I love quotes. I use them often—sometimes just by myself, to keep my own thinking in a straight line; other times, more openly, as a way to inspire the thinking of others. I seek them out and read them like little tidbits of short stories, from Einstein to Twain, from Unknown to Anonymous. (Admission: It took me an embarrassingly long time to figure out who that was.)
A colleague, Trish, loves them just as much as I do. She’s a teacher, which makes her an angel, of course, but along the way she’s been a coach and technology expert, too. She uses quotes with the same enthusiasm as I. She’s got them posted throughout her classroom, on her phone, and as a revolving screen saver on her computer. She’s my quote comrade.
So guess what she did for me as a holiday present?
After years of sort of working together, she and I ended up working in the same school this year. Again, I’m new to building, so I’ve spent the first part of the year hustling to try to get to know teachers, students, and parents. There are a lot of them, and they all have their own stories—and I want to know them all. Really know them. But boy, it’s a daunting task. It seems like it will take me a thousand years to get to know everyone.
Trish understands this.
So guess what she did for me—? On the day before the holiday break, she invited me to stop by her room. I was surprised when one of the students stood and shyly handed me a package.
“Oh, thank you,” I said. “You didn’t need to—“
“Open it!” someone said.
A chorus: “Yes! Now!”
I did, in that awkward, Now? Really? If-I-really-have-to kind of way. Inside, beneath several gently crumpled pieces of tissue, was one of the most thoughtful, mindful presents I’ve ever received as a principal.
Trish had gone and bought a fun little journal, a gentle purple and blue number. On the cover was Frozen’s Olaf, saying these words: Some People Are Worth Melting For. She had allotted two pages of the journal to each of her fourth graders. She asked them to seek out an image of a quote that reflected who they are. They pasted the quote on one page; on the coinciding page, they wrote me a letter describing themselves in relation to the quote.
It was a brilliant gift for a new (and quote-loving) principal. As I read through the journal, I got 26 new quotes to ponder—and the personal, authentic, unfiltered story of 26 kids. Instantly, I was able to learn something important about each one of them.
Vidushi’s quote: Everything in the universe has rhythm. Everything dances. (Maya Angelou)
Vidushi connected herself to the quote like this:
Dear Mrs. Schwanke,
I like this quote because it reminds me to never stop dancing. I love to dance. It’s my passion and my life. I also love math. I want to be a doctor when I grow up. I also love my friends. Have a great Christmas. I hope it does not snow. Your student, Vidushi
So there, just with that student, I have a great quote—and I have six or seven things about which to Vidushi. I’ve got a starting point, a connection, and a solid way to remember her.
Ken’s quote: Every pro was once an amateur. Every expert was once a beginner. So dream big. And start now. (Robin Sharma)
Dear Mrs. Schwanke,
I like this quote because it reminds me to keep trying when I am new to something. I really like sports. My most favorite is Tae Kwon Do, which I play after school. I keep working and keep getting better. I hope your holiday is great. See you next year! Sincerely, Ken
Again, this was a great way to begin to know Ken.
There were others, too:
Page after page, it was clear how much care the students had put into selecting a quote and writing the accompanying letter. Their handwriting was deliberate and careful; their words and descriptions gave me a clear and genuine picture of each student as a person and as a thinker. Trish had guided them through the idea and the work, but the result was a comprehensive picture of each child. It was a gift that gave me three important and necessary things: 26 quotes, 26 personal stories, and 26 springboards from which I could launch a meaningful student conversation.