Back in simpler times, when people could come in and out of a school, and teachers who are parents and grandparents often brought their children or grandchildren into the building, many would stop by my office to say hello. I would often give those children a lollypop or a pretzel rod. Sometimes two. Or three. Sometimes a whole handful (of lollypops, at least).
In regard to the pretzel rods, there were two little children who visited me who thought these were the most delicious snacks they ever had. They loved those pretzel rods.
These children loved the pretzel rods so much, they begged their grandma, a teacher at the school, to buy the same ones so they could have them whenever they visited – whether they saw me or not. That grandmother did just what they asked. She bought the same exact pretzel rods to keep in her classroom for their visits.
These were the same pretzels I had, from the same pretzel making company. These were standard regular pretzel rods that can be found in any supermarket. The teacher’s pretzels and mine were identical. Totally and completely.
One day when the little children were visiting the school, they asked their grandma for a pretzel. She obliged. The children tasted the pretzels and said, “We like the pretzels from Dr. Sem better.”
They were the same pretzels. Totally and completely.
But mine tasted better than Grandma’s.
And that is actually how it should be.
Having the best tasting pretzels was actually one of the biggest compliments I have ever been given.
Because it wasn’t about the pretzels.
It never is.
I have never asked, but I am 100% certain that to those children, that teacher’s pretzels tasted better than any other pretzels except mine.
I never asked, but I know it for a fact.
I don’t have to ask. know it’s true because there is something very special about visiting Grandma.
I am also sure that had my own children been little, that teacher’s pretzels would have tasted better than mine.
Lesson of the day – It’s not about the pretzels.
Remind yourself of that every day for the next forever.
It’s not about the pretzels.
Say it again and again and again.
It’s not about the pretzels.
It is absolutely not about the pretzels.
So, what is it about?
It’s about being special.
It’s about magic.
It’s about wonder.
It’s about smiles and caring and relationships and so much more.
It’s about love.
It’s what makes a great teacher great.
It’s the difference between good and great.
It’s the little things that mean everything.
That’s what it’s about.
A teacher’s summative evaluation should really be a one question survey of the students. That survey would read,
Does your teacher have the best tasting pretzels?
If the answer is yes, that teacher did a great job. Period.
Give that teacher a raise. She deserves it.
Well, maybe it’s more complicated than that.
No, it’s not.
Have you ever been to a junky little carnival, an old boardwalk, or worn-out amusement park with dumb little rides that are not at all interesting or fun?
If so, you might have looked at the rides and chuckled silently to yourself and wondered how anyone would get any fun from them.
You wouldn’t be wrong.
One such example is the ride that puts a person into a small container that goes up and down as it travels in slow circles.
Not fun at all.
But now, take that same exact ride, the exact same thing, transform that small container into an elephant and take that ride from the rickety old boardwalk or crumbly old macadam near Town Hall, or out of the old, decrepit and dying amusement park, and place it smack in the center of Walt Disney World and you’ve got a sensation that people, old and young alike, wait on line for hours to go on.
And, once they’re on it, they think it’s the greatest thing in the world.
Everyone loves to ride on Dumbo, The Flying Elephant.
The ride itself didn’t change. It’s not an exciting ride. At all. Dumbo flies up and down in a slow circles around and around, on and on, forever…
But it’s DUMBO! And it’s in DISNEY WORLD!
And because of those two factors, it is absolutely, unquestionably, and completely AWESOME.
It just is.
Dumbo and those delicious pretzels have a lot in common.
It’s not the ride. It’s not the pretzel. I
It’s the experience of the pretzel. It’s everything that comes with the pretzel:
“Let’s go see Dr. Sem!”
“Do you think we’ll get a pretzel?”
“He’s there! There are pretzels! THESE ARE THE BEST!!!”
As cool as Grandma might be (and is), her pretzels just can’t compare.
But, because she’s Grandma, and someone special in her own right, her pretzels taste better than mom’s.
Great teachers most often don’t do anything differently than average teachers when it comes to instruction, methodology, pedagogy, planning, classroom design, and so much more.
There’s only so much a teacher can do.
Those things don’t define great teaching.
They never have and never will.
When I do workshops, and I talk about changing student behavior or teaching effectively, I can always see the people in attendance who get it, who understand. They nod, knowingly. They smile. They know that great teaching doesn’t come out of a program or a methodology… great teaching comes from the heart.
The same is true when I do leadership seminars. Great principals also understand this. Great leaders lead with passion, commitment, and heart.
It’s all the same.
People who are great educators, the ones who make their classrooms or schools (in-person, virtual, or otherwise) places where children are respected, valued, encouraged, supported, appreciated, cherished, and loved understand, completely, that it’s not about the pretzels (or the conferring notes, or the rubrics, or the curriculum or the methodologies). Great educators know it’s about way more than that.
The great teachers are the ones with the great tasting pretzels.
It’s that simple.
People who don’t understand will say, “No it’s not.”
Here’s the answer.
“Yes, it is.”
I sometimes have people come up to me after my workshops and say, “I do everything you have said and the kids still don’t pay attention (or listen to me, or behave, or…).”
I can tell by the way they interacted during the presentation, the way they approach me, and the way that they talk that they don’t have very good tasting pretzels.
If they any pretzels at all, they’re stale.
They went stale a long time ago.
I work in an amazing school. Do you want to know why that school is so remarkable?
It’s because each classroom there has the best tasting pretzels anywhere.
It really is that simple.
(Oh, and you don’t really need the pretzels. You just need what comes with them.
With or without the actual pretzels, the students will always know if their teacher’s are delicious or not.)