Saturday, December 15, 2012

What I Learned This Week (Volume 9)

            This week I want to focus on the connections we make and the enduring aspects of our work that continue to shape positive outcomes for our students. As I was completing this post, the horrific events in Newtown, Connecticut unfolded and the words below rang ever more true for me. Such a tragic loss of young lives, and the lives of those who cared for them, can never be comprehended and the impact is far reaching. On some levels the impact of the work of a teacher has never been clearer.

            My youngest daughter has just completed her extended practicum and she is so excited about the work of a teacher and the connections and impact she can have in that role. We have been chatting at various times and it’s a thrill for me as well to see her take on the role of a teacher. All parental bias aside, she is going to be an outstanding addition for a school out there eager to pick up a passionate educator who “gets it”. We had been talking about the end of her thirteen-week stint and how she and her students responded just prior to my leaving for a week of presentations in Woodridge, IL and Raleigh, NC. I told her I wanted to continue the conversation when I got back.

            While in Woodridge, I had the chance to go out for an evening with my host, Greg Wolcott, and was delighted that his Dad, John, was able to join us. John is just one of those people who you warm up to right away and I enjoyed the stories he shared. He’s the kind of guy I would have loved to have as my Dad. The evening disappeared far too quickly. Greg had indicated to his father that I worked with schools on positive culture and relationships. John was generous in acknowledging me in this area and asked about whether he had got it right back when he was a Principal. He told me how he felt it was really important to get to know the kids, their strengths, and how it was easy to avoid challenges this way. He spoke about the importance of relationships as he shared stories. He absolutely “got it right” all those years ago.

After returning to my hotel room, I opened an e-mail from my daughter and she described a rich experience that occurred on her last day with her students. Here’s part of what she shared with me:

In my last week I had an experience that fully validated my teaching philosophy and that I was on the right path. As I have told you my philosophy of teaching is that every child has the ability to learn and succeed and my job as a teacher is to find ways for all students to have success. Children come to us every year from different socioeconomic backgrounds, with different behavior issues, and with unique skills and weaknesses yet regardless of the background of each student they should start the year with a blank slate and with endless possibilities. Along with this I think every child should feel special. If every student feels they are one of the teachers’ favorites then I am doing a good job. There was one boy in my class who was a bit chatty and unfocused at times and might be written off by some as a trouble maker but I had a feeling that his home wasn't perfect so one day after school I took the chance to talk to him and get to know him a bit better. We talked a little bit about his family and about the project he was working on. It seemed like no big deal, and it certainly took no extra effort on my part but I took a moment to listen to him and let him know I cared. I didn't think much of it but on my last day as I was saying goodbye to the students, the young boy gave me a present that was clearly his personal belongings and things that were important to him (a small plastic toy and a piece of wood chewed by a beaver that he had found) and gave me about 8 hugs. It showed me that he knew that I cared about him and I was glad to make that small impact in his life. As a teacher I hope to make every student feel special, and let them know that each and every one of them has limitless potential and even if they don't believe in themselves, I always will.

As a Dad, I am bursting with pride as I read this. As a future colleague, I can’t wait to work alongside this teacher who also “got it right”.

            My final connection to the theme came as I was arriving late to my hotel in Raleigh and checked the messages that had accumulated while I was in transit. Once was from a former student who is now a teacher. Heidi took the time to share her joy at being a teacher and to reach out to me with this message:

I have been following you on Twitter, and have enjoyed what I am reading.  You are doing amazing things! I am a middle school teacher in the Greater Victoria school district, and am loving my job. Anyway, I thought that I would check in and thank you for your work.

It was a great energy boost at that late hour and propelled me through the next two days with a feeling that perhaps I also “got it right” occasionally, and that Heidi definitely has “got it right” as she describes her work.


  1. Tom, I can only imagine what your burst of pride must feel like as a dad...because I'm bursting with pride, and I've never met your daughter. Thanks for sharing...I also love the information about a school leader, I too connected and built relationships with kids...and while I enjoyed making those connections, I saw my more primary role as building relationships and connecting with every adult in the building. They were 'my classroom.' It served as the BEST example of walking my talk. The best example of me modeling what I wanted them to do with their students. It created a wonderful scaffolding effect on our culture. It reminded me that EVERYONE needs to feel connected, accepted and supported. Tom, thank you for this reminder.

  2. Thanks Ken. The modelling you have described is a critical component. The eyes are always on you and our actions, do indeed, speak louder than our words. As Covey stated, "you can't talk yourself out of situations you've behaved yourself into."