Solving Puzzles

Being a child of the ’80s, I have some great memories.  Many of these were made wearing parachute pants or a Members Only Jacket.   I remember when Lady Diana became a princess. When  Chernobyl reminded us how fragile the world really was.  We tasted “New Coke” and didn’t like it!  We played with Cabbage Patch Kids and Glow Worms, GI Joes and Micromachines, roller skates and Big Wheels.   We rode in the back of trucks, didn’t wear seat belts, and somehow survived to adulthood.    One toy created in the ’70s didn’t hit the western market until the early 80s and had sold over 100 million before 1982.   We all had one, but most of us had no idea how it worked.

Erno Rubik was a Hungarian architecture teacher at a college in Budapest.  The cube that bears his name was first made of wood and used as a classroom teaching aid.  It took him a month to figure out how the thing worked after he created it.  Six years after it was created, it broke through the control of the communist bloc when it was introduced to the west.  The toy made Professor Rubrik the first self-made millionaire behind the iron curtain. Today, more than 45 years later,  it has an almost cult-like following.  

I received my first cube when I was in elementary school.  I spent about a month trying to figure the thing out before I gave up.  I could solve one side, but I would only make the other sides more mixed up in doing so. Finally, I did what all my friends were doing, I broke it apart and put it back together to solve all the sides.  Essentially, I cheated.  I became proficient in my technique and could “solve” the puzzle in under two minutes. 

I forgot about the cube for several years until I was given one as a gift in my first year as a school administrator. I was an assistant principal and figured out very quickly that being an administrator was a lot like solving the cube.  Each day I would face problems with complex solutions.  Trying to solve one side of the problem often only caused more significant issues with the other sides.  Eventually, I figured the cube out and realized that you couldn’t just see one side of the cube. You had to solve the cube as a whole.  Life has a lot more in common with this six-sided cube than we might realize.

I have kept a Rubik’s Cube on my desk or shelf for the last fifteen years.  The cube has more than 43 quintillion possible moves.   That is a forty-three with eighteen zeros behind it.  However, the cube can be solved with as few as twenty-seven moves.  The trick is to figure out the right twenty-seven moves. Today, with a youtube video and a few hours of work, you can teach yourself to solve the puzzle consistently.    I usually pick it up at least once a day.  Solving the cube reminds me that even the most challenging problems have a solution.  It reminds me that having the right strategy matters.  It also reminds me that I usually have two choices in handling the most complicated problems. I can put in the work to figure out the problem, or I can do what I did with my rubik’s cube when I was a kid.  I can pop all of the blocks apart and put them back together.  I can cheat.  While we can always trade putting in the work to do things right for what’s easy, it is usually a practice reserved for those not prepared to handle the bigger problems.  While it might work for a time, it will never prepare us for the larger issues that we will face.  It doesn’t make us better.  

“Our whole life is solving puzzles.”
Erno Rubik

Pink Ice…

Thanksgiving at my grandmother’s meant many things.  It meant a properly roasted eighteen-pound turkey.  There would always be two pans of dressing, one with and one without onions.  Someone always hated onions, and Granny wanted to make sure everybody was happy.  There would be more vegetables than I can name. We would have cranberry sauce out of a can, evenly sliced, and placed in a serving tray. It meant authentic brown gravy. It also meant both pie and pound cake.   But mostly, for all six grandkids, it meant pink ice.  When I was very young, and some of my cousins were still waiting for their parents to meet, Granny decided to treat us with pink ice.  She would make several gallons of pink lemonade for Thanksgiving and then pour some of it into ice trays to make her famous pink ice.  Looking back, it wasn’t that hard to make, and it didn’t require any unique ingredients, but we only got it at Thanksgiving and Christmas, that’s what made it special.  The grandkids would also get in trouble at some point during the day for drawing out the word “ice” in our best southern slang and making the “i” in ice sound more like an “A.”  It changed the meaning entirely and was another one of those things my mother hated.  The question wasn’t if someone would get the eye from mom, just a question of if I would get it before or after my brother.  

I wouldn’t trade anything for the “pink ice” memories I have of those Thanksgivings.  As I look back at those years, I failed to appreciate at the time how special they were.   I am so thankful for the memories, but I miss the moments.  Family.  Togetherness.  Drawing names for Christmas then putting up the Christmas tree together. It’s those simple moments that we only get once that make these times so unique.   The pink ice that Granny made didn’t take a single extra ingredient.  She had already made the pink lemonade she would use, and she already had a dozen ice cube trays in the freezer.  What made it meaningful was the thoughtfulness and care she took to make Thanksgiving a little more special for her grandchildren.   So often, the most meaningful memories last a lifetime and cost very little.  

For many of us, we need Thanksgiving.  We need a short break from the day-to-day grind, and we need a moment to recenter ourselves.  The last nine months have been extended and unforgiving. This year, there seems to be enough anger and hurt to go around.  Anger and hurt because of the circumstances we all face with the dangers that surround family gatherings.  Anger from all the things we lost in the last year and all of the moments we have missed.   A wise man once reminded me that anger is rooted in the idea that we are hurt because something has been taken from us.  And we are somehow owed.  The only way to truly experience thankfulness is to let go of the hurt and appreciate what we have and what we have had. 

Dr. Seuss once said, “You ought to be thankful a whole heaping lot, for the places and people you’re lucky you’re not!”  We can always find someone who has it better than us, but we also find just as many that have it worse than us.  Beginning to play the comparison game is a dangerous decision that often leads to more heartache than healing.  We take transportation for granted until we have a hurricane and fuel supplies run low, we forget that we are blessed that we don’t have to walk to work.   We usually take the electricity in our homes for granted until a nasty storm leaves us without power or running water.  I don’t make it a habit of being thankful for that until the weatherman starts calling for snow. I haven’t ever appreciated the simple act of gathering for a holiday meal with our family like I do after being asked to be mindful of social gatherings. And, I never really appreciated having students in the school building until they had to stay home.   Now, I feel so much more blessed to stand out at the car line and welcome them into the building each morning.   If this season teaches us anything, I hope it is to be more thankful and less entitled.     

As we get ready to celebrate Thanksgiving, I will take a few minutes to appreciate all of the things we did get to do this year.    I am determined to be more appreciative than I have in the past.   I will do a better job of seeing blessings that I have missed and possibly even find a “pink ice memory” to pass on to the next generation. 

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.


During autumn evenings, I like to sit on the front porch, surrounded by quiet, considering the events of the day.  For the last few nights, as I sat in my rocking chair, I noticed a faint blinking red light off to the north that eventually crossed in front of the house at around 30,000 feet and then disappeared into the distant horizon of the east.  After the third night of watching the light travel the same path at around the same time, I got curious.  It turns out that the plane is a regularly scheduled flight from Chicago to Charlotte.  It takes off around 6:20 in Chicago and lands around 9:30 in Charlotte.  A little after 8:30 each evening, it appears in the night sky.  It caught my attention because of its consistency. 

Those of us that struggle with overorganization often crave consistency, predictability, and routines.  There is an unquestionable comfort in being able to anticipate what’s next.  There is comfort in having a well thought through plan.  It is an understatement to say that I function better in this kind of environment.  From a regular morning routine to a schedule for my days, I crave the comfort of consistency.  

As we have started back to school, we are all settling into the new routines associated with face to face instruction.  Morning arrival routines, meeting routines, and dismissal routines are all becoming part of our typical day again.  For most of our students, this also includes new afternoon routines and homework.  Like adults, many students need the comfort of predictability in their lives.  For the last six months, they have settled into a routine that did not include having to get out of bed and get ready for school.  The sooner we can reestablish these patterns, the easier it will be for them to adapt to the new normal of school life.  

Changing our routines can be difficult.  Tonight is the first time I have written one of these posts in the evening since I began writing them after students were sent home in March.  I settled in and enjoyed writing time in the mornings with a cup of coffee in my hand.  Writing before the sun came up was the norm, but I now realize that my mornings are quite full, and I have shifted my routine to write in the evenings after dinner. I’m not sure I like it!  I am reminded that settling into a new habit can be a struggle for some of us. If you are dealing with a child struggling with the new routine of school, I encourage you to give them a little space and a bit of grace.  They may need some time to embrace it.  Most of them need routines, they need consistency, and they need a little time to figure it out.  

While I am struggling with some parts of this new process, I have fallen in love with other features.  My new favorite part of the day is greeting our students and watching them enter the adventure of the day with wide-eyed enthusiasm and excitement.  I find myself in the evenings looking forward to the mornings and the experience that awaits.  As crazy as it sounds, I love the car line, the good mornings, and the hellos.  I have to remind myself that while change can be scary and I still hate having my plans and routines altered without warning, sometimes the new opportunities are amazing.  Just like the opportunity to greet our incredible kids every day!


John Muir once said, “Going to the mountains is going home.”  It’s the slogan on the front of my favorite t-shirt. The t-shirt is beginning to show its age, but I still pack it in the bottom of my bag on every trip I take.  I will have it on for every return trip home.  My wife jokes that we will have to stop traveling when the t-shirt finally wears out.   While I love to travel, I love home even more.   The mountains of Western North Carolina are special.  The smell of the springtime bloom, or sticking your feet in a mountain stream after a long hike in the heat of summer.  The view from a mountaintop as the leaves change in October.  The stillness of a winter snowstorm.  I love home. There is nothing like it in the world!   

There is a moment at the end of every trip.  It’s just north of Spartenburg if we are traveling home from the beaches south of us.  Coming from Raleigh, it’s just west of Morganton as you top a small hill.  Traveling east from Knoxville, it’s just after you turn west where I-40 and I-81 split near Dandridge, TN.  It’s the moment the mountains come back into view.  If I am traveling without my wife, it’s a reminder to call and let her know I am almost home.  I don’t have to tell her where I am, she knows.  She would say that she can hear it in my voice. There is something about that moment you get the first glimpse of home!

We take for granted so much of the world around us.  Living here day in and day out, we gradually lose our appreciation for what we get to live in each and every day.  Over the past few months, I have tried to pause each morning before I step off my front porch and appreciate the view. Sometimes we take what we have for granted.

That can’t be more true than with many of the common activities that have been limited over the past six months, and none have been as significant to many of us as the inability to have face-to-face instruction with our students.  I want to commend our teachers and students for doing their very best in a difficult situation.  While we will continue the remote instruction of some of our students, it is impossible to provide the same quality of education remotely as we can provide in person.   In a few days, we will have the opportunity to have many of our elementary students back in classrooms.   We are excited to welcome them back.

Appreciation has several definitions.  It is defined as the recognition and enjoyment of the good qualities of someone or something.  It can also be defined in economic terms as the increase in the value of something.   The law of supply and demand dictates that it is natural for value to increase when an item is in limited supply.  In the past few months, the value of face to face education has certainly increased.  It has appreciated, and we appreciate it much more than we did before.

This pandemic has helped us get more comfortable with change.   When we return to school next week, we want to do it right.  We want to keep our students safe.  But, we are also reminded that we are not guaranteed that this will last.  We could be forced to send students back home at any point in the school year.   While we are planning for the worst, we hope that we will continue with having students in school for the rest of the year.   We must make every moment count. 

As I pulled onto campus this morning, I was reminded that we would have buses arriving the next time I go through this morning ritual.  This was the last morning of work without our students.  It was an “almost home” moment.  The same emotions I feel as I top the hill near the Burke County line and see the mountains in the distance after being gone for a while, I felt this morning.  There is an excitement in the air.  There is an anticipation for the days ahead.  Just like going home!

“The sun does not shine for a few trees and flowers, but for the wide world’s joy.”
Henry Ward Beecher

The Generous Harvest

I rushed home ahead of the rain.  I was on the clock.  We had a field full of potatoes, and the rain was coming in just a few hours.  The rain would make it impossible for us to get the harvest out of the ground this week and probably most of next week as well.  I changed clothes and headed to the barn.  I put the plow on the tractor and drove towards the garden.  Three hours and twelve boxes full of potatoes later, we have the harvest in the cellar as night fell on the farm.  I walked back home in the dark. 

On April 8th of this year, amid the COVID lockdown, we planted two rows of potatoes.  A single fifty-pound bag that I had acquired weeks before when the hardware store began stocking crops and seeds for the spring.  Over the summer, we would watch and wait.  Spraying for bugs.  Tilling the weeds and allowing the leaves to get as much sun and water as they needed to grow and thrive. On September 22, we harvested more than 200 pounds of potatoes.  Easily enough potatoes for us to make it through the winter and spring and into next summer.  We keep the large ones in the cellar while canning the small ones and those cut by the plow during the harvest.  Very little is wasted. 

Small family farmers in the country get very few promises.  They plant with the hope and belief that with the proper conditions and the right effort,  their small investment will yield a crop worth the time and energy they put into it.  Educators in this country make the same kind of investment every day, every week, and every year with our students.  Educators control a small number of variables in a student’s growth, yet, like the farmer, they bear the great responsibility for their success.  Like the farmer, they can’t control the weather, or in the case of 2020, COVID.  But they continue to sow seeds.  

What we do today matters.  And like the farmer that sees rain coming on the horizon at the end of a long dry spell, educators see the conditions changing.  Some students are starting to return to the building.  Other parents are watching anxiously to see if this will work.  They quietly ask themselves,  “Can safely have school amid the waning days of the pandemic?”  The answer will help them decide if they feel comfortable doing the same.  A successful harvest depends on the work we will do in the coming days and months.  I hope we can all agree after a six-month experiment with distance learning that the optimal place for student growth to occur is in the confines of the classroom, not the bedroom or the kitchen table. 

To do this well, we will need the help of parents.  I completely understand the temptation to send students to school when they don’t feel well.   We have dangled our feet in the grey space of “should we send them or not?” and decided that we need to work, and the only way to draw a paycheck is to send them to school.  This year, when placed in that situation again, we must choose carefully.  The decision could affect classrooms full of children, not just one.   Some of our ability to successfully grow students will depend on the decisions made at home. 

As I stood at the edge of the garden with the sun setting over the hill behind the barn, I thought of the last six months of work and was glad we had made the effort.   It will soon be time to plow up the ground and begin preparing for another harvest, but for now, I can take a minute to appreciate the benefit of months of hard work.  Eight months from now, we want to do this in our schools.  We look forward to being able to stand back and appreciate the fruits of our labor.  Tomorrow’s harvest depends on what we do today.

    We must give more in order to get more. It is the generous giving of 
ourselves that produces the generous harvest. 
Orison Swett Marden