what she had been saying to the group. She knew that sometimes children took more notice from their peers than their teachers and parents. She had an assistant already. Jack rarely got stars in school for being a helper. He was going to get a couple today when they got back!!!

I often say that if, over the years, I’d had a fiver for every time a schoolteacher told me about the positive impact that success in the water and learning to swim had had on a child’s life – on their learning journey in school with knock-ons at home and in the classroom- I’d be a richer man today.

But I guess, and I know it sounds cheesy perhaps, but maybe we are all nevertheless made richer by every success we are part of and can share in the lives of others.

There’s a thought worth holding onto next time it’s you on the bus on the way back from swimming or you get that whiff of damp heads and the heady scent of post pool chlorine.

Worth it you see?