By Guest Blogger Kelly Nichols

I was born, raised, and remain in a public school system. I began as early as possible (at that time there was no public kindergarten), progressed through our local school system, attended the first public university in our nation, and the minute I left, returned to the system I loved to be an educator. I taught 28 years in elementary classrooms (every grade except kindergarten- bless them) and have spent the last two years working with teachers in that same system. I believe that every student is entitled to an excellent education. I believe that every teacher shows up every day with a full heart and the best of intentions. I believe every child is someone’s “most precious thing” and that parents fervently love their children. I also know our world is changing faster than we are and we must keep pace.

When I grew up, Pluto was a planet. A geography class in college required memorization of the countries of the world. Turns out Pluto is not a planet (or is it a dwarf one?) and the country names I memorized have been changed, or new borders drawn, etc. (anyone remember the Soviet Union or Burma?). Recently, I read that 50% of information learned by current freshmen in college will be obsolete by their junior year. If learning facts is more or less useless, what should students learn today? 

Here are a few of my favorite:

What will you do when you don’t know what to do? Without a doubt, this is my favorite question to ask students. Life is easy when we know what to do. But when we are confused/unsure it’s all different. I can picture little faces looking perplexed as I asked this question again and again. One such student said, “What do you mean? If I don’t know what to do, how will I know what to do?” Profound. Because as we mature and make decisions, that’s what we do. Encouraging students to take a step, any step, even if it’s wrong teaches them not to freeze in the face of uncertainty. If we had learned this as children, how much better equipped to face today could we be?

Words have power. Early in each school year, I wanted this to resonate. So, kids squeezed tubes of toothpaste out onto paper plates in a “race”.They assumed my lunacy when I asked them to put the toothpaste back into the tube. A few diligent students even attempted to do this. After a few laughs, I likened this to words. They come out easily but it is ridiculously hard to take them back. We all need to think before we speak. The question I posed, “Words have power, how will you use yours?” Words do pave power. Daily we choose to build each other up or tear each other down. What is your choice?

Always put in your best effort, be persistent. She was smaller stature than most. But she was fiery and strong. Even so, the monkey bars terrified her. For days, she would ask me to lift her up, hang there, and just drop. She convinced herself that she couldn’t reach the next bar. But she kept trying. By the end of the week, not only could she go through the monkey bars, she could also skip a bar. She tried and did not relent. The joy on her face was palpable. We should all experience that kind of joy at our accomplishments.

Mistakes are okay. Some kids are afraid of making mistakes. They can be so afraid they choose not to even begin. It was always so important to me to learn this lesson early before life got really complicated and mistakes got bigger. I’d remind students that if they got everything right, all the time, then I was a terrible teacher because I wasn’t actually teaching them anything.I expected (and made) mistakes because that’s how I knew a kid was trying something new. A mistake was a stretch. It was a reason to celebrate. A mother put it well when she told me that her son realized he could “actually learn” and didn’t have to just know everything up front.What freedom for us all!

Everyone is important. The boys were playing some form of baseball at recess. Athletic was not her best quality. He was “the athlete”. When she wanted to play ball (and swing away she did!), he cheered the loudest. He jumped up and down at her “hit”. He ran the bases with her. She didn’t have the skills he did, but he showed her she was important nonetheless. Life would be joyful if we all had a fan running the bases with us! 

Be kind. Above all else, be kind. I remember the look on her face when she told her group she had mistakenly erased their group project from Google. She was petrified. No one commented. They all began immediately to rebuild the project. After a few minutes, one group member glanced at her and said, “I’m kind of glad you did that. This one is much better than the first one!” The kindness expressed by this child affected me in a way I never imagined. I thought about the forgiveness, the grace, and the mercy extended to ‘the deleter’. I questioned how I would have acted in the same circumstances. It is certainly welcomed and appreciated when it is extended to me. Do I extend the same to others? 

Undoubtedly, as children grow, they need to learn new things. Yes, we should know our multiplication facts, we should know that things float because they are less dense than water, and we should know how the government is supposed to run. We should understand taxes, be able to handle insurance, take care of our health, and read well enough to enjoy it. But the significant things are ones that last: curiosity, self-efficacy, determination, consideration, empathy, and above all kindness. If we all passionately practiced these, we would unequivocally change the world. 

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