When Charlie Coyle pops into your Zoom waiting room while you’re in the middle of teaching a day’s lesson, you know you’ve probably done something pretty special.
Such is the case for Weymouth’s Joan Kilban, who teaches fifth grade in nearby Hingham and was recently named one of three finalists for the Future Goals’ Most Valuable Teacher of the Year. The National Hockey League’s program recognizes the good work of teachers across Canada and the United States, and the field had been whittled down through the help of thousands of voters over the course of three months.
Like just about everyone else still in school these days, Kilban is trying everything she can to make the most of the remotee-learning environment. And, like so many of her fellow teachers, the longtime Bruins fan and hockey mom understands her gift is better shared in a classroom environment.
“[Remote learning,] it’s not natural,” Kilban says. “Education is all about human connection, and teaching is about human connection. If you want to teach someone and you want them to succeed, before you start with even the simplest of subject matter, you have to establish a relationship. Learning is scary. You’re going to fail a million more times than you succeed. So you have to build that relationship. With remote learning, a lot of that is removed. So it’s challenging.”
Kilban remains optimistic that returning to classrooms will also return students to their tracks of learning. In some ways, academics among the students she teaches may be the easy part.
“We’re more worried about the emotional toll and about their lack of social interaction,” she says. “I’m worried that they’re scared and I’m worried that they’re nervous or depressed or sad. Those are really the areas that teachers are most worried about with remote learning.”
Since 2011, Kilban has been working with Bruins Academy Education, which features lesson plans that map to common core standards through the sport of hockey. Examples include data and statistics for math, play-by-play for, in Kilban’s words, “electrifying verbs” to spice up writing, and different science concepts. Over the years, Kilban worked with the Bruins to offer her feedback on the program.
“And the more feedback I gave, eventually the Bruins asked me to become one of the committee members for that program,” she says. By 2014, Kilban had teamed up with the NHL and NHLPA on their partnership with digital learning company Everfi, to incorporate “Hockey Scholar” in her classroom.
“In every city, the program is tailored to [the local] team,” says Kilban. “So, they’re all kind of the same concept, except that when my students log on, everything is Bruins. The bonds built with my students was overwhelming.”
Sometimes-dry subjects became immersive.
“A lot of the topics, they’re not exactly riveting,” Kilban says. “But when you see them in the context of real life, and when students can answer the question, ‘When am I ever going to use this in my life,?’ it really started opening their eyes.”
Students were learning about geometric shapes through hockey, energy though hockey, math and engineering through hockey. Even design …
Kilban says there’s a clear favorite of the program: “[It’s] a component of the program where you can design a goalie leg pad. So, we study Tuukka Rask’s goalie style and the students have to manipulate the design of pads to optimize his style. They pick the material and the flexibility, and then they test it through this computer program. It just has been a great program. The feedback from students has been wonderful.”
Not everyone can grow up and play for the Bruins, but there’s a good deal more room for the many jobs in and around the organization. Kilban can help students see those avenues.
“There are actually thousands of people behind the scenes working just as hard to get an optimal performance on the ice,” she says. “So you can kind of see that lightbulb moment. And it’s really cool.”
You can’t go far in Weymouth without hearing a Charlie Coyle story, and he grew up a few streets over from Kilban and her family.
“My oldest is 19, so we kind of missed [Coyle’s] school time, but, living in Weymouth, you always heard about Charlie – even when he was a little boy because he was such a great hockey player,” says Kilban. “Of course, we followed his career forever, and I do know a few of his teachers. They always go on about what a wonderful little boy he was. Just a sweet, sweet classmate.”
Coyle stepped in to help Kilban’s MVT campaign, and she looks back fondly on his Zoom appearance.
“It was really, really great,” she says. “I had the class on and we are going about our normal routine, and in the waiting room, up pops the name Charlie Coyle. We all freaked out, and then quickly, calmly and coolly collected ourselves.”
Official teaching season coincides pretty closely with the NHL season, too, and both have been cut short in unnatural ways. With a pair of teenagers in a house full of Bruins fans, Kilban knows all too well what might have been for the Bruins this season.
“[My daughter] is also a fierce Bruins fan and will often teach me thing or two about the Bruins, so they’re definitely a cornerstone in our house and family,” she says.
In fact, in addition to games at the Garden, the family has made more than one pilgrimage to watch the B’s on the road.
“We’ve had the opportunity to go up to Montreal for a game, we’ve gone to Long Island, to Chicago, and to the Winter Classic at Notre Dame,” says Kilban. “Watching the Bruins and going to the Bruins are some of our happiest memories as a family. It’s a really nice way for us to bond. We are definitely missing it. It definitely feels like unfinished business. Like so many things.￼”