I took my sons, four-year-old Ryan and two-year-old Liam, shopping for new tennis shoes this week. We're fortunate to live near a shoe store that measures their feet and offers a 13 week guaranteed fit (which I have taken advantage of!). Ryan spoke up to be measured and try on shoes first when the salesman approached. Like a pro, he held still for the measurement, waited patiently as the salesman collected several pairs his size, and returned. After selecting two green pairs, he settled on his favorite.
And then it was Liam's turn. He wiggled around for the measurement, so it took twice as long as it should have. Worse, he then had to wait for the salesman to return while his brother was already wearing new shoes! As he began to tear up, his big brother put his arm around him and told him to be a big boy and not to worry; "that man will be right back with cool shoes!"
The salesman returned, and opened a box to reveal red tennis shoes. Liam squealed with delight and clutched them to his chest. The second box held a pair of blue shoes, which received oohs and aahs, but the red shoes remained clutched in his little hands. The third box contained a pair of green shoes (which looked a lot like big brother's!), and my little guy immediately cast the red shoes aside and had his mind made up, without ever putting them on his feet! Naturally, we left with two pairs of green tennis shoes on two pairs of little feet!
One of the final chapters of What Connected Educators Do Differently by Todd Whitaker, Jimmy Casas, and Jeffrey Zoul on modeling the way for other educators ends with "what we model is what we get," a sentiment that rings true for all ages and stages, as my sons reminded me this week. Ryan modeled appropriate behavior and reassured his younger brother at the shoe store; and, as he has his whole two years of life, Liam looked to his older brother as an example to match (hence the green shoes).
As I prepare to formally begin the new school year with my fellow teachers in one week and to greet my students in a week and a half, I'm reminded of the power of modeling. Often, we forget we have chosen a life as an example to others by choosing a career in education. Our fellow educators are looking to us to model new ideas, out-of-the-box thinking, connecting, risk-taking, and a positive attitude. We can be a major factor in the attitude of our fellow educators by modeling the behavior we wish to see in others. We often discuss the state of morale in a building or the school climate and culture, but what are we doing to change it? Are we modeling the way?
Likewise, we are always a model to our students, so we must be mindful of how we approach teaching and learning. Is it a job or a passion? Are the skills and standards we teach important enough to master, or do they exist solely for the test? Do we place our importance on students or on data? Are students going to sit in compliance on the first day of school or will they create and learn? Students know the difference between an educator "putting in her time" and an educator who puts her time into teaching! Which one will you be this year?
Will educators and students look to you as someone they want to be like this year? Will they want green shoes too? How will you model what you want to see?