Sunday, June 7, 2015

The 34th Friday: What's in the Box?

The whole art of teaching is only the art of awakening the natural curiosity of young minds for the purpose of satisfying it afterwards.” 
Anatole France

Last weekend, Joe Sanfelippo, a close friend who is also a superintendent in Fall Creek, Wisconsin, shared a story that I, in turn, want to share today, as many educators approach the end of another school year:

Joe said that his wife was subbing in a 6th grade classroom in his small, K-12 district last Friday. During the day, she noticed a group of high school seniors (who would be graduating the next day) leaving a 6th grade teacher’s classroom, talking and smiling as they left this classroom. This piqued her curiosity and--perhaps even expecting something was amiss--she went into the classroom to investigate--and learned why these boys had stopped by this teacher’s classroom just before their graduation. 

She learned that this middle school teacher, on these students’ first day of 6th grade nearly seven years ago, brought out a black box of
some kind, talked about it, 
described it, discussed what might be inside it, and then said to them: “If you want to know what’s in the box, come back and see me on your last week here before your high school graduation.” And that was it. That’s all he ever mentioned about it. He never said another word about the black box, did not remind them about it, nothing. The day before graduation, they all just walked down there and wanted to know what was in the box. 

I thought this was a powerful story on many levels and wanted to share three takeaways for us to remember today, as we may be but days away from saying goodbye to our own students for the year, depending on where you serve:

  • Our words are powerful and impactful. Our students will remember them, years after we say them.
  • Creating curiosity and a sense of inquiry within our students is a powerful way to engage them and, ultimately, help them learn.
  • Relationships are everything. Although I do not know this teacher personally, my hunch is that this person went about his teaching and learning business every day the remainder of that school year building positive relationships with his students. They returned to his classroom partly to satisfy their curiosity, but also to reconnect with someone they liked and respected as a teacher.

By the way, when Joe shared this story on a Voxer group chat with 10 other educators I communicate with via that app regularly, guess what all 9 of us asked almost instantaneously? You guessed it: “Joe, what was in the box?” Alas, his response was: “They won’t tell.”

As many of us prepare to bid adieu to the students we taught every day this year, let's remember the influence each of us has over these young learners. Keep creating a sense of curiosity within them. Know that your words matter to them and use them intentionally. Keep forging those relationship skills with them, right up to the very end. Doing these things is what causes our kids to come back and see us, years after they leave our classrooms. The are also ways we Teach with Passion


  1. Jeff I love this and you have me wondering if anything at all was in there. Maybe the box is a metaphor for the journey from 6th to 12th grade. Either way, you are right on by mentioning that we must keep them curious. We have fierce competition and we are losing the war. I think there is still time though if we just continue to teach and lead with passion.

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting, Jon. I like what Thomas Friedman says: No one works harder than a curious kid." So important to kindle that curiosity! Best, Jeff

  2. Love this Jeff! While the initial question is "what's in the box," the real answer is: it doesn't really matter. What matters is the relationships formed by the teacher and students that still stands. To the point that once they found out, the students honored and respected the teacher enough to keep it a secret. Alas, what's in the box is real. And that, is all that matters.

    1. Barry,
      Thanks for reading and commenting. You nailed it by the way: the contents of the box were strictly secondary to what is important about this story. Master teachers such as yourself understand what it is all about! Best, Jeff

  3. Awesome stuff! I love hearing about things like this that teacher's do that kids will never forget!

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting, Brent!