Every child needs a champion. It only takes one. Each of us has the power and potential to be that one. One adult. One teacher. One paraprofessional. One custodian or principal or cook. Just one.
I was recently reminded of the difference that just one person can make in the unlikeliest of places. Our family has a tradition of combining bike rides with park-hopping. (We’re blessed to live in a town that has a multitude of fun parks for our kids.) This weekend my wife and I were seated at a park bench chatting when she shared that our son had requested the park we were at. He called it the “dinosaur park.” As I listened to my wife my eyes scanned the landscape at a loss for why our son would refer to this park as a dinosaur park. I glanced at our five-year-old son who was trotting along the wood chips and noticed his back was arched and his arms were tucked near his chest similar to how a T-Rex would run. I figured he probably called this the dinosaur park because he liked to pretend to be a dinosaur at this particular park (???). My mind meandered as I questioned my own logic…my son likes pretending he’s a dinosaur EVERYWHERE, so this could not be why he chose to name this particular park the dinosaur park.
Then it hit me. Off in the distance stood a lonely green dinosaur toy. It was a modest spring-loaded ride that must have been a remnant from before this park was updated with newer equipment.
This got me thinking…kids really don’t need an entire prehistoric theme park experience to name something the “dinosaur park.” They just need one connection. One memory. One thing that makes a difference to them. The most improbable piece of playground equipment earned this park its nickname in my son’s eyes, and I will join my son in forever calling this park the dinosaur park.
The same concept applies to our schools. One person can change the entire outlook and trajectory of a child’s life. Each of us has the power to be the dinosaur. In a world that is moving at a frenetic pace, each of us has the option to connect with a child…to make a memory…to build a bridge.
Whether you are a teacher, principal, administrative assistant, school board member, or serving on a school’s food service team…you just might be the person that your school is named after in the eyes of a child. Never forget that. Embrace the magic and all the responsibility that comes with this truth. Be the dinosaur.
Elbows planted firmly on the kitchen table and hands clasped contentedly around a cantaloupe rind….my four-year-old son was loving life! As his big blue eyes scanned the room the juice from the ripe orange melon that he was devouring meandered down both arms. I was taking in the scene and noted how similar his beautiful eyes were to his mother’s. I also noticed a bright green mark on his arm. Actually, it was borderline neon. I quickly connected the dots.
Rewind 30 minutes:
The innocuous request my daughter had made just a half an hour before preparing lunch seemed like a great idea at the time. I was wrapping up a school project and she volunteered to make lunch. She also asked if it would be ok to “be creative” while making the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. How could I refuse?! We occasionally add bananas and honey to our sandwiches, and when we really want to live on the edge we cut off the crust and make sandwich-shaped butterflies. I never saw the green food coloring and candy-colored baking sugars coming! Never-the-less, when she surprised us with a platter of somewhat soggy green sandwiches coated in confectioner’s sprinkles we tried to embrace it. Much to my wife’s chagrin, one of my mantras is, “A mess is evidence of fun.”
Back to the Cantaloupe:
As we enjoyed the remaining cantaloupe (green arms and all) I reflected on all the marks in our students’ lives. Some marks are “evidence of fun” like grass-stained jeans from an epic recess soccer game. Other marks are unseen and might be attributed to anxiety over a disagreement with a classmate or the heartbreak and fear connected to a variety of possible family circumstances.
In each of these situations the relationships that teachers have with their students serve as the underpinnings of healing, safety, and eventual learning. The painful truth of the matter is that some marks aren’t bright green and they can’t be washed off. Nobody understands this better than the amazing professionals in our children’s classrooms. This is where hope and love enter the equation.
Just like my son’s bright green arms…there’s a story behind every mark. The most humbling thing about working in a school is that we also have the chance to leave marks on the hearts and minds of our students and co-workers each and every day. These are the kind of marks that have the powerful potential to overshadow some of the darker dilemmas that our students may encounter. Kindness continues to be one of the most powerful forces in the world, and one that cuts through the dark like a brilliant flame.
More vivid than green food coloring, the mark of encouragement, unswerving love, patience, and time can impact the very trajectory of a child’s life. In all you do…leave this kind of mark.
Image Credits: ifood.tv and bonappetit.com