Careful the Things You Say; Children Will Listen

ImageToday our high school had its induction ceremony for National Honor Society. It was such a classy program. The choir sang, the officers gave speeches, the inductees had a candle lighting ceremony and repeated the oath. Proud parents and grandparents were in attendance. Maybe the best part was that each new inductee was allowed to invite a handful of friends to come support them as they received their honor.

Classy all around.

Let me tell you about the worst I ever saw. In a place I once taught, kids who applied for induction into National Honor Society learned if they were accepted on the same day of the induction ceremony. In fact, they learned they had been inducted about ten minutes before the ceremony.

I’m ashamed to tell you how they found out.

All the kids who applied for National Honor Society were told to dress their finest for the day—shirts and ties, dresses, etc. The kids would go to class as usual, and then minutes before the induction ceremony current members of the National Honor Society would enter the classroom and wander around, “tapping” those who were accepted into the society.

Those tapped would immediately head to the auditorium for the ceremony.

Those untapped remained in the classroom. In their suits and dies and dresses. Humiliated.

My first experience of this was as a teacher of Honors English, where I had a class of about 25 students all dressed in their Sunday best. The “tappers” came in my room during class, made their selections, and left with about 22 accepted students.

I was left in the classroom with about three students, dressed in their Sunday best, fighting back the tears of embarrassment and shame.

Appalled, I voiced my concern with the advisor of the club, who told me that had always been the tradition.  I was disgusted with the response, and I did not let it rest until that tradition ended immediately. One should not perpetuate wrong simply because that is the way it has always been.

Today you read in the news about the Miami Dolphins and their hazing rituals, which some claim to be just a rite of passage, as if treating others inhumanely, as if embarrassing and belittling others, as if causing others humiliation or embarrassment or physical harm is ok.

It’s not ok.

It’s never ok.

We must treat people in ways that maintain their dignity. Always. This is most true for those who work in professions like mine, where kids observe and absorb.


A song from the musical Into the Woods says:

     Careful the things you say

     Children will listen

     Careful the things you do

     Children will see and learn

We must hold true to our principles and be the kind of people who act as if our mothers are always watching. Because God knows our kids are always watching.

And they deserve nothing less.


Change Is Necessary; So Too Is Continuity

ImageThey say the biggest challenge a college football player has when going to the NFL is adjusting to the speed. The greatest NFL players often talk about how they see plays develop in slow motion, giving them the time to read plays and react accordingly.

I completely understand that analogy. I was a mobile disc jockey for 18 years—weddings, parties, school dances. I remember when I first started out (back in the days of records and cassettes). I would put a song on, and then search in panic for the next song I was going to play while the needle seemed to move across the record at blinding speed.

That kind of panic causes a DJ to make some poor choices.

Blame It on the Rain?


Tie a Yellow Ribbon ‘Round the Old Oak Tree?

All because a panicked DJ needed to avoid dead air, and when the sand flows through the hourglass the judgment becomes more questionable.

Bus as the years went by, DJing started to become slow motion for me. I might not even start thinking about the next song until ten seconds remained in the one playing, and I would be able to find an awesome tune, cue it up, and have it perfectly mixed without breaking a sweat.

Education is similar. People new to positions—teachers, principals, superintendents–often see their world moving in fast motion. This can cause some ill-advised decisions–not out of malice or incompetence–but out of sheer pressure of the ticking clock.

But as one gains experience, the world starts to move in slow motion. Stressful situations become more manageable. Instead of panicking, the seasoned educator makes smarter decisions based on whatever the situation may call for.

For this reason, continuity in education is vital. Constant turnover of staff may bring new perspectives, but it is not without its cost. As a school leader, my job is to provide whatever support I can to new staff to help them see the play develop more slowly, and also encourage them to stick around for the long haul.

Change is good. I believe that deeply. But in a perfect world we change the things we do while maintaining continuity in the people who do it.