Be About the Business of Planting Trees

Ahh…finally – Spring Break. Though I must admit, I had not expected it to arrive with three inches of snow.

But that aside, this morning as I sit here with my coffee in the quiet of a house that will be anything but quiet when my children wake up, I am appreciative of the opportunity to reflect. And this morning, I am especially grateful to be back in my hometown of Gillespie, Illinois. It is small-town living here in Gillespie, population 3,600. Yet despite its modest size, the people of this place make it as significant as any place I’ve ever lived. Gillespie has always been a place with a rich sense of community, and that community is unified in its support of our local school district.

Looking back on my own experience in that school system, I am always thankful for the string of exceptional English teachers I was fortunate enough to have had growing up, each one playing a prominent role towards helping me develop a skill set that would later steer me into my current profession. My gratitude to those educators who shaped my future is immense, and two nights ago when I ran into one of my former English teachers at a local restaurant, I felt a reverence for her that I feel has only grown over time as I myself have grown as an educator, as a person, and most notably as a father.

I say all of this to point out that the significance of what it means to dedicate your life to serving others cannot be overstated or fully understood by any individual, and though my words here feel trite at best, I must implore everyone – especially educators – to seize the opportunities you have each day to have a positive and significant impact on the young people in your community. It is a responsibility we all share.

That said, the why behind that commitment to seizing those opportunities to make a difference in the lives of others needs to be clear to the individual making that commitment.

This topic was brought up this past fall in a day-long training I attended where the presenter asked attendees to take time to write down and then share with a partner the legacy we want to leave when our time in education is over. Surveying the room, most educators constructed legacy statements that could have begun with this simple sentence starter, “I hope that people remember me for/as…” And while such goals are admirable and can serve to motivate many, I personally have never bought into the idea of legacy. Why? Well, my grandfather was a phenomenal educator and a hall of fame high school football coach – and I watched him retire, and you know what, afterward the world continued on, just as it always had. His name wasn’t added to a building or a field, and honestly, it didn’t need to be.

Now if that sounds harsh, hear me out; I’m not trying to downplay the impact my grandfather had in his career. However, it is, as so many things are, a matter or perspective – perspective on our purpose, perspective on the why. Instead of serving others with the goal of being remembered, serve with the goal that students remember the lessons you’ve imparted and as a result are more equip thereafter to change the world for the better. Instead of living to create a legacy that points back to you, live to point others towards the pursuit of more than they themselves ever even dreamed possible. And as you do this, know that you may not ever be fully aware of – or recognized for – the impact you have had. Be okay with that. And never doubt the value of the positive influence you have already had and continue to have, even if doesn’t feel like it at the present moment. I am reminded of this anytime I am in Gillespie, especially when I run into my former teachers, and in those moments, the following quote comes to mind. It’s one I’ve adopted as a bit of a personal mantra…

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And as you go about the business of planting trees, imagine the collective impact your contribution and our collective contribution can have towards changing the world for the better.

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