The prompt is the same every time.
The answers often vary, the reasoning is subject to change, but the theme remains remarkably consistent:
"It's 25 years in the future, and you think back on your high school experience... who will you remember, what adult, teacher, coach, whoever, will be the person that you remember most and why? Who mattered to you?"
I publish the results of this question frequently on @EGHSmatters. Here are today's answers, for instance:
Mrs Izzo will be the teacher I remember most, because she was always there to listen and she has so many times.
"Mr Kenney made everything we read and wrote from summer on connect in ways that were so awesome. I loved his class."
"Mr Wren made science class the most interesting class ever. He connected with you personally and that made a difference."
"Mr Kenney blew my mind every day, everything he did required us to think deeply. And he's a good dude too."
"Ms. Boisse teaches science so enthusiastically that she can turn the most boring material into something you want to do."
"Mme Varone takes the time to know every person & establish relationships, she even goes to our games. It makes a difference."
"Mrs. Izzo is super thoughtful and always takes time out of her day to see how everything is going. She matters."
"Mrs Page cares aboiut things that matter to us outside of the classroom as much as inside the classroom. She knows us."
As I said in a previous blog post: Ultimately, it's the relationships that matter, not the content. I have always believed that the five minutes you spend with a student before or after class talking about something important to them will be remembered long after the hour you spent with them diagramming a sentence or going over polynomials is long forgotten.
The reality is that if you can't convince kids that you care about them, that they can trust you, that they are safe taking risks in your classroom, and that failing is an important part of learning and that it's OK, then none of that other stuff matters.
After I curated today's responses, the bell at the end of third lunch rang, leading to a discussion with a student about a recent event in school. As we walked and talked, he said to me, "You know what's great about you, Mr. Chace? It's never just 'hello", it's a conversation."
That seemingly offhand comment made my day in and of itself. It's nice to feel appreciated. We've built a school culture around making sure that kids and teachers know that people notice what they do and that they matter to one another.
And little moments like that can often lead to a great deal of introspection...
At face value, that comment made my day. But that introspective remark provided me with more insight as I considered it further. It allowed me to become more self aware as I thought about it further and began to discover that I am unconsciously overcoming my biggest weakness without even realizing it.
As I wrote previously: "I am an introvert. The scariest place in the world to me is a cocktail party or a post-school event celebration where people mingle and chat. If you are one of the half to two-thirds of people who psychologists classify as extroverted, you likely see those situations as a pleasant, friendly and enjoyable. For me it's terrifying. Nothing scares me more than small talk.
And yet... he was very much on point. As I considered that comment further, I realized that I do that all day long. I walk around the school and enter classes with open doors every period of the day. I talk to teachers and students inside and outside of those classes constantly. Teachers on hall duties know I am very likely to sit down next to them and talk about what they are doing and equally important, how they are doing whenever I am walking by. Some have begun to pull up another chair when they see me halfway down the hall now.
And why do I do that? I do it to make sure that I am on top of everything that is going on and to be visible, but also because I genuinely care about the answers. These are not superficial conversations to me. The kids and teachers in my school really do matter to me... and they know it.
The strange part is that I never really considered what I was doing or why I was doing until I thought about it this afternoon. And that would never have happened without yet another conversation.
You really can learn something new every day in school if you try.
As my favorite teacher in high school, (the one that would have been my answer to the EGHSmatters question if it was asked of me in 1985), Richard Rouleau once told me, "You are unbelievably unconsciously competent. Most of the time you have no idea what you are doing, but you're always doing the right thing."
And I am grateful for that. Because I love this place.