Tag Archives: helpful

The Most Important Lesson

Each year I make the same deal with my students.

If they tell me it’s their birthday, and they make the request, I will make the hat.

This is no ordinary hat.

This is a custom, made to fit, and designed for just one student hat.

In fact, when some of my former students will visit me, often on Back to School Night, and I ask them if they still have their hat, they tell it’s still sitting on their bedroom dresser. For many of them this is many years after it was first made.

Why do they hold on to something made out of simple construction paper?

Perhaps it’s because no hat is alike.

Some hats dangle in all directions. Some are excessively tall while others are short and even slide down to sit on their nose – complete with eye holes. Some practically drag the sidewalk behind them. They’re decorated with names, stories and perhaps even ponies – if that’s what the birthday student loves. There are math equations, science terms and history lessons, but only if each somehow connected with the student. I’ll write questions on the hat in hopes that others will ask them about the dog they love or their little sister that makes them crazy.

Each time I begin one of these hats, I worry about the amount of time the production requires. In between science and reading, math problems and historical accounts. In between lunch and recess, resource and the bus loop… I staple, resize, crimp, fold, and cut.

Students watch me from their seats as they look up from completing a quiz or from behind their worksheets.

It takes more time than I care to admit. There’s constant cutting and even a resizing in the midst of the build. This all takes some time. Time away from what some would, no question, argue is a distraction from what’s expected to happen in the classroom.

So why does their smile stretch across their face when I sit that hat upon their head when I’ve finished?

While I think yes, it is because each is individually made just for them, I also believe it’s because of what I obsess over – the time it takes to make each one.

In an era of testing, meeting lesson objectives, remediation, and student anxiety; in a time when students are forced to acclimate to test taking strategies — all they want to do is share a story about what happened at the ball field or during last night’s sleepover with friends. They want us to make an effort to hear their story.

So seeing them proudly wear their hat as they follow me down the bus loop and get on the bus, is a memory for both student and teacher to remember.

When students know that you care enough about them to spend the time to make them happy – that’s a realization not quickly forgotten and quite possibly the most important lesson we can impart.

How To Scream At Sasquatch

I ratcheted my shoes and then punched the right code on the keypad.

A few seconds later I was left trapped between the dark and the garage door I had just closed.

The only light I now had came from the lamp sitting on my bicycle handlebars. It’s a good light, and it took some time to find it, but in the dark it remained a narrow beacon that only lit what it was pointed at.

It was another typical early morning bicycle ride, except for the sound coming from the woods behind my house – a squirrel, sure a squirrel I reassured myself.

Let me now try to convince you that sounds are amplified in the dark.

What sounds like a bear walking toward one’s tent at 1 a.m. is usually just the wind tumbling a leaf in the woods. What convinces you is a madman with knife in hand lumbering toward you at 3 am are raindrops falling from the leaves above and hitting different surfaces in a very alarmingly rhythmic way.

It was a squirrel, sure a squirrel.

What came next happened quickly.

The noise of jumping or running or leaping or racing or catapulting was obvious and it was now coming toward me.

It was intentional.

And it was fast.

I was sure of it because what was quiet a moment ago was definitely getting louder by the quarter second.

I mentioned to you it was dark right?

What happened next is far more interesting than what I’ve mentioned to you so far because this is when I did what I have never done in my 46 previous years of life.

Before I really grasped what I was doing,  as whatever it was came closer, I had raised my bicycle in the air in front of me (in the direction of what sounded like a Sasquatch attack) and let out a god-awful noise / grunt / holler / scream.

This was not a planned scream of terror – but a very natural scream of terror.

No doubt it was spurned on by the tingling of hairs and what I will admit to you, without bravado, was fear.

Thinking back, my very manly scream was obviously a challenge to whatever was coming at me – I would not so easily be taken or eaten.

Out of the dark my now swinging handlebar light, which if you remember was above my head, captured for a moment a deer running toward me and then past me. It then took an impressive hard left in front of my neighbor’s yard and was as quickly gone as it had come into my early morning life.

I put my bike back down, wondered if anyone had seen my very manly act and genuine scream, and laughed to myself. I think I even talked to myself for a few seconds. No doubt trying to regain some composure and summoning up the courage to get on the bicycle to head down the dark street.

Although this happened some months ago now, it reminds me of how we react to others or to situations in our lives.

Do we…

  • Question before we answer?
  • Argue before listening?
  • Expect others to do what we would do?
  • Wait before saying hello?
  • Interrupt others while they share?
  • Assume things about others?
  • Allow ourselves to be overshadowed by others?
  • Overshadow everyone else?

And why worry or even think about any of this?

I believe that…

  • We deserve to listen to others.
  • We deserve to ask good questions.
  • We deserve to be heard.
  • They deserve to tell you their story before we even begin to judge them. And when we judge, we assume that they have little to nothing worthy of imparting to us.
  • Others deserve to be who they are, regardless if that pleases us.
  • Those we come in contact with deserve the time to share an idea.
  • Others deserve to be heard too.
  • And others deserve to be welcomed.

What is your autopilot setting? How do you react to others?

For me, I am certainly quick to interject. In the classroom rush to get to the end of my lesson, I too quickly overshadow what might be an excellent story a student wants to share with their class. In my desire to squash unruly behavior, I certainly think the worst before waiting to see what good will come from an action.

Perhaps it’s the nature of the classroom. Perhaps, though, it’s how I have learned to react from past experiences. These reactions being both successful as well as continued bad habits that impede my success at the front of the room.

And most importantly, is this reaction how we want to continue to be seen and treat those around you?

I think it’s a valuable lesson for not just our students, but for us to reflect upon as well.

I would love to hear your thoughts on how you have imparted to your students the lesson of reacting to others around them. Please take a moment and share in the comments section.

You Are Not Alone


A few weeks ago we heard some very sad news about a student at my son’s high school who had taken her life. It reminded me that the students we teach endure so much more than we realize.

That Monday I night I shared the following with Scouts.

Please feel free to use any of these thoughts if you think they would be useful in sharing with students that they are not alone as they progress through the trying school years.

You are not alone.

My freshman year in high school was not an easy one.

Ask my mom and she’ll tell you about countless mornings in which I cried as I got onto the bus. I expect that I was a handful just getting ready to get onto that bus.

The world of high school wasn’t just different than middle school – it reminded me that school was a mental game.

What was the point after all?

Constant early mornings, constant homework assignments, teachers I had to pay attention to, a lack of friends, no end in sight, on the bus, off the bus, waiting for the bus.

One week just led into another week of the same.

I spent weekdays looking forward to weekends. I spent holidays happy that I wasn’t in school.

Looking back I was unhappy, probably because I thought I was the only one down about the world around me.

You are not alone.

Perhaps you feel the way I did. Perhaps you feel all alone.

Maybe you aren’t connecting with those around you?

Perhaps you feel like an island far from everyone else. Maybe you feel like no one can relate to your problems.

For me it was not knowing what was ahead in a matter of just a few short years.

I thought that the life of high school was how it would always be. I thought the lack of friends would mean I would always be lacking friends. I felt that school would always feel the same way – unbearable and endless.

You are not alone.

Parents: Your parents have loved you since your first day in this life. They held you when you had yet to learn to walk, you were carried by them as you held on tight to their neck.

Relatives: Your relatives celebrated your birth. They know stories about you from when you had your first birthday party to your first steps to your first day in kindergarten.

Family Friends: Your parents’ long time friends have watched you grow up and have been hoping for you.

Siblings: If you have brothers or sisters, they would be lost without you. You might bicker and argue. You might wonder how in the world they are related to you. Remember though that they will be your brother or sister far into a future you can’t imagine.

Teachers: Your teachers are committed to your learning. They became teachers thinking about teaching students just like you. They also decided to teach students your age and sought a degree in which they could do exactly what you see everyday. Some of them good – no doubt, some of them not so good – that’s a reality too. Regardless though, you are their student.

Scouters: The adults in this room have committed to help you realize your goals. Each has a lifetime of stories that might surprise you in convincing you that we have been exactly where you are now.

Friends: Your friends need you like you need them. When your thoughts try to convince you that you’re alone, your friends are the ones who will remind you that we each struggle and celebrate the same things in this life.

You are not alone.

Your God has been standing alongside you.

Have you placed your faith in that fact?

Have you gone to that quiet place, wherever that might be, and really thought about this one?

If we say a Scout is reverent, then if you haven’t already, it’s time for you to acknowledge that there there is something far greater than you and me. That God stands alongside you. He holds you up when you need support and comfort.

You are not alone.

So often we think no one will understand and I’m here tonight to remind you that there are so many of us available and willing to remind you that when you think the challenges in your life are overwhelming, you are not alone.

Be Helpful, Be Kind (A Speech to Teenagers)

People rushing on stairs

What follows is a short presentation I gave this week to a group of teenagers. Perhaps spurned on by the sight of too many hand held devices, or my own tendency to rush through conversation, these words came to mind that I wanted to share.

I’d like to start with a quote that I can’t attribute to an author, but one which has been on my mind recently.

Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.

There’s no question, most of us live a hurried, fast-forward, know anything you want because of the Internet and a device we always carry with us… life. We often play the catch-up game without stopping to think about why we’re catching up, or what matters, or what’s important.

You should know that it doesn’t matter if you are short or tall; skinny or not; blond, red or dark haired; clean or dirty; shy or extroverted; athletic or clumsy; full of energy or super relaxed; a hiker or a swimmer; a scholar whose grades some easily or someone who has a tough time doing well in school.

You need to know that you are not unliked, you are not unloved, you are not forgotten, and you are not unwanted.

It is crucial that you recognize that you are liked, you are loved, you are thought of, you play an important part in others’ lives, you will have adventures within the next five years you can’t even imagine right now, and somewhere out there is your future spouse, who wonders what you look like.

But what if you weren’t?

What if you weren’t cared for, weren’t loved and weren’t thought much of? What if you weren’t a part of people’s lives or weren’t a person we are fortunate to know?

How would you feel?

I ask this because there are people around you that feel this exact way. Perhaps at home, at school, in a Scout troop, at your church, or on your sports team.

So I’m asking you to please return the care shown you to those around you.

Be kind… Be helpful

By doing something unexpected for your family; by saying a kind word; by listening to someone who isn’t often heard; or by taking the time to sit and talk… instead of rushing off.

Your kindness might just mean more to that person than you’ll ever know or can begin to imagine.

So what matters? What’s important to us?

You Are.

Again… please take to heart the quote I started tonight with…

Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always.