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Running downhill is easy. But it’s not best for our kids

About a month ago, Kevin Honeycutt and I had the chance to spend a week together traveling around the great state of Minnesota. Kevin did presentations. I shook hands and carried Kevin’s guitar. It was a seriously great time.

It was great for a couple of reasons. First, at ESSDACK we don’t often get the chance to observe a colleague in their native environment – picking up tips, talking about best practice, stealing their good ideas. I ended the week smarter and better at what I do because of it.


Social studies nerd activities. We stopped at history markers, ate in greasy dives, and talked to lots of locals about Minnesota culture. But the best activity?

A side trip to the headwaters of the Mississippi River. Yup. The Big Muddy. Old Man River. The Mighty Miss. We spent an hour or so at Itasca State Park, wading across the 10 foot wide stream, standing on the rocks where the river actually starts, and spending time in the gift shop.

We also played with the very cool scale replica of the river the state park people had set up outside the gift shop. Of course, both Kevin and I were having so much fun playing with the model that we forgot to take a picture of it. So you get this:

miss scale model

Best photo of the table that I could find. Way cooler than it looks.


This is what the Itasca model looks like – only smaller. You get the idea.

The idea is simple. You pour water into the “river” at the top of the scale model, watching it run all the way to the “Gulf of Mexico” and off the table. Total geography nerd fest.

But later that day as we made our way to Minneapolis, Kevin and I ended up chatting, not about river geography but about teaching. And the scale model of the Mississippi River became more than just a fun activity, it became a metaphor for teaching.

As in . . . getting water to run downhill is not that hard. All we had to do was pour water onto the scale model. Gravity literally took care of the rest. Teaching is like that. We can choose to do the easy thing or we can choose to do the right thing.

Here’s the deal.

We need to stop doing the easy thing.

I get the chance to spend time with lots and lots of great teachers. People who work hard planning, preparing, facilitating, caring, making a difference. But I also get the chance to work with teachers who don’t. People who generate, literally this afternoon, a parent comment like this:

My kid’s not learning anything. But at least he’s nice. It could be worse.

But it could be so much better. I get it. Teaching is hard. Good teaching is harder. Great teaching? Some days it can feel like pushing water uphill.

I know it’s cheesy but John Kennedy summed it up pretty well:

We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win . . .

Great teachers choose to push water uphill because it highlights the best of their energies and skills. Because when great teachers choose to do the hard things, it’s not just kids that benefit. We all do.

My hope is that you never forget how much power you have to change the world – so the next time I talk with the parents of kids you work with every day, I get to hear them say:

He’s nice, I guess. But it’s more than that. All my kid wants to talk about is social studies. It just seems like my kid is a better person now than when school started.

4 Comments Post a comment
  1. Cindy #

    Wow! Thanks for the push!

    October 7, 2015
    • glennw #


      Appreciate the comment. Have a great week pushing that water uphill!


      October 7, 2015
  2. I loved sharing time and mindspace with you Glenn. I also love the way you culminated the things that happened into useable advice.

    October 8, 2015
    • glennw #

      It was good times! Thanks for letting me tag along!


      October 8, 2015

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