Winning at No Cost

#formerstudentFriday is an occasional series in which former students and I team up on topics of their choosing. Through their voices and perspectives, we can level up in everything we do

This installment’s writer, whom we’ll call Cassandra, prefers to remain anonymous, and I can’t blame her. In that nebulous place between graduation and finding her forever teaching home, Cassandra is stuck. Dubbed “grasshopper” because we always joked that she would replace me in the classroom someday, Cassandra’s post is all at once sad, cathartic, and hopeful.


When I long term subbed in a kindergarten class, I was used to playing games like red light green light and duck duck goose. Sometimes the kids would stumble and fall, but they always kept playing. One lesson I made sure my students knew is that it is perfectly acceptable to fail sometimes, just as long as they keep trying their best.

Fast forward to my current placement—a high school—where instead of tiptoeing to the finish line, I am tiptoeing around administrative politics and instead of running around to crown the next “goose,” I am just running around in circles. Unfortunately, students are just getting pushed through and are not really expected to do or be anything more.

One Friday, I was told by an administrator that I was “not allowed” to fail any seniors because it is bad for retention rates. Unfortunately for me, the few seniors I have, like the majority of my students, just don’t want to do the work. They know they will receive a 50% whether they do it or not. So the solution I was given is to start curving test scores and give out elementary level work. I have to do what I have to do to get them to pass, I was told. It is all about the numbers, both in percentages and dollars, I heard.

This has been a vicious cycle set in motion long before I set up my cheap Target decor along my walls. When students came to me, they expected that I knew the pass and go drill, and, even more so, viewed me as a nervous, little first year teacher not willing to swim against the tide. They know that the more students graduate, the more money the school receives. Moreover, they know that this can be an opportunity to get an upper hand.

When I began to give out reading homework and quizzes weekly, they failed. When I continued to give out reading homework and quizzes (with a few modifications) on a weekly basis, they still failed. Slowly, they began to realize that I would meet them halfway, but not at the cost of my expectations. When I caught a student cheating and gave him a zero, he lashed out because “[his] answers were right and I can’t mark them wrong.” This inflated sense of entitlement is a direct effect of the system and its bastardization of the idea of winning. To them, success is getting as far as they can by doing as little as possible. And it is only hurting the kids that go into the world thinking doing nothing is winning.  

I refuse to just let them slide, to just continue doing what they have been doing since they started school here. I refuse to be a glorified babysitter. I refuse to not give these students a chance to win the right way.

By allowing this “pass at all costs” policy, we are really failing our kids in the long run. While funding is important and a necessary evil, it is costing my kids the education they deserve. Because education extends beyond the classroom. Kids are going to try and they are going to fail; it is a necessary lesson in growing up. There is winning in failure. There is growth in failure.

But this push to “just get them through” is an adult game of duck duck goose: money gets spent, kids “pass,” more money comes in.

There are no winners.


Just Dance

An excerpt from Increase Mather’s 1684 essay, “An Arrow Against Profane and Promiscuous Dancing Drawn out of the Quiver of the Scriptures.”

Now this [dancing] we affirm to be utterly unlawful, and that it cannot be tollerated in such a place as New-England, without great Sin…The Design of Dancing is only to teach Children good Behaviour and decent Carriage.


I wonder what ol’ Increase and his band of merry Puritans would think of the “Orange Justice.”

When I first started teaching in 1999, part of the sophomore ELA curriculum was devoted to the Puritans, so I taught the above essay along with Jonathan Edwards’s sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” among other totally teen relevant fan favorites.  I used such seminal works to teach discourse, persuasion, and syntax, but I couldn’t pass up the chance to open up discussion about life in the 17th and 18th century. Later in the year, we’d read The Crucible, so starting with the real Puritans to prepare for the fictional ones was necessary, foundational work.

As you can imagine, kids were aghast at the idea that people were against dancing. Though we discussed the Biblical interpretation, the cultural climate, and the fundamental fear of God, students in the 20th century just could not grasp the Puritan way of life.

I mean, to be honest, I still don’t.

But that brings us to 2019: new century, same disdain for dancing.

My elementary school kids love Fortnite, and the ones that don’t, including my 9-year old daughter, love the dances associated with game. So from the aforementioned “Orange Justice” to “The Wiggle” to “The Floss” kids are dancing out loud and it’s driving the adults insane.

But, why?

What is it about children dancing that turns us all into residents of Salem, Massachusetts circa 1692?  

Maybe we see junior versions of ourselves in those little, dancing bodies, and we long for the days when we, too, could just stop what we’re doing and dance. Inhibitions be damned (not our souls).

Maybe we conflate dancing with an overt smack to our orderly, Charlotte Danielson fearing faces.

Maybe we, by nature, aren’t dancers, especially in public, so the prospect of children dancing willy-nilly in our halls and in our rooms evokes a primal envy we didn’t know existed (note: if this describes you, please stop reading and seek help).

Maybe we weren’t allowed to watch Footloose or Grease as a kid, so seeing them play out in real life serves as a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Maybe we work for a 21st century version of Increase Mather and fear being smote on the spot, Dunkin’ coffee in hand, for not putting a stop to the wickedness.

But maybe, just maybe, we should let the kids dance if they want to.

Hell, maybe we should join them.

Our Own Students

#ColleagueCorner is an occasional series which reminds us that our greatest resource is each other. Through human connection and shared experience, these stories provide us a glimpse into their world, a world we all share as educators. 

Cristin Introcaso is the kind of person I am thankful I was able to share space with. Any space. In my case as her supervisor for a year, it was her choir room, our auditorium, and a tucked away corner of a second floor atrium at Rowan University. She’s the kind of person kids flock to and adults aspire to. Her Colleague Corner proves why.


I recently read Brian’s piece, Forgetting How to Smile. In it, he makes the case that, as educators, we need to check in with ourselves often, to make sure we haven’t fallen into a rut and that we are still (to borrow a phrase) sparking joy. The post got me thinking about what other aspects of this multifaceted profession are also worth pausing to think about.

On the best days, a classroom is a collaboration between teacher and students. In that vein, I propose a question to consider: Would I want to be a student in my class?

It can be incredibly easy to forget what it is like to be a student. Educators are teaching to standardized tests, trying to get a project in before the end of the marking period,  trying to make deadlines on various district initiatives, and a host of other things, big and small. But we sometimes need to pause and step into the shoes of the students and see things from their perspective. The same way we all know that administrator who has forgotten what it’s like to be a teacher, we don’t want to forget what it’s like to be a student.

This idea can manifest in many ways. I’m going to focus on two ideas that I think are big picture concepts.

The first is emotional. When I was a student, I really noticed the day-to-day attitudes of my teachers, especially if it seemed like they were in a bad mood and “taking it out on the class,” as 15 year olds perceive it. Students tend to think teachers live in the classroom closet and emerge, renewed and refreshed every morning to teach Geometry. Of course that is not the case. We are people and our job is just one aspect of our lives.

When something is going on in our personal lives or if the last class was challenging, we strive to not bring it into the classroom. But some days that is not possible; the situation has stuck with us like a bad cold. On those days, I think back to myself at 15 and what I would have needed from my teacher. I would have wanted a heads up, so I am upfront with my students. I don’t burden them with details, which would be inappropriate. I simply share that it has been a rough day and ask for their patience with me. Most of the time, the students respond positively. It helps us be more human and allows space for the students to be empathetic in kind.

The second point is one of the harder things for educators to remember:  your class is only one small aspect of the students’ day. At the secondary level, we are so passionate about our subject that we have dedicated our lives to teaching it. But for the kids behind the desks, even those who love you and your subject, this is one of multiple classes and some days your class isn’t taking top priority. Your class is among all sorts of demands on their time, some elected like clubs and athletics and some necessary like a job. In fact, working is the most significant shift I have seen in students over the last 16 years. Jobs are essential to some of our kids, with many students helping to contribute to their households or babysit younger siblings while parents take a second shift. As much as the students think of us as living in the classroom closet, we sometimes think of them in a similar way. Is it essential that the homework be done by Monday or can there be flexibility?

I need this post as much as anyone. It’s the end of winter, myself and the students are feeling the low energy due to a lack of sun, and right now it is easy for me to get frustrated with them. Writing this forced me to take a moment to see my class from their eyes.  I realized that I am projecting low energy out; the students are simply giving it back to me. So I acknowledged the funk I was feeling, changed up the routine, took some time for relationship building, and hit reset on the class. Now we are back to a class I would want to be in as a student.

We are sparking joy again for each other.

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Cristin Charlton Introcaso is in her sixteenth year as director of choirs at Collingswood High School. Mrs. Introcaso received her Bachelor of Vocal Music Education and Master of Music in Choral Conducting from Rowan University. An active member of ACDA and NAfME, Mrs. Introcaso is the Auditions Chair for Region III All South Jersey Chorus, has presented sessions for the NJMEA conferences, conducted the 2014 SJCDA Elementary Festival, the Camden County Music Educators’ Professional Development Day, and most recently was the co-chair for the Together We Sing sessions at the ACDA Eastern Division. 

Closed Door Policy

Honor Time Without Announcing It

I have a closed door policy.  Don’t @ me.

Announcing an open door policy as part of a leadership philosophy is like a pitcher announcing he’s going to throw the ball to the plate. Yes, of course it’s supposed to happen but having to tell people about it seems disingenuous.

When my door is closed, I’m with a troubled 9-year old who “doesn’t understand the point of living.”

When my door is closed, I’m with a first-year teacher who just needs to vent and admit that she is very tired.

When my door is closed, I’m on the phone with the superintendent because I want to triple check before I call DCP&P and create further chaos in a 5-year old’s life.

When my door is closed, I’m finishing up a hug with a teacher who can finally announce her first pregnancy after years of IVF.

When my door is closed, I’m conducting a post-observation after one of the best lessons I’ve seen in my time in leadership.

When my door is closed, a veteran teacher is in tears as she tells me she just can’t do it anymore and needs to retire.

When my door is closed, a smiling 8-year old is coloring while I try to contact her step father who has forgotten to pick her up. Again.

When my door is closed, I am decompressing, if only for a moment, after my door was closed all day.

So much happens behind closed doors every day. Imagine what we’d miss if those doors remained open.

Say It

Developing an Intentional Leadership Style

The first couple times I do it, folks don’t know what the hell is happening. Most look down or immediately blush. Some shift their weight from one foot to the other absentmindedly. Others stare back at me for an uncomfortable two or three seconds to make sure I’m finished.

Whether as a result of being a father and telling my kids how amazing I think they are all the time or because I’ve become more reflective as I age, I now subscribe to a simple mantra, Say It.

Witness:

After a Saturday morning jaunt to a trampoline park with my kids, we decided to stop at Dunkin Donuts for a snack. The young man behind the counter, who was clearly working harder than everyone else there, gave my son a free Munchkin as we waited for our food. My daughter, who had already found us a table, didn’t get one but didn’t even realize it. Several minutes later, the attendant walked over with another Munchkin and apologized for not seeing my daughter in the first place. We thanked him, and then I just started to watch him work.

He was frenetic in his approach. He was cheerful in every interaction. He knew regulars by name and by the time of day they came in. He was really good at his job.

So I told him.

“Say man, thanks again for the freebies. You’re really good at your job. You should be proud.”

Like I said, people don’t know what to make of me at first. My sense is our society has become so sarcastic, so negative, so sub-Tweet-y that our natural instinct is to expect the worst from each other. But when he realized, after a long couple of seconds, that I was genuine, he just smiled and squeaked out a barely audible “thank you, sir.”

Telling people what they mean to me, how proud I am of them, or how good they are at their jobs, has changed the way I the way I see the world and how I choose to lead.

When I watched my math interventionist instill confidence in struggling learners, I crafted an email on the spot that started with the line, “I love to watch you work.”

When I finished an observation in 4th grade, I made a beeline for the teacher, who was already beaming because her kids had crushed the lesson, and told her how insanely good the lesson was, tipping my administrative hand long before I submitted her scores.

When a 3rd grader forgot her homework, I let her back in the building and then marched over to the waiting car in which sat her mom and grandma, “Can I just tell you how much I love your daughter? She is constantly smiling, working hard, and being kind. You should be proud.” I can’t be sure, but I think mom teared up as she rolled the window back up.

But it doesn’t, and shouldn’t, stop in my professional life.

My wife is beautiful and an uber talented fundraiser, so I tell her.

My son is ridiculously funny for a 5 year old, so I tell him.

My daughter is creative and empathetic and already a better person than me, so I tell her.

My brother has had a difficult life but is really trying, and I’m proud of him, so I tell him.

At first, shifting our consciousness from thinking it to saying it is intentional and uncomfortable. Eventually, however, it becomes ingrained, an expectation, an accepted invitation from the world to see it and say it.

So, see it. And say it.

#JurorWoes

#ColleagueCorner is an occasional series which reminds us that our greatest resource is each other. Through human connection and shared experience, these amazing educators provide us a glimpse into their world, a world we all share as educators. 

Tina Olsen was the first person to convince me that everything would be okay. After news broke that I would be switching roles with her former (outstanding) principal, Tina wasted no time in texting me as the spokeswoman for our school. Her message was concise, clear, and wise beyond her years: This is a hard job. Please let me help you

And help me she has. Every day. That’s why I wasted no time in asking her to be the first #ColleagueCorner contributor and why her story, while so common, serves as a cautionary tale for leaders who may forget how good they have it when they work with people like Tina. 

__________________________________________________________

I saw them.

Those dreaded eight black letters staring back at me: JURY DUTY. Naturally, my first reaction was how could three years have passed so quickly. My next thought was convincing myself that it’s part of my official civic duty to serve. So, I put in for the substitute, and off I went to the Hall of Justice with a bag full of books that were never read.

What in the world does this have to do with education? Well, I’m getting there.

What I anticipated to be a one-day-I’ll-just-read-for-seven-hours sort of juror experience turned into quite the opposite. I was instantly called up and put in a pool to serve on a three-month long case. Immediately, the lyrics, “You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone,” from Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi” popped into my head. How on earth could I leave my students for three months? I panic leaving them for a 30-minute special period let alone 90 consecutive days! The thought of not seeing my kids (yes they become your kids when you spend almost more time with them than their own parents) gave me a panic attack in my seat.

I was never forced to think about teaching coming to an absolute halt, especially one that was completely out of my control, and it was scary. Thoughts flooded my head: Who will replace me? How will my kids react to a new teacher? Will he or she undo all of the progress I made with my kids? How am I going to survive without seeing my colleagues-turned-closest-friends?

Even on the hardest days of teaching there is always something bright that shines through. If chosen, I would not see my kids learning, laughing, smiling, joking, and blossoming into the amazing people they are destined to be. There was NO WAY I could be picked for the trial; I had more impactful things to do in my own classroom.

Luckily, after what seemed like the longest two days of my life, I was officially dismissed from the case. The whole experience really forced me to put my career as an educator into perspective. I did miss my crazy classroom for those two days. I do love teaching, and sometimes I take for granted just how lucky I am to educate, nurture, and learn from my students every day. I breathed a sigh of relief when I walked back into MY classroom, my sanctuary of chaos. Let the learning begin again!

Until the next summons…

Tina Olsen is a first grade teacher in Collingswood, NJ. She is also a K-12 graduate of the Collingswood School District. Following high school, Tina went to Stonehill College in Massachusetts, only to return to the beloved town where her academic journey started! She has her Masters in Special Education and one day hopes to obtain an academic supervisor or principal certification. She is currently studying to obtain her certification as a Group Fitness Instructor. Tina loves to bake, work out, and travel with her husband Ray.

When The Pen Isn’t Mightier

#formerstudentFriday is an occasional series in which former students and I team up on topics of their choosing. Through their voices and perspectives, we can level up in everything we do

Kyle Phillippi is a far better writer than I’ll ever be. He’s also the stepbrother of my best friend, who was the best man in my wedding, and a former student to whom I aspired while his writing career was taking off. Still, like so many #formerstudentFriday posts, his path was all at once direct and winding, with a destination that is still unclear.


You know that cliche movie scene where the main character boards a train or a bus, grabs a window seat on an otherwise empty cabin and enters a deep, contemplating stare out into the distance? Oh, and it begins to rain while an overused song by The Fray plays over the background, don’t forget that part

That moment – sans ‘How to Save a Life’- was reality for me as I boarded a NJ Transit train in New York City at 1:30 a.m.

I had just finished my shift at the Major League Baseball media offices in Chelsea Market when I realized how close to the needle I was cutting it… I had approximately 15 minutes to travel about 15 blocks and catch the final train of the night to The Garden State.

Naturally, I flung my backpack over my shoulder, hustled down four flights of stairs and – seeing no taxi at initial glance – put my head down and entered a sprint.

Fast forward 15 minutes, I was the last passenger to board as the doors closed behind me. I found a quiet spot fittingly by a window, drenched in perspiration, and that’s where the aforementioned ‘a-ha’ ‘moment came about as a light drizzle lathered the sides of the train.

What was that moment?

It was time for me to change careers – to put aside my goal of becoming a national sports reporter – and to take my first step into adulthood.

From a young age, I knew what I wanted and knew what I enjoyed. That was writing for me, and specifically sports writing. I found success fairly early, mostly because I kicked down the door on any and all opportunities that I came across. I found my byline appearing everywhere from The Press of AC to Sports Illustrated from covering events like the Winter Classic to Philadelphia Eagles training camp.

Failure never was an option for me. Yet, a brief conversation with a professor of mine at Rowan University opened my eyes to something when she asked, “What’s your back-up plan?”

I stared blankly… navigating through my thoughts trying to grasp at something, only to come to a realization that I never had a back-up plan.

Like I said previously, I never considered failure. I’m not someone who prepares for the worst, I prefer taking things in strides. I told my professor just that, “I’ll cross that bridge if it ever comes up.”

Well — surprise — it did come up. Despite being featured in major newspapers and media outlets, none of them offered full-time status which meant no salary, no benefits, and no way of truly beginning my adulthood.

That was my bridge and I had two options: continue trudging through the up-and-down nature of a freelance journalist or veer of the road and find a new path.

I chose the latter, entering the business world, and now having been in it for over a year and a half, I can proudly say I made the right decision.

Don’t get me wrong, there still are moments where I wish I was still perched somewhere in a press box overlooking a Flyers-Penguins game or standing behind the net taking in the Phillies batting practice. I’ll always feel like I was born to be a writer, but sometimes — I’ve learned — there can be a second avenue.

I always wonder that had it not been for that conversation with my advisor as a freshman, would I have ever truly considered a back-up plan? It was in that moment in which the wheels spun ever so slightly on what life after journalism would be for me. While that previous career went on for a good five years after that encounter, I owe a lot of where I’m at today to that moment.

No matter where you’re at currently, things can change in a hurry. Whether it’s internally or from forces you can’t control, change is inevitable. How often do you ever hear of someone sticking with their first job out of college for life?


Never.

Writing is my passion — always will be — but I learned that sometimes a passion doesn’t always lead to a career, and that the best path of travel can sometimes be your back-up plan.

Kyle Phillippi has a BA in journalism from Rowan University. Prior to switching careers, he currently works as a Territory Manager at Swisher International, Kyle saw his byline across numerous publications. His sports writing path saw him make stops at Sports Illustrated, NBC Sports, Major League Baseball, The Philadelphia Inquirer and various newspapers across New Jersey, including The Star-Ledger and NJ.com

Back (Pocket) Pain

I have the back of a man twice my age.

Despite being fanatical about my workouts, which take place immediately after I write each morning, following a daily stretching routine, practicing yoga, seeing a chiropractor, and getting massages, I am perpetually one false move away from lying prostrate on the floor with wicked spasms. For close to twenty years, this has been my norm.

Likely due to an unholy combination of poor genetics and years of athletics, my back is just a liability.  As a result, I have to spend significant time strengthening my core and reminding myself to get up and go for a walk if I feel myself sitting for too long. However, even as mindful as I have become, I simply can’t think of everything. Sometimes I need a little help.

A routine trip to my chiropractor, Shane, and a fairly common question led to a lifestyle breakthrough.

Do you keep your wallet in your back pocket?”

I mean what man doesn’t keep his wallet in his back pocket, accessible at a moment’s notice? Though relatively thin (we’re not talking about a George Costanza sized wallet here), my wallet did reside in my back right pocket for as long as I could remember. For just as long, I didn’t think once about it being there or about the way it could affect my back. Frankly, it was like an appendage.

The day Shane asked me about my wallet was its last as a resident of my pants. Rather, my wallet is rarely in the same place for long: in my car, in my briefcase, in the inner pocket of a blazer. In fact, when I do slip it in my back pocket absentmindedly, it isn’t there for a full minute before I quickly remove it.

For years, I was carrying around this equilibrium time bomb in my pocket, so I had to wonder, what else am I carrying around just waiting to wreak havoc on my otherwise healthy existence?

I would argue there isn’t a profession in which its members internalize, empathize, and reflect more than education. Whether it’s the high after teaching an amazing lesson, the dread of an uncomfortable post-observation conference, or the worry over a marked difference in the personality of a ten-year old, we carry with us the weight of everything that happens in our day. Frankly, our back pockets don’t have room for much else.

Yet that’s what draws us to education. We are people who have always liked school, have, for the most part, done well in school, have always liked working with kids, and have had some positive association in our own education which led us back to the field as professionals. The curse, as it were, is that we can’t just remove who we are from our back pocket when our profession gets difficult, like it is right now.

We can, however, look to shed something, anything, that is weighing us down.

Maybe it’s the lack of confidence akin to being a new teacher.

Maybe it’s the toxicity of a particular presence in the faculty lounge.

Maybe it’s the one-sided friendship from which we receive nothing.

Maybe it’s the convenience of using the same worksheet (blech) during the same lesson for the last twenty years.

Maybe it’s the self-doubt that so often plagues us as we do our best to do our best.

Ask yourself, then, what do you carry in your back pocket that needs to be shed?

Three Assists

Cultivating a Culture of We

On that day, I saw things happen long before everyone else did. I was operating on a different level, and although it didn’t happen often, when it did, man it was sweet.

It didn’t take me, or my parents, long to recognize that sports were going to be a major part of my life. By 6 or 7, I knew that I loved to play anything that involved a ball or puck; by 8 or 9, I knew that I was pretty good; by 13, I was a twelve-month, three-sport athlete. At 42, I still play baseball eight months a year, and I ain’t stopping unless my wife or a doctor tells me it’s time to hang ‘em up.

But this isn’t about athletic glory days. It’s about an indelible memory, with soccer as the backdrop, that has shaped my leadership philosophy.

Most athletes call it “the zone.” That fleeting but powerful expanse of time during which we simply cannot be stopped. It can manifest itself in any number of ways: a triple-double, a 12- strikeout shutout, a hat trick. Of course, the elite athletes live there while the rest of us only rent property at the far end of town a couple of times a year.

By halftime, we were up 3-0. All three goals were majestic, tic-tac-toe setups to three different scorers. I know because I was the player who set them up. As we huddled on the sideline, scarfing down orange wedges in between gulps of water, I uttered the question that led to this post.

32 years later.

Do I get credit for those three assists?

Though I can’t explain why I asked because I knew the answer, I can explain why this memory has stayed with me: the answer.

Well, the whole team does.

Our coach was the father of our best player, Shawn, who would go on to become one of the best player’s in our high school’s history. A stern, mustached, no-nonsense guy, Tom put me in my 10-year old place without humiliating me or making an example of me. He was right. I was on a team, we were up 3-0, and we were all responsible for the team’s success.

The exchange probably took five seconds. The impact is perpetual.

As the leader of an incredibly gifted staff, a perfect blend of veteran leadership and youthful energy, I receive emails and calls of praise weekly. Sometimes those compliments are specific to a particular teacher or experience; sometimes they are broad and overarching. Each time, my response is the same.

Thank you so much. We have an amazing staff. I’ll make sure to share this with them.

And then I do share it with them. Whether through a forwarded email or quick, early morning conversation, I provide the assist to the person who should get the credit. Then, I shut up about it already.

During my first ever principal evaluation, I purposely steered the conversation back to my teachers. When my superintendent asked about our scores, I referred to our teachers’ work ethic. When he asked about my transition to principal, I referred to the handful of teachers who made a conscious decision to support me through overt kindness and well-timed advice. When we finished, I reminded him how fortunate I am to work with this group of teachers.

Right now, I’m back in that zone I talked about earlier. Only this time, I won’t be fishing for compliments or checking the stat sheet at the end of the game. I don’t need or deserve the credit.

The whole team does.

Skipping Along

It’s been a while since there’s been a new discovery.

In those early days, they come in waves: recognizing parents’ faces, playing with the dog’s tail, babbling full of gobbledygook. But, eventually, discoveries begin to spread themselves out, like points on a scatter plot.

So when my five-year old son began to skip as his preferred means of travel while on a weekend trip to Baltimore, I took notice. To that point, he hadn’t skipped once and hadn’t shown any interest in learning, but somewhere between the beginning of kindergarten and the winter holidays, he learned. And to his credit, there was no fanfare, no showing off, no all-too-typical, “Daddy, watch this!”

Dude just discovered he could skip and started skipping.

One of the truly magical parts of being in education is the two-way mirror through which we get to observe discovery. Though more prevalent in elementary school, our kids are perpetually discovering. For little ones, like my son, they discover a new skill, a new way to add, a new way to start a sentence, and a new way to communicate daily. For the older ones, discovery is both academic and personal. They’ll discover a love for music, an interest in the same sex, an eventual college major.

And we get to witness it all. It’s an immense responsibility, indeed. Because we are so often  privy to our students’ discoveries before their parents are, we need to celebrate with our kids. In fact, in too many cases, our kids have no one with whom to celebrate discovery, so it becomes paramount that we do.

Observe mindfully as a little one correctly spells a sight word. Then spell it with her.

Listen intently for the I did it in your classroom. Then celebrate it.

Watch closely for the wry smile during a moment of intense concentration. Then acknowledge it.

Accept graciously the Can I talk to you request. Then protect it.

Discovery happens more frequently and more rapidly than we can keep up with. It comes in small moments and on grand scales. It awakens in isolation, and it manifests over time. It invites an audience, and it prefers solemnity. It charts a path, and it provides a signpost for growth.

When was the last time you discovered?