Watch Your Step

I met my wife when we were both in ninth grade. On my first trip to her house, she introduced me to Snowball. He was a gentle, midsized horse with a huge heart for his owner. Over the next few years, we would take several rides together, and I learned that Snowball had a bad habit. After a few hours on the trail, he liked to take a nap. If you were lucky, he would decide to take it while everyone had stopped for lunch, but many times he would take it as you walked the last few miles of the ride. You could tell that he was napping because he wouldn’t be nearly as careful with his feet, and then he would trip, wakeup, and hopefully catch himself before both horse and rider hit the ground. He usually did, but there was always that moment between tripping and waking up that left the rider in limbo, hoping that he would right himself before he hit the ground.

As Melissa and I take weekend hikes, there will usually be a joke about Snowball. The joke usually happens at the end of the walk when one of us is tired and misses a step or neglects to step high enough to clear a rock or stump. If I can be honest, after hours on the trail, I can settle into a bit of a trance and, like Snowball, take a bit of a nap on the trail. I know it’s not smart, and I need to be more aware, but time and fatigue take their toll, and it’s easy to drift off and not be fully present in the moment.

Each Friday, I go through a process to prepare for the upcoming week. Usually, late in the afternoon, I take about an hour to look at schedules and priorities and make sure I am ready for all of the events ahead of us. I borrowed a one-page weekly planner that I found several years ago and modified it a bit to make it my own. One of the things that it asks me to do is select a word for the week. Last week that word was “Present.” One of my goals was to stay fully present in the activities that I engaged in throughout the week. Being fully present takes energy and gets more challenging as fatigue sets in. Fatigue leads to mistakes. Fatigue slows down productivity.  

As we think about intentionally staying present in what we do, we must remember the tension that fatigue creates for us and those who work with us. It is true for both educators and students. While we have students in school, we still need to be attentive and watch for the errors caused by the fatigue of a year-long battle.  

Several years ago, I found myself at the end of a long hike in the southwest, walking on a small ledge. A missed step could easily be catastrophic and possibly fatal. I knew that I had a tendency to get sloppy with my foot placement late in the day, but on this day, I was fully aware of each step I took. There was no drifting off on this day; I was fully present in the moment. As we settle into the tensions associated with the prolonged battle, we must be fully aware of the emotional toll it has taken on each of us and make sure each step we make moving forward is carefully and deliberately made. 


I got a pocketknife for Christmas when I was 13 years old. It was an olive green lock blade buck knife with a bright shiny blade that was sharper than any knife I had ever had in my life. As we usually did on Christmas, we left mid-morning for my Grandfather’s house. He lived out in the country, on a farm, well past where the pavement ends. That Christmas morning, while the family prepared lunch, I sat on the front porch to whittle. Or to at least try and learn to sculpt with my blade. Unfortunately, my practice did not go as planned, and I ended up with an inch long gash on the index finger of my left hand. When mom saw it, we immediately headed for town to find someone to sew it up. I did my best to get her to at least wait until after lunch, but she would have none of it. After all, I was a growing boy, and lunch at Grandpas was usually outstanding. I had my priorities. Unfortunately, we headed for town, not waiting for lunch.  Five stitches later, I was all sewed up and hungry. It took more than three hours to get stitched up, and I never got Christmas Lunch at Grandpas that day.

Over the years, the scar has faded but was still recognizable enough to use it to remind my nephews at Christmas to be careful when using a knife, especially before Christmas dinner. While the scar faded, my love for knives didn’t. It seems I have always had a bit of a fascination with knives. As I have grown older, I pay attention to the quality of blades and the kind of steel used. It doesn’t matter if it goes in the kitchen or your pocket; I enjoy a good knife as much as anyone.  

Knives need to be sharp and ready for whatever task might come their way. When cooking in the kitchen, nothing bothers me more than pulling out a knife to find it so dull I need to saw my way through the next cut. When I was younger, I ruined more than one blade learning the finer details of using a sharpening stone. Sure, there are many new devices and tools to help you get just the right angle, but I find the practice of slowly running a blade across a stone to hone an edge both relaxing and rejuvenating. For me, it is a bit like therapy. Sitting quietly at the kitchen table with a couple of knives and just as many sharpening stones of differing textures is relaxing.  

Sharpening requires two critical components. It requires both Focus and Friction. Without focus, you will quickly find yourself making another trip to the doctor to sew up a wounded or missing appendage. You must also focus and be keenly aware of the blade’s angle and pressure as you move it across the stone. The wrong angle or amount of pressure, and you will never reach your desired results. As you can imagine, focus is essential. The right kind of friction is just as important. Working through sharpening stones of differing textures and resistance one by one will gradually leave you with just the right edge on a blade. Honing a knife is a deliberate, intentional process. By moving patiently from one stone to another, carefully selecting just the right amount of friction, you can make the blade just a bit sharper than it was before. 

I learned an important lesson early in life, “We must each be responsible for our own blade.” How sharp it is, what we do with it. It is ours and ours alone. Knives and learning have a lot in common. Honing takes a lot of work, and it is an ongoing process. This process helps us prepare for the future and the world that lies ahead. One way we do this is through reading. Former General and Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis once said, “The problem with being too busy to read is that you learn by experience (or by your men’s experience), i.e. the hard way. By reading, you learn through others’ experiences, generally a better way to do business, especially in our line of work where the consequences of incompetence are so final for young men.” Reading sharpens our ability to see and prepare for the world ahead of us. Literacy and critical thinking are essential elements in the educational process. Sharpening these skills matters.

We must teach our youth to be constant learners, honing their experience with the experience of others. During World War II, Winston Churchill said that we each have a moment in our lifetime where we have an opportunity to do something special. I believe that my generation may be living in that moment right now. Along with responding to the challenges that we currently face, we must also prepare the next generation to respond when their moment comes. We do this through the critical skill of sharpening.

“To each there comes in their lifetime a special moment when they are figuratively tapped on the shoulder and offered the chance to do a special thing, unique to them and fitted to their talents. What a tragedy if that moment finds them unprepared or unqualified for that which could have been their finest hour.”

Winston Churchill

That Day and Today, We Were and Are All Americans

More than two hundred years ago this week, a band of unlikely American brothers stood together to protect the freedom and future of our young country. In the early 1800s, New Orleans became part of the United States and was already its most diverse city. In early January, the British turned their attention to the American west with plans to void the Louisiana Purchase and take the Mississippi and the land to its west for Brittian. The move would cripple the young country and profoundly change the history that we now remember.  The first move of their plan would be to take the Port of New Orleans.

The war of 1812 was in the process of ending, but word had not yet reached the band of 11,000 British troops that had sailed into the Gulf of Mexico with their sights set on the Port of New Orleans and the riches that awaited victory. The American capital city had already fallen the autumn before, with both the White House and the Capitol building burned in August of 1814.  In January of 1815, the best and most experienced of Brittian’s troops were leaving their boats for the American bayou. 

Standing in their way was an American general and future president. Andrew Jackson was undoubtedly an interesting and polarizing historical figure. Jackson was a Scotch-Irish lawyer and slave owner from Tennessee. As a young teenager, he was captured during the Revolutionary War. During his capture, he refused to polish a British officer’s boots and was left with a permanent scar across his hand and forehead for his discretion. He despised the British and lead a small army that stood in the way of the best the British had.

The ethnic hodgepodge that made up the small army held their ground and pushed the British back into the Gulf. The effort was helped along by both the poor planning and hubris on the part of the British. American casualties numbered around 60 while more than 2000 British soldiers fell trying to take the small port. Regardless of your opinion of Andrew Jackson, before the Civil War, among the slavery of the south, he somehow brought together backwater marksmen and militia members from Tennessee and Kentucky with Cajuns and Creoles. Both Black and White, Slaves and Freemen, fought for Jackson that day. Immigrants from Germany, Italy, Ireland, and Scandinavia all came together to protect their new country from invasion. Many had only been Americans for less than a decade.  This great coming together saved our legacy as a country.

This week, teachers have struggled to find the words to describe the historical significance of what we witnessed on January 6th, 2021. For the first time since the fall of 1814, the Capitol of the United States was breached. I am not sure I have found the words just yet, but I know that history is full of stories ready to be taught. I do know that months after our capital burned, a diverse group of young soldiers found common ground and stood together in New Orleans.  

The greatest battle that day may not have been with the British. We are, at times, our worst enemy. The greatest defeat that day was with the divisive tendencies of the worst part of our nature. Sometimes, we seem to forget that we are countrymen. At the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Battle of New Orleans, Jackson said, “Natives of different states, acting together, for the first time, in this camp, differing in habits and in language have reaped the fruits of an honorable union.” That day and today, we were and are all Americans. That is the lesson that we need to teach our children. 

Dear Santa,

I must apologize that I have taken these once every year letters for granted.  In past years, I would usually ask for something crazy like a new gaming console or one of those new Ford Broncos that we might see some time in the next year.  I also usually end up being very satisfied with socks, underwear, and if I’m lucky, some chocolate.  However, I will not turn down the new gaming console or a Bronco if you have extra ones lying around that can fit in your sleigh with everything else that you’re carrying this year.

If I can be honest, I am much more appreciative of the simple gatherings with family and conversations with loved ones this year with everything going on.  I realize that, like socks and underwear, we might have taken these times together for granted.  Having family gatherings with pie, pound cake, and wassail was a forgone conclusion for the last forty-plus years of my life.  I can fix a pound cake and wassail and even have my grandmother’s recipe.  Unfortunately, they never taste the same as they did at her house.  I miss those days sitting in my grandfather’s orange leather living room chair opening Christmas gifts. I’m sure you remember the one I am talking about, it was orange!  Not a unique shade of Brown, it was ORANGE.  And I loved it.  If you have a way to recreate those memories, would you please permanently add that to my list.  I feel a little humbled to need to include these family gatherings on my list, but they mean more now than they ever have. 

I also realize that the fatigue of fighting Covid-19 over the past year has left all of us a bit tired and grumpy.  As you know, communities are fighting over masks, politics, and vaccines, and our community is no different.  I am sure that these are well-meaning people, and I would hope that you exercise some grace when deciding which of these fine people have met the threshold to be included on your naughty list.  I do have faith in our people, even the ones I can’t entirely agree with, and I will vouch for each of them.  If you have some special magic that might minimize our frustration with this mess, something that will make us more neighborly, I would like to add it to all of our Christmas lists.  

Finally, I would like to let you know that I have already received far more than I deserve, so if you need to use the space on your sleigh for someone else, I certainly understand. I will not take this as a slight.  But, if you feel the need to bring me socks, t-shirts, or underwear, remember that I am a bit of a stress eater, and you might want to go with a size larger this year.  

Best wishes and stay healthy,
Todd Trantham

Waiting Well…

I have never been great at waiting.  I would go to great lengths at Christmas to find my presents as early as possible.  It almost became a game for my brother and I.  Years ago, we were due to receive a new game console for Christmas.  My mother had made the mistake of leaving the receipt laying on the dining room table after a shopping trip.  We found it and knew that the console must be hidden somewhere in the house.  Since I was in Middle School, we had reached the age where we could be “trusted” to stay at home for short periods of time.  On a cold early December afternoon, while mom was gone to the grocery store, we set out to find our Christmas gift.  After about 30 minutes, we found it in the back of the basement.  In a dimly lit corner, covered by a quilt, was the new console and several much-requested games.   Since we had spent a good portion of mom’s shopping time, we decided to wait until the next trip to the store to go any further.   About a week later, mom left again and we put our well thought through plan into action.   We had everything we would need: scissors, packing tape, and a stopwatch.   We started the stopwatch and pulled the game console out.  We carefully cut the tape that packaged the console, took the console out, and hooked it up. We proceeded to play our new games for about 30 minutes.  At the thirty-minute mark, we stopped, carefully packed everything back up, and used the packing tape to make it appear just like it did before we pulled it out.  We placed it carefully under the quilt and made everything look like it did before we started.  As we were putting the packing tape back in the drawer where we found it, mom pulled up.  We have finished just in time.   

Looking back, this was a small part of a long line of examples where I struggled to wait.  Patience was never one of my gifts.  Even as I got older, I found that I needed to wait until close to Christmas to shop for gifts.  If I purchased these too early, I would never be able to wait and I would end up giving them away before we ever made it to Christmas.  One year, I gave my wife her Christmas gift a week early.  Not because she asked for it, but because I just couldn’t wait any longer. 

We all have faults, and at the top of the list for me is waiting.  I hate waiting.  I don’t even wait well when I am cooking. If the recipe says to cook in the oven for 45 minutes, somewhere around the 40th minute, I am ready to take it out and try it.  When the recipe calls for something to rest for 15 minutes after cooking, I only want to give it ten minutes.   I somehow missed the lesson in school about patience.   

A few years ago, I received my lesson in patience.  In a visit to the doctor’s office, he found an abnormality in one of my scans and wanted to wait a month and do another scan to make sure that there wasn’t a change in the results.  A change would indicate that the severity of the issue was more significant than he expected and would result in an aggressive treatment plan.  Over the course of the next month, I waited.  I waited and waited.  Fortunately, the results came back and all was fine. There was no change in my scans and I could breathe a deep sigh of relief.  Even though I realize that I am not great with the “In Between Time,” I have started to appreciate the necessity of these moments and the power that we can gain from waiting well.  Like a great cake, smoked pork or an amazing gift, some things simply can’t be rushed.  The waiting is part of the process.

We all have faults. The key to growth is taking the time to recognize the real us on the inside.  Understanding our faults helps us recognize when we might be cheating ourselves of the opportunity of the moment.    I have finally embraced this part of who I am.  I’m not proud that it led me to several moments where I opened the gift before it’s time had come, but I am far more aware of that part of me.   My patience is developing, but sometimes I still wish it would hurry up!

Each life is made up of mistakes and learning, waiting and growing, 
practicing patience, and being persistent. –
Billy Graham

Just Enough Friction

As a kid, Sunday afternoons were reserved for Nascar races. In a time back before every race was on TV, we often found ourselves sitting in lawn chairs in the front yard of my grandmother’s house listening to the race on the radio. Nascar was a source of great pride for our family and more than one yelling match.  In the mid-eighties, a family with divided loyalties had a hard time eating together without a fairly direct conversation.  My brother and I were strictly Chevy guys and rooted for Dale Earnhart. At the same time, other less domesticated members of our family drove Fords and were well entrenched in the camp of Bill Elliott.  It made for more than one memorable Sunday, and my mother hated every minute of it.  My grandmother was usually the referee and would let it go on for a while before stepping in and letting us know we had crossed the line.   Interestingly, I still watch racing, but I sometimes root for an Elliott who now drives a Chevy while I drive a Ford. It’s funny how things turn out.  

Almost every type of auto racing is built on the management of friction.   Cars that have too much friction are too slow to be competitive. Those with too little friction usually find the wall or some other hard surface that reduces their chances of winning.  The trick is to find the sweet spot.  Just enough friction to make it through the corners but not so much that you lose speed and positions to other cars.   Winning is all about the physics of friction.

For our youngest students, learning and growth are all about managing the physics of education friction.  If every lesson is too easy, nothing is gained or learned.  Make the process too complicated, and you risk them giving up and disengaging before they ever make it to a point where they are proficient.   I remember being told a story about a young twelve-year-old boy who always begged his dad and grandad to teach him to drive.  One early June Saturday, while the family was loading hay onto a trailer, the boy was tossed the keys and told to drive slowly. If he dumped the trailer, he picked it back up by himself.  I’m not sure if this was a disproportionate amount of friction, but he didn’t pick up hay that day. The friction involved made sure he learned a valuable lesson in driving and responsibility.

When we find the sweet spot with our students, magic happens.  Both at school and home, we have to find ways to make sure we are making the work just difficult enough for our students.  In educational terms, we call this differentiating instruction.  In its simplest form, it’s about individually managing the amount of friction for each of our students so that they can be put in a position where substantial growth can occur.  The amount is different for each child depending on their age, ability level, and passion for the subject matter.  When we send homework, great teachers have thought through this friction and made assignments that maximize growth and allow students to struggle just enough.  While I know my first instinct was usually to fly in and help my child “do” their homework,  my wise wife would remind me that I needed to back up and let him do it on his own.  She was always better at understanding the amount of friction he needed.  I seemed to either apply way too much or far too little.  So I tended to listen to her wise counsel.  When we give them support but allow them space to struggle, we help them grow. Excellent teaching and great parenting are about figuring out how to give our children just enough space and support to safely figure out the physics of friction on their own.

No Apostrophe Needed

This Wednesday, we celebrate Veterans Day.  The day was first celebrated in 1919 as the first anniversary of the armistice that ended World War I.  Over the years, we have added more wars to the list, more veterans to the rolls, and more blood equity into the overall cost of our freedom.  The remembrance of the armistice that started on the eleventh day, of the eleventh month, at the eleventh hour of 1918, would eventually become the holiday we celebrate this week.  Grammatically speaking, Veterans Day does not have an apostrophe.  The holiday does not belong to any one veteran or group of veterans.  It is a day to honor each and every person who ever signed a blank check and honored this country with their service.

My father’s father was thirty-three when he joined in the aftermath of the attack on Pearl Harbor.  He would leave nine kids at home and cross the Atlantic for Europe.  He returned a few years later with a head full of stories, a permanent limp, and a purple heart. I remember a set of braces next to his bed, a necessity due to the damage his legs took from a land mine.  Some of the best years of my childhood was spent sitting next to his rocker, listening to stories from half a world away.  He was incredibly proud of his service and never complained of the cost.   

My mother’s father dreamed of being a teacher and, at seventeen, left for college.   His draft card lists his address as Box 74, Western Carolina Teacher’s College, Cullowhee.  He had started classes and spent the first semester preparing to be an educator.  On January 9th, 1945, his eighteenth birthday, he left college and joined the Air Force.  He would never continue his preparation for teaching after returning from the war.  I like to think that my decision to spend my life in education would have made him proud, completing the dream that he surrendered on behalf of his country.

My father spent two tours with the First Infantry Division in Vietnam. I was blessed to be raised in a home where sacrifice and service were both honored and respected. So many of the freedoms we enjoy and, at times, take for granted were paid with an overwhelming personal cost. Our enduring freedom has been earned by those that gave their lives. It’s what Abraham Lincoln called, “The last full measure of devotion.” It has also been earned by both men and women who have left their families, put their dreams on hold, and returned home with permanent scars, all in the name of freedom. This Veterans Day, I encourage you to take the time to find a veteran and simply say, Thank You!

“Never was so much owed by so many to so few.”- Winston Churchill

Water Hose Hospitality

We all have lessons that shape us.  Powerful lessons can sometimes come in uncommon forms.  As I think back to my youth, many of those lessons were formed not only by the words of men and women I respect but also by their actions.  A water hose shaped one of the most powerful lessons I learned.  For that matter, it was shaped by about a dozen water hoses.   

Thirty-one years ago this past month, my wife and I started dating.  Before we were married, we would spend a week each summer camping in a primitive campground in the National Park near our home with her family.  Although a camper allows you to have many of the conveniences of home, in a primitive campground, you must do without power, sewer, or water hookups.  You must ration your supplies appropriately.  It was midweek, and we had just finished breakfast when I was handed a water hose and asked to help.  Over the next hour and a half, we would go from camper to camper collecting water hoses, put them together, and hook them up to the one faucet that supplied the entire campground.  We would then go campsite by campsite asking if anyone needed water.  We must have had more than a dozen hoses hooked together and spanning several hundred feet to make it around trees and cars and see that everyone had water.  Holding tanks, gallon jugs, five-gallon bottles, it didn’t matter what they had. We would fill them.  It only took a little longer than it would have to fill one or two to supply everyone.  We had already done the hard work of hooking everything up.  By the time we were finished, the lesson was clear.  When given the opportunity, take care of your neighbors.  

As we are about to head into the long winter months, being neighborly may be what some of those around us need more than anything.  A call to check-in.  An offer to pick something up at the store.  A few minutes of our time just to listen. A recent article in the New York Times focused on the impact of social distancing on the elderly. It has created a new “slow killer” in isolation and solitude.  Isolation and solitude have also hit many of our school families as they deal with quarantines and the other ripple effects of this pandemic.   

We walk past opportunities to help others every day.  There is also a new hesitation to help because we may risk exposing ourselves and our families to the virus and its potentially devastating effects.  While we have accepted that the virus will change the way we interact with others daily, let’s not allow it to change our compassion for our neighbors.  There are safe opportunities to offer assistance and offer an ear for those that may be feeling the most isolated.  Our compassion for our neighbors does matter!

Right now, we are having a water hose moment.  Those around us need water, and many of us have the hose in our hand.  The question we must all face is, “What will I do with the opportunity I have.” I encourage you to use your water hose moment well.

The Hard Way

The Silence. The Solitude.  The sun beating down on your face while the crisp fall air blows around you.  I love the outdoors.  Last weekend, my wife and I took a two-hour drive north into the Roan Mountains on the border of Western North Carolina and Eastern Tennessee. When we arrived, vehicles crowded the parking lot. Had we gotten there any later in the morning, we would have been waiting for a spot to park.  As with most crowded trails, the majority of the traffic dissipated in the first mile, and after three miles, only a few hikers were around.   By the time we arrived at the grassy bald four miles deep in the woods, we were relatively isolated, with only an occasional hiker passing by.  I love and long for these kinds of moments.   After a four-mile hike, we spent the next half hour laying in the grass, staring out into an amazing view of the mountains.  Very few moments are as energizing for me as these quiet moments on a distant remote mountain top.

After spending a fair bit of time in the woods, we have perfected what we are comfortable with in our packs.  I am always looking for ways to reduce how much we carry but not compromise on the essentials. I usually have a favorite light sweater, a light rain jacket, a first aid kit, a multitool, water, and a light snack.  Enough that I could make it through a cold night in the woods if disaster struck, but not so much that I am carrying half the house with me when I travel.  Having the proper equipment and wearing the appropriate clothing and footwear has been critical for us on more than one occasion.  

A few years ago, I was called in the early afternoon to help with an injured hiker’s carryout a few miles deep into the woods.  It was summer, so I had on shorts and a t-shirt and was young and inexperienced.  I never considered the possibility we might be deeper in the woods than I anticipated and that it might take longer than I thought.  We were six miles into the woods when we found the injured hiker, and we quickly realized that we would not have enough daylight to cross the creek with him multiple times safely.  We decided to pack in with him for the night and bring him out the next morning.  I spent a frigid night in the woods because of my poor preparation.  

The event stuck with me, and as I have gotten older, I notice it when we pass hikers that are ill-prepared for the circumstances they are facing.  This Saturday, we were hiking a section of trail that was covered by round mid-sized rocks.  The kind that would easily curl an ankle if you were not incredibly careful.  Because of both experience and age, I have boots that have a considerable amount of ankle support.  The young man that passed us at the three and a half mile mark had neither the experience nor the footwear for the trail he was on.  He appeared to be a young middle schooler, and he had chosen to hike this day in a pair of beach sandals.  Yes, plastic beach sandals.   Held on by a tiny amount of fabric at the front of the foot, it was clear he had not experienced a twisted ankle deep in the woods. I could only hope he didn’t learn his lesson on the day he walked in front of me.  We had no interest in having to help carry him out of the woods.

While I don’t want to wish bad luck on anyone, lessons learned the hard way are some of the best lessons.  Twenty years ago, I got stuck in the woods on a cold night, unprepared for what I would face.  I haven’t made that mistake again.  As my son grew into an adult, I would caution him and give him the sage words of an elder’s wisdom.  He never listened to those lessons quite as well as he did the ones he learned the hard way.  He never messed with an electric fence after touching it the first time in the pasture.  He was a bit more cautious after going too fast on his bike and wiping out.  We never want to put our children in a position where they can be seriously injured or permanently damaged by avoidable mistakes, but sometimes we do need to step back and let them figure it out on their own.  Because lessons learned the hard way are lessons that will stick with them for a lifetime.

Toothpaste Moments

When the alarm went off this past Monday, I got up and began my usual morning routine.  Within a few minutes, I was about to brush my teeth when I realized the toothpaste tube was empty.  I didn’t miss a beat, I reached into the cabinet, took the scissors, and I cut the top off of the tube of toothpaste.  I didn’t think about it much. We had used most of the toothpaste and had already rolled up the tube to get as much out as we could.  For most of the week, there has still been enough left in the two ends of the tube to brush every morning, and I am just about ready to discard it and open a new tube. Let’s say I might be a bit frugal.

I didn’t just happen to decide to cut the top off the toothpaste. For most of my childhood, it was a part of the regular rhythm.  We would open a new tube, and use what we could, then roll it up for a few days. After that, mom would cut the top off, and we would continue to use it until the inside of the tube was clean of any remnants of paste.  For the record, we would also pour water in the shampoo bottle to get out what was left.  These lessons somehow stuck with me.  If you are blessed to live long enough, we all will begin to act like our parents. For me, this was one of those moments.

It’s funny what lessons you take from your childhood.  Something about the toothpaste moment left a lasting impression.  As we go about our day to day working with students, I often wonder what lessons they will take with them.  How will they remember their elementary experience?  For me, much of that memory includes nature walks, field days, and talent shows.  I remember our first-grade “show and tell” days, but I don’t remember a lot about the classroom instruction.  I know I was in the hall more than I should have been, and the teacher liked to use her paddle on little boys that were a bit distracted.  I remember the book my teacher chose to read to our fourth-grade class.  I remember very few lessons.  I remember very few assignments.  But, I do remember the powerful moments.

As we go about helping young children develop, teachers and parents must become cultivators of moments that matter.  I encourage you to look for opportunities to chase these memories with your children.  These are the moments that will cement themselves in the minds of the next generation. Some of these moments we can’t control, tragedies and celebrations will both be remembered, as well as vacations and significant events.  Children also observe us and develop their sense of work ethic from what they see, their response to difficulties from how we respond.  We never know from day to day what they will remember.   

There will be both celebrations and tragedies, but there will also be a bunch of stuff in between.  We will make many lasting impressions.  Some will be enjoyable; others will be painful. We can only hope that sandwiched in between are a few toothpaste moments where our actions teach a valuable lesson that isn’t soon forgotten. 

Thanks, Mom! The toothpaste lesson stuck with me.