During Christmas break, my brother and I took a long walk behind our parents’ house. He showed me places where they had cleared fields and brush–adding more pasture to the acres where the cattle graze.
As we made our way through sage brush and into openings where green patches of winter fescue grew, he pointed out a line of brush piled up near the clearing.
“You ever seen foxfire?” he asked.
“No, I’ve heard the word but never thought about what it means.”
“Well, when we cleared that area over there, we came across some rotted oak. Inside were patches of fungus that were scattered and crushed when we bulldozed the brush into a pile.”
“Late one night,” he continued, “we saw the ground glowing with bits of green, yellow lights–foxfire is the name used to describe it. Imagine the tail of a firefly–the same color was glowing across the leaves and grass. It was beautiful.”
Looking for Foxfire Moments
During our walk, I thought about other simple but mesmerizing wonders of beauty I had seen hidden in the nooks and crannies of forests or fields: the plumes of green ferns growing in hidden shades near the swampy creek, yellow and reddish mushrooms pushing up in the gravel walkway, the tall spire of a dead tree with ribbons of peeling bark cascading around its trunk…all of these small glimpses of nature’s hidden artwork.
If these small wonders are tucked away in backwood hideaways, how many of us overlook the “firefox” treasures buried inside the thoughts or emotions of others around us?
Sometimes those discoveries may reveal something unpleasant; at other times, something amazing.
As you start a new semester, like me, you’re probably thinking of a lot of practical to-do’s like student schedules, upcoming reports, etc. But coming through the doors of your school are students who not only fill classrooms with busy learning and chatter but also with deposits of undiscovered experiences, ideas, gifts, and questions.
Some of them may never show us the brightness of their best gifts while we have them in our care. But occasionally, we catch glimpses of their creativity or wit that reminds us why we love to be educators.
3 Ways To Capture Moments
So how do we encourage ourselves and our teams to look for the foxfire lights hidden away in those around us? Here are three suggestions:
1. Pay attention to others.
Stephen Covey teaches to “seek first to understand before seeking to be understood”. Here’s a practical application: when someone comes to you with a question, try to give them at least 60 seconds of undivided attention–without looking at your phone, computer, etc. You may surprised how much more quickly you connect with others by simply paying good attention to them. The same applies to walkthroughs, meetings, observations or other exchanges. Give others your full attention so that you understand situations more deeply than what’s just on the surface.
2. Ask deeper questions.
Not every conversation needs to be deep or personal, but sometimes it’s good to ask probing questions. Over break, I asked a friend’s son who is graduating college, “If you could do whatever you wanted at graduation and get paid for it, what would you do?” Although his major was in engineering, his comments included a love for playing music, designing legos and coaching soccer. That one question helped me understand some of his most treasured pastimes.
3. Celebrate the treasures you discover.
When you’re observing teachers or watching students perform, take time to appreciate positive accomplishments by acknowledging what you’ve seen. Whether you send a kudos email, include a note in a newsletter, or Tweet out an “atta-boy”, let people know when you see something worth celebration. For instance, one teacher’s lesson on taxonomies in Biology may be an inspiring idea for other teachers; share the rich moments you’re observing and encourage others to do the same.
Glowing foxfire is rarely seen by the outside world, but wooded walkways are not the only spaces hiding undiscovered treasures. Look for the hidden treasures in your daily experience, ask deeper questions, and celebrate your daily discoveries. When you do, you may discover the day-to-day of school life more mesmerizing than mundane during this new year.
Now It’s Your Turn
Celebrating what’s happening around you reminds others that what they do really matters. Look for great student or school discoveries that you can celebrate this week and this new year.