Classroom Lessons Learned From the Vegas Golden Knights

How does a teacher bring hockey into a classroom? This happened to be my toughest year in education. With my young students, it took effort to get them to understand the importance of teamwork. I had tried, to no avail, to bring in isolated team building activities for my class. The reason they didn’t work is because there was no commonality or general theme. That’s where my love of hockey and the VGK brought about ideas of creating hockey teams within my classroom. 

The What: Create teams within the classroom, that may not necessarily fit together, and get them to work together on our most basic class rules of working hard, being kind, and showing respect.  Tables had to work together to stay organized,  to keep things clean, on group work, and to uphold the expectations of behavior. 

The How: I divided each group into separate working tables and gave them team names: Vegas Golden Knights, Chicago Blackhawks, Boston Bruins and LA Kings. I used these team names because they meant something to someone within our classroom. Each team could earn points based on how effectively they could work together as a team. The winner at the end of each week won the opportunity to have lunch with me. It was an exciting way to keep them motivated. 

The Why: Each morning, we engaged in something called Morning Meeting. I wanted to make sure this time was spent on changing behavior and understanding why it is important to work together. By scanning sports networks and stories from the local newspaper, I found the highlights of how and why kindness, respect, etc. was important and how the VGK showed this in their behavior. During the meetings I would read the articles and show the clips and interviews to these little first graders. Then I would talk about the lesson portrayed within.  And guess what? They got it. All of the light bulbs went off because they could see it and understand why it was important.

Here were my top 5 valuable takeaways from this year:

  1. Making Good Choices- After showing the video of the Fleury Ear Tickle, I showed them what happened before and after. This showed how everyone else was engaged in a big fight, yet Fleury chose to be different and have fun. When faced with drama around you, we can choose to take the higher road and not engage in the same behavior.
  2. Teamwork- Time and time again in interviews with players after the games, they immediately show gratitude to their teammates. They credit others for their success. What’s the value here? Be humble and thankful, always. 
  3. Penalty box- Yes, it is just what you think. In life, we could all use a little time out from time to time. With young children, their brain doesn’t exactly say, “I’m just going to go sit over here until I have control of myself and my emotions.” Insert the penalty box. I actually had an appliance box I used for another activity and they would crawl inside of it and say that was their penalty box. Eventually this broke down, so we just sat a chair down away from everyone and the kids labeled it “the penalty box”. I would set the timer next to them and told them they were not allowed to talk or engage with the class during this time. They were given 1 warning before they would have to be put in “the box”. Sound cruel? Not at all. This action actually kept them on task. They didn’t want to sit away from their team. The kids understood clearly that if they brake the rules, just like hockey players, the ref will have you go sit away from the rest of your team. Time spent in the box wavered, depending on the severity of their foul.
  4. Classroom jobs- We had team captains, equipment managers (i.e. supply helper), a Zamboni Driver aka line leader, and the list goes on. Check out the list of resources below to build your jobs list.
  5. Growth Mindset/Brain Breaks- Exercise is the way to a calm child’s brain. We took brain breaks like Shooting the Puck, Wall push-ups, arm circles, squat for 20, or In Goal-heel raises, and so much more (check the resource below from teacherspayteachers- It’s full of good stuff). Under the umbrella of Growth Mindset, we are not supposed to know everything the first day of the school year. We have to understand that we learn by making mistakes over time. From those mistakes, we understand and discuss what happened and how we would change it moving forward. This was another important reason for Morning Meetings, or team meetings, with the class as a whole and as smaller groups. I met a lot for discussions with my students. This had them engaged actively in the decisions we made which often helped to keep them on task and aware of their behavior. 

Final Thoughts

Finding examples that are relevant to kids’ lives help create positive changes in their behavior. Without the Vegas Golden Knights in our city, these valuable, real-world lessons would not have come about. The Knights have taught my little first graders how to persevere, work hard, be kind, choose the high road, and stick together as a team, even when one of your players is having a bad day/game. They taught the kids how to rally behind one another, show gratitude, and be respectful to your coach (this was my fav). This team of “misfits” also taught my students that teamwork definitely makes the dream work.

Vegas Golden Knights, we would not have made it through this year without watching and learning from you as the amazing role models you are for our city’s kids. Thank you!

~Amy Novak

Great resources to use for classroom routines, set up, and organization: