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Sometimes Little Things Matter Most

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At a school where I worked, we had a requirement that students stand up at the beginning of each class when their teacher entered the room. Instead of just imposing this a “rule’, however, we took some time to work out -- with students and teacher alike -- our reasons for having this expectation and what it signified in the context of our larger purposes.

We told our students that this “standing up” business is not about showing special deference to the teacher or being polite -- although we said it is always good to be polite. Rather it was about re-confirming a reciprocal relationship of trust and respect, and at the same time mutually identifying the core project at hand.

There was, importantly, a second and equally important part of this little protocol: upon entering the class and seeing the students standing, the teacher looks each student in the eye and says, “Thanks for being here” to the entire class.

We explained that the trust and respect is meant to cut both ways -- that teachers should respect and acknowledge the students just as much as the students should respect and acknowledge the teachers.

We also explained the most important thing: that teachers and students alike are on a kind of sacred ground in classrooms where learning and the cultivation of our best selves is meant to occur.

These brief gestures take less than 30 seconds at the beginning of a class, but nonetheless strike deep to the core of a school’s entire ethos. Sometimes little things have a way of conveying big ideas.

Dr. Ted Spear is the founding Principal of two independent schools in British Columbia, Canada. Using research on contemporary educational innovation, and drawing on 25 years of teaching and administrative experience in public and independent schools, he just recently finished a book on the future of K-12 education, which will be coming out in August.