Tying the Shoelaces


Tying the Shoelaces

The day that I became an administrator, it seemed to me that my teaching career was coming to an end.  Those seemingly endless days in the classroom were no more; no more piles of marking on the dining room table; no more report cards; no more detentions.  These menial tasks would be replaced by management tasks consisting of organizing the school in a functional way and keeping the “trains” running.  I

became an instructional leader and someone that was entrusted to building capacity in others.

However, though I wasn’t a “teacher” anymore, I noticed that I missed the

teaching part – I missed the feeling I would had when students would “get it.”  Nothing amazed me more than the realization that the light bulb had gone off within a student’s mind. A particular example is with the Biology 12 curriculum and the nervous system.  One of the more difficult aspects is the explanation of

how neurons transmit information from one neuron to another.  It was exasperating on my part trying to impart this piece of, what I thought was very simple, knowledge. However, when they “got it”, the feeling for me justified what I was doing.

Several weeks

ago, it happened again.  We have a student in grade 8 that until this time had yet to learn how to tie his shoelaces.  A frustrated PE teacher had the boy sit out a run due to his shoe flying off his feet.  This was repeated for several days with some embarrassment on the part of the boy.  His insistence that he had indeed tied his own laces in the morning was proven wrong as soon as they became untied.I happened to come upon such a situation one morning.  The frustration that the boy felt was clear on his face; he was close to tears so I took him aside.

I sat down with him to go over the issue, which, by the way, didn’t seem such a big deal.  This was something that was ingrained in most people; who didn’t know how to tie shoelaces?  Did he need to go back to Velcro?  I watched him as he tried to tie the laces and it was evident that he had no clue.  There was no bunny going around a tree for this student; nothing seemed to work and for some reason, he couldn’t understand the verbal instructions of loops and tying them around.  For me, the “a ha” moment came when I sat and forced his hands to follow the motion.  If any of you out there can remember that moment when you first learned to tie your shoes, it probably amazed you why you couldn’t do it before.  Well, that happened that day – all of a sudden, he got it.  The grin on his face; the exclamation, “that’s it?”, “its that simple?” was music to my ears.  I won’t take complete credit for him getting it since I believe that the information was already in his mind, he needed a way to unlock it; he needed a way to make the information usable and relevant.


Since that day, I have used this example a fair bit in my own understanding of how students learn.  I firmly believe that it is not the repetitive motion of drills that work but that little linkage between the drills and relevance that makes it a teachable situation.  Once they get the knowledge out, it will become second nature – just like tying their shoelaces.


  1. nancyetmundy said:

    I am so inspired; I am speaking your language, or are you speaking my language. This has been in my heart for always.

    My first class, the self-contained K – 4th grade autistic students, in 1993-4, did not know how to tie shoes. The assistants were “trained” to scold and reteach.

    I was given two fresh assistants with my deep concerns which were appreciated by the principal! I taught the assistants, with modeling, to sing, This is the way we tie our shoes, tie our shoes….We sang almost everything from tying shoes, to brushing teeth, that is after art, expressive language, and hands-on visit with a real children’s dentist where they were introduced to reality with kindness and compassion — one on one with care. It worked. I have the photos to prove it.
    Oh, how I want to spread the word using my Ed.S practicum. Anyone out there willing to sponsor my practicum, and help me to first, get it copyrighted, and published!!! With love, Nancy FL DOE 711123.

    February 17, 2013
  2. Sam said:

    Teach shoe tying with the shoe off – this way the child does not have to worry about positioning the foot while learning to tie. Best to place the shoe on a child sized table – just make sure the shoe is oriented in the same manner as it would be on the foot.

    September 19, 2015

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