As teachers, we are tasked with teaching content and helping kids grow into productive and successful citizens. We are given a set of content standards we must cover and a battery of assessments to determine if we have succeeded in doing so. Our evaluations are based on how we plan and deliver our lessons as well as other professional duties. However, I think the greatest impact we have on kids is not something we can measure but simply observe. It is the impact when you see one of those “moments”. They are hard to explain, difficult to plan and nearly impossible to measure. 

Last week a teacher came to me and told me she had a lesson plan fall through and wondered if the kids could come to the library and read for the period. Of course, I said yes and the 30+ 8th graders settled into the library. I could tell they were burned out on reading given a week of standardized testing they had just completed. So, I pulled out our Keva planks and had them complete some building challenges. The kids were having a blast and really got into the challenges. As we neared the end of the period I gave them the final challenge of seeing how tall of a tower they could build. It was then, that the “moment” started taking shape without my knowledge. 

A group of boys started building and were making some great progress with their tower. It swiftly reached 5 feet and then 7 feet and then topped 10 feet. As the period was winding down, the boys kept building and me and the teacher let them keep going. The bell rang and the boys kept going. Kids began spilling out of classrooms and stopped to watch the tower being built. As the tower reached the 11-foot mark, the boys reached out to taller classmates to come over and join in the build. It was awesome. Almost the entire grade level was circling the tower and cheering the boys on. It was a “moment” to remember. The boys decided to end their build and knock their tower down to thunderous applause from their peers and teachers. 

To take it a step further the group asked if they could come in at lunch to build a tower that touched the ceiling which is around 14 feet tall. Naturally, I said yes and they showed up to build again. This time we had to bring in a ladder and they succeeded in “touching” the ceiling as their classmates were coming back from lunch. Again their efforts were greeted with applause and high fives. 

Building the tower started out as an activity to kill some time and give kids a break from testing and reading. Yet, it became more than that for these kids. I promise you, a moment was created for them they will not soon forget. It is not something that will show up on an assessment or evaluation and not something you can measure. In fact, it is even hard for me to put into words the moment created by and for these kids. It’s was just one of those, “you know it when you experience it” moments. 

As teachers, we need to be better at recognizing when these moments are taking shape and let them happen. At one point I will confess a teacher stepped out and yelled at the kids to get to class during the passing period. I am also happy to confess the kids didn’t listen and went on cheering their building classmates on with the full support of every other teacher in the library. 

Naturally, I took videos and pictures to make a short iMovie trailer to capture the moment. 

The Belt Buckle

Have you ever said, “I will never do that.”? Well, this time last year, I said those exact words to my father after he finished a 50-mile trail run. He had done a few 50K runs (31 miles) and that was his first 50 miler. While I was impressed with my dad and his accomplishment, there was just no way I would ever tackle that challenge. Fast forward one year and I sit here blogging about this past weekend where I ran a 50-mile trail run with my father and brother. Yes, I ran a 50-mile race with my 60-year-old father and my older brother. We earned the belt buckle. 

There are so many aspects of the training and the run itself that I want to share and reflect upon. I am aware most people have already given up reading this post given that they are not runners. I am also aware that even some runners will stop reading because running 50 miles at once seen silly and borderline dumb. I know, I share those same feelings even after having run that distance myself. However, I still want to put into words what the experience has meant to me personally and I will attempt to make some connections to my work as an educator. 

Training Matters
Yes, this should be a no-brainer. Over the course of three months, I put in roughly 480 miles of training which included six runs of 18 miles or more and culminated in a 31-mile training run two weeks before the 50-mile race. In addition, I took on cross-training in a boot camp class to strengthen my core, legs and upper body. It goes without saying, that I could not have completed the 50-mile race without training. 

I relied heavily on my father who had trained for this distance before as well as my boot camp trainer who is an expert in overall fitness. To bring this into a school setting, training is key to everything we do. Our students can not be expected to perform without proper training or instruction. Obviously, this is true with coaches and athletes but same is true for teachers and learners. Our students can not be expected to perform at high levels without being trained on how to do so. We as educators are the experts with experience who can provide the training plans for students who want to achieve greatness in school and in life. 

Small Goals Lead to Big Accomplishments
During the nearly 15 hours we were running, jogging, climbing, and power walking we set small goals for ourselves. “Let’s run to the next hill and then walk up the hill.” “Let’s walk while we eat some PB&J and then jog the last mile to our checkpoint.” Throughout our 50 mile journey, we constantly set small goals that resulted in completing the “big” goal of the 50 miles. The small goal setting allowed us to focus on manageable milestones and not be overwhelmed with the big picture. 

I think this is so important from a mindset standpoint for kids and teachers. Too often we set lofty goals for huge projects that are daunting and too much to take in. Instead, we should be focusing on small attainable and short-term goals that lead us towards the bigger picture. 

Enjoy the Moment
This was without a doubt the best part of running this race with my dad and my brother. Yes, the training was tough and for me was done on my own. Many days I got up at 4am to run my 8 miles and doubted if I really wanted to keep training for this insane race. However, the moments on the trail with my dad and brother will be moments I treasure and carry with me for a lifetime. Many of the conversations and talks on the trail are for me alone and will not be shared. Yet, walking across the finish line arm in arm with my dad and brother is a moment I will never forget. The emotion and feelings that come with completing such a race are intense on their own, but doing it with family takes it to a level that can’t be put into words. Yes, I was exhausted, in pain, and cursing every hill we climbed. Yet I will always look back on those miles with fondness as it was a bonding experience I think few people will ever experience. 

I think in our schools we spend so much time focused on the “training” and the “race” that we lose sight of the important moments. Rather than spend time getting to know a kid and connecting with them as a person, we obsess over their reading or math scores. Instead of enjoying moments of joy and celebration, we are often focused on getting our curriculum covered and meeting our deadlines. Too much of school is focused on the mechanics and game of education. I feel we need far more moments where we celebrate the emotions of accomplishments, failures and progress.