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.

Consistency

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!

Appreciation

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

What We’ve Lost

On Friday morning, a year ago, I was getting ready for school.  It was picture day, so I was wearing a suit and tie.  COVID had yet to strike the US, so my dad and I had a regularly scheduled breakfast in town at one of the few places that happened to be open before seven.   As I was leaving, I could hear the sirens from the local fire department responding to an accident a few miles from my home.  I thought about going to help, but I was in a suit and tie and wouldn’t be much use in an emergency.  My father-in-law, a volunteer with the department, drove out of our shared driveway in front of me headed to the station.  I thought about calling and checking in with him, but he had his hands full driving and listening to others responding, so I decided against it.  Twenty minutes later, I sat down for breakfast with my dad, having the normal Friday morning conversation about my week, politics, and sports when my phone rang.    It was my wife, and all that she said was, “Dad’s dead!”  

On September 20th of last year, at around 6:15 in the morning, my father-in-law was killed in a traffic accident while en route to help someone injured in another accident.  Needless to say, that phone call and the events of that morning have entirely changed the trajectory of the last year of my life.  There were people to care for in the immediate aftermath, a funeral to plan, and emotions to deal with.  But after the first few weeks, the hustle and hurry settled, and I was left to deal with my own emotions.

For me, the grief process was a lot like a washing machine.  For a while, I was flooded with one emotion and then with another.  I experienced several anxiety attacks in the months that followed, and I distanced myself from others.  At first, I was a bit embarrassed that I was a complete trainwreck on the inside.  I tried to fake it and make everyone around me believe I was ok.   The process of dealing with grief, trauma, and loss has not been easy.  I was blessed with family and friends that I could trust, which allowed me to have a place to open up when I was finally ready.  

I tell you all of this because there is still a significant stigma surrounding mental health in this country.  Sometimes, it keeps us from asking for the help we need, and we pass this perspective on to our children.  We are taught from an early age to keep these kinds of thoughts and emotions to ourselves.  

In a few weeks, we hope to begin to have a large number of students back in our buildings for the first time in six months.  Maybe their struggle isn’t exactly like mine, but they will bring six months of stress, loneliness, and worry with them when they arrive.   During this hiatus from onsite instruction, teachers, administrators, and other educational experts have had growing concerns about our students’ mental health.  For many students, school was a place where they could experience safe relationships and be provided with the mental health services they needed.  During our time apart, many of those supports have been missing.  

One of the essential parts of our responsibility to the next generation is to build trusting relationships.  I was fortunate to have people around me to talk with when I was struggling, and we need to see that every child has that same opportunity for connection.  That connection can be with a parent, a grandparent, a teacher, or someone else in the community.  Those relationships matter more now than ever.  Giving our children the opportunity to open up about their struggles might be the key to their overall health and success.  We must help them understand that we can’t control what has happened to us, but we can control how we carry it as we move forward.

Making Mistakes!

Every child should learn to ride a bike.  It is one of the rights of passage for a child to eventually take the training wheels off and ride without an anxious father running along behind.  For my son, this happened when he was three years old. He had a bit of a stubborn streak, and we were camping in a remote campground in the national park.  All the other boys camping with us that week had bikes without training wheels, and he felt a bit slighted having to tag along behind with his “Baby Bike.”  Since bikes designed for three-year-olds don’t usually come with removable training wheels, we spent the better part of the first day walking through the campground looking for someone with the tools necessary to remove them.  He was insistent; he would not ride the bike with the training wheels.  After an hour of looking for tools, we used the only tool that might work to remove the wheels. A hack saw.  The move would be permanent, and we would not be able to put them back on after they were removed.  So I sawed off the training wheels from a brand new bike we had purchased the week before for the camping trip.  I had a bit of a lump in my throat because if this didn’t work, it would be a very long week!   

The wheels came off, and within the day, he was riding without me running along beside him.  By the end of the week, he was doing laps around the campground.  Yes, he went home with scabs on both knees and elbows, but he was riding his bike like the big boys.  It is still one of the best family vacation memories we have.  Those are great memories of sitting by the campfire watching as our three-year-old does laps around the campsite on a tiny bike without training wheels.   

While I am not a psychologist, nearly thirty years of working with young people have taught me the importance of letting students make their own mistakes.  Falling is an essential part of both our and their growth.   Students who build a degree of resiliency are far better prepared for an uncertain future than those who have not had these experiences.  Please don’t think I am advocating letting students get hurt or injured, but I encourage you to let them figure it out for themselves. If I’m honest, I was the parent that wanted to run along behind my son for much longer than necessary.  It was his mother that finally looked at me and said, “He has to learn to fall.”   These small falls are essential to what they become.

As we continue this experiment in remote learning, teachers are noticing that it is difficult for parents not to help students with assignments.  The student that is struggling to comprehend a reading passage suddenly answers every question correctly. The student that doesn’t know their multiplication tables is suddenly doing multiplication with larger numbers. The struggling writer is now writing like a published author. I know the temptation to help make sure an assignment is perfect is tempting, but it may not help our children as much as you might think.  

One of the core questions our teachers ask each day is, “Are our students learning the material that we are covering today?”  This may be the most challenging question that we ask during every remote lesson.  Teachers use the answer to this question to decide the direction they go for individual students during a lesson.  They must have useful data, and this data comes from the assignments students are doing at home.  When you help your child with this work, it gives the teacher an inaccurate picture of the student’s ability and makes it difficult for us to customize the instructional level that they receive.  These mistakes can lead to both growth and academic success.

In last week’s edition of the Principal’s Pen, I made a grammar mistake.  Some of you may have caught it.  I was horrified and angry with myself when I noticed it.  I changed the published copies that I could, but I realize there are still a few copies floating around with the mistake.  After I got over my initial anger with myself about the oversight, I realized it was the product of a late revision and an author that was in a hurry!  The mistake helped remind me that as adults, one of the ways we naturally handle our mistakes is to reflect on our actions so we can prevent the same error from occurring in the future.  This is precisely what we want to teach our children to do, and we rob them of the ability to figure it out if we fix it for them.  When my son fell off his bike, he had only one choice if he wanted to learn.  He had to get over the fall, get back on the bike and start peddling!