Not to be one to knock Readers Digest, but in general it is not known for its philosophical content. And yet, one of the best pieces of advice regarding education was found on one of its pages. (I know, I really should get out more.)
Even though our children’s ears are firmly sealed to the sound of advice, their eyes are wide open to the sight of example.
After more than thirty years in the field of education, I cannot think of a more powerful message to parents and teachers alike. It is the most fundamental of rules for any adult hoping to influence the lives of children; they will do as you do, not as you say. The more consistent the actions, the more cogent the message. Such is the power of example. The sound of advice, on the other hand has an inverse impact. The more consistent the verbal barrage, the more the influence slides from inconsequential to negative. Funny how often we ignore this simple truth.
A story is told of a boy who hands his father a note from his school which reports the fact that his son was caught stealing school supplies from the teacher’s desk. The boy’s father proceeds to severely reprimand his son, reminding him of the evils of stealing and scolding him for acting in total disregard for the values of their home. When he can’t find a pen with which to sign the note, he tells his son, “Just go to my briefcase and bring one of the pens that I took from the office.”
The above story illustrates a reality in which many of us lead ‘double’ lives. Even as educators, we preach, and even demand, a certain level of behavior and then act with total disregard for the very behaviors we have deemed unacceptable. As a school principal I have often been surprised by the lack of awareness displayed by teachers in this regard. The very same teachers that will stubbornly refuse to accept student work handed in late will have no pangs of conscience when they hand in report card grades long after deadlines have passed. Teachers scold students who consistently leave their desks a mess, and yet have to be constantly reminded to clean up after themselves in the staff room. Teachers can be observed acting in staff meetings in ways that they would find completely unacceptable had their students acted in a similar fashion. To be fair, these observations apply to only a small percentage of teachers. However, we all, principals and superintendents included, have what to learn from these examples.
Whether we like it or not, as teachers we are held to a standard: our standard. As we embark upon a new school year, we must pay close attention to closing any gaps that might exist between what we preach and what we do. Of this I am sure, our students are watching.