For my 27th birthday my dad gave me a present I wasn’t too excited about:
At this point in my life, books weren’t exactly on my wish list radar.
I was two years removed from finishing my masters, which I completed immediately after my undergraduate degree. Twenty-three continuous years of education had taken its toll, and reading books for “fun” was low on the priority list.
As I revealed this gift to other family members I tried my best to remain enthusiastic while secretly hoping for a gift receipt to fall from the pages.
A short time later while eating cake and ice cream I glanced over at the present. The book was The Total Money Makeover written by a guy I’d never heard of named Dave Ramsey. I recall feeling offended my dad had given me a resource promising a “proven plan for financial fitness.” I had a good job, was living on my own, never asked my parents for money … the last thing I needed was personal finance advice.
When the celebration ended I returned home and promptly tossed the book in the corner of my room. Several months passed before I opened the pages. When I did, something inside the front cover caught my attention. To my surprise, I discovered a handwritten note from my dad explaining why he gave me the book.
Part of the passage reads as follows:
“As your father, I will always be concerned about every aspect of your life. I want you to be ‘healthy’ in every area - including your finances. …. Please receive this book in love and know that I’m always available for answering questions on Dave’s plan or advice on anything else.”
Not only did I feel guilty for my initial reaction toward the book, I also was also blown away that my dad took the time to explain why I should read the book. It ends up I loved the book and the principles have had a profound impact on my life.
But rather than discuss book specifics, I like to focus on the powerful moment my dad created when he wrote the note inside the book cover. What might have happened if he had not taken a few minutes to write the note?
Would I have read the book?
Would I understand personal finance?
Would I embrace lifelong learning?
It’s fascinating to consider how my life was impacted by one small - yet powerful - moment.
Creating powerful, life-changing moments is one of the most important things we can do as educators.
Whereas I was fortunate to have parents who created life-altering turning points, many of our students are not as lucky. All staff members - not just teachers - must look for opportunities to create defining moments for students.
Sharing words of encouragement, engaging in conversations about goals, or commenting on a special talents are all chances for educators to positively alter a student’s trajectory in a few short minutes.
I will always remember how my 7th grade Language Arts teacher - Mrs. Bamsey - motivated me in the area of creative writing. She did this in a number of ways. She pushed me to work beyond our normal writing assignments. She gave me detailed, positive feedback on my stories. She allowed me to read finished work with the class.
Most importantly, Mrs. Bamsey told me I was a talented writer. To this day, I have never forgotten her words.
This concept of how educators can create extraordinary moments for students is discussed in The Power of Moments by Chip and Dan Heath. The authors suggest, “When a teacher offers praise and support, this can lead to transformation. Or when a teacher points out the strengths of the student. A few minutes can change a life."
Educators must consider that remarkable moments don't just happen. Rather than leave moments to chance, thoughtful educators create life changing moments. Of all their heroic qualities, transforming lives in a single moment could be educators' greatest superhuman power.
When school leaders attend high school graduation parties one question always arises: What gift should I give?
Cash? Gift card? Something else?
When I was a high school principal I pulled a page out of my dad's playbook by giving graduates “The Total Money Makeover” and a handwritten note explaining my rationale.
While some graduates likely experienced the same "I hope there's a gift receipt" reaction, I'm hopeful at least one student’s life changed as a result of the moment I hoped to create.