#BeyondContent: A Clean School Is a Happy School

ImageTim Cole is a former student of mine from my days teaching English at Akron Springfield High School. I was there from 1993-1998, so I had Tim in class between fifteen and twenty years ago. In the past year Tim and I have reconnected on Twitter, and last night he reminded me of something that I have long since forgotten.

Apparently I frequently told my students “a clean school is a happy school,” and I would get irritated when I would see kids drop trash in the hallway and not pick it up.

One day between class changes I put a crumpled up piece of paper in the middle of the doorway to my classroom. As the kids came strolling into the room, every one of them stepped directly over the piece of trash. Not one of them picked it up.

I then started class with a rather firm discussion about taking pride in your environment, about treating property well, about wanting to go to a school that was neat and tidy rather than one that had trash strewn all over the hallways.

Like I said, I completely forgot that I ever did that. But Tim remembered. Even though it was more than fifteen years ago, Tim Cole remembered my lesson about taking pride in your environment.

The lesson was not planned.

The lesson was not assessed on a standardized state test.

The lesson was not one that I can even remember giving.

Wow! Sometimes you make an impression on people and you never even know it. (There is a great video that speaks to this, but Nordonia teachers please don’t watch it because I’m going to share it with you in August: Drew Dudley: Everyday Leadership)

I’m not sure Tim remembers anything about Romeo and Juliet. I’m not sure he remembers talking about Thoreau’s Life in the Woods. I’m not sure he remembers what a predicate adjective is. But I am thrilled that he remembered something that still has meaning in his life, and I am humbled to know that I did make some kind of positive impression on a kid. In Tim’s tweet to me, he said he liked my class “BC we learned about life & developed prob solving skills.” And he used the hashtag  #BeyondContent.

Educators, this is a lesson we can’t forget. Content is important, but education is so much more than that. It’s about building relationships and teaching life skills that our kids will remember long after they’ve forgotten what an adverb is. Teachable moments present themselves to us all the time. We need to take advantage of every minute we have with kids.

Will it change the world? I don’t know. But it will make for cleaner hallways!


It’s a Jerry Springer World. Are You on Stage or in the Audience?

ImageI took my son Matthew to the Cleveland Indians game against the Twins on Saturday night. It was a great night for a game. The weather was beautiful. Indians legends Carlos Baerga and John Hart were inducted into the Indians Hall of Fame before the game. And there were Bon Jovi themed fireworks after the game (which were actually pretty good, despite being billed as one of the worst MLB promotions of 2013).

Twins CF Clete Thomas singled to center to start the game. The next batter, perennial All-Star catcher Joe Mauer, hit a deep homerun to right field.

Almost immediately you could hear the chant coming from the right field seats.

                Throw it back!

                Throw it back!

When most people go to a baseball game, they hope to catch a souvenir . A t-shirt. A rally towel. A batting practice ball. A foul ball. Anything.

                Throw it back!

                Throw it back!

To catch a home run ball hit by one of the greatest catchers in MLB history is, well, beyond most fans’ wildest expectations.

                THROW IT BACK!

                THROW IT BACK!

And so what did the fan that caught the ball do? He listened to the couple dozen chanting knuckleheads and he THREW IT BACK.

And then he was promptly escorted from the stadium by one of Cleveland’s finest–in the top of the first inning–missing a marathon game that Cleveland eventually won 8-7.

And also missing those spectacular Bon Jovi fireworks.

Nordonia High School principal Casey Wright (follow him on Twitter @CaseyGWright) likes to say that it is a Jerry Springer world, and we are all either on stage or in the audience. Generally he tells this to students who are prodded into doing something silly by their classmates.

But it’s important to realize that adults, too, are subject to the Jerry Springer rule. Sometimes people want you to do things for their own entertainment, knowing that you alone will need to face the consequences. Indeed, the only guy thrown out of the Indians game the other night was the fan who caught a homerun ball hit by Joe Mauer, not the two dozen lunk-heads who told him to throw it.

As we work in the field of education, we are constantly trying to remind kids that the right thing and the easy thing often are not the same thing. Sometime you have to take a stand and do what is right, even when others are encouraging you to do wrong.

I’m not sure the profession of the gentleman who threw the ball back the other night. But I’m hoping he is not an educator. We need to give our kids the best role models we can at all times.

Will You Be a Hero or a Villain in a Child’s Story?

ImageLast week I was invited to speak to the CYO Camp Christopher Day Camp staff to prepare them for their 2013 season. I spent ten summers at Camp Christopher as a counselor, bus driver and camp director, and I was honored to be invited back.

I am a HUGE supporter of summer camps. Every kid should spend time in the wilderness making friends and getting muddy.  Summer camp teaches life lessons in teamwork, leadership, spirituality, environmentalism, fitness, and so much more. I loved the swimming, canoeing, horseback riding, hiking, crafts, games, singing songs….the list is endless.

One of the best parts of Camp Christopher for me was the story telling. Every camp has its own stories and legends, and Camp Christopher was no different. Old Man’s Cabin, Mummy’s Cave, Frankenstein’s Chair, and the Man Walking Backwards: these were all stories that we loved to tell to campers, and it was fun to see over the years how the stories would change, much like the oral tradition of centuries ago.

The stories we told all featured interesting characters—some heroes, some villains—who came to life for our campers as they had for campers from previous generations.

Last week I reminded the Day Camp staff of something I like to remind our teachers. That is, you will be a character in the life story of each child with whom you interact. Whether you are a hero or a villain or even a nondescript extra in that story is entirely up to you.

When you work with kids, every day you make a difference in their lives.

You can encourage them to reach for their dreams or dissuade them from taking risks.

You can treat them with warmth and compassion or coldness and animosity.

When they make mistakes, you can show them mercy or vindictiveness.

You can speak to them with kindness and politeness or sarcasm and harshness.

You can challenge them to reach heights they never knew possible, or undermine them with low expectations.

One thing is certain when you work with kids. Twenty years from now they will tell stories about the time they spent with you. In their stories, will you be a hero or a villain? It really is up to you.