The Gift of Advice

‘Tis the season of gifting.  This time of year, we diligently fret over the gifts we wish to give our loved ones and give some thought, possibly selfishly, to the gifts we want to receive.  As I age, I reflect more and more on perhaps the greatest gift I received in my life -- good advice.  Sometimes I was ready to receive that advice, sometimes I was not.  Sometimes I listened to the advice and sometimes I did not.  When I was ready, and when I listened, my life changed.

All across our educational landscape, all sorts of people are giving us advice.  Politicians and policy makers suggest that we need to do things differently in public education and perhaps we do.  Perhaps we are ready to receive that advice and perhaps we are not.  I always found it profoundly worthwhile to look at education from the student’s point of view.  What advice are we giving our students?  Are they listening?

I’ve always believed that students need a certain connection to adults in order for the advice they receive to take root.  Students need to form a sense of trust with the adult that if they heed the advice there is a potential that a difference can occur.  They also need to sense that the advice is grounded in some reality; that the adult knows what they are talking about.  Often, the advice is heeded if the student can identify with the adult; if he or she can see the adult as someone they can become.  All of this is very tricky business.  Advice that is based on eye on the past rather than the future often is not only inaccurate but terribly misleading.

So, what advice did I receive along the way that took hold?  I remember several examples.

From my first grade teacher:  “Stand up straight.  Close your mouth.  People will respect you if they think you have a brain.”

From my third grade teacher: “If you hear a new word, use it three times that day in normal conversation and that word will be yours forever.”

From my 7th grade teacher: “Tell the truth.  It’s easier than lying and usually works better.”

From my American history teacher:  “The history of the world is world is just about people trying to get along with each other.  Unfortunately, no one tries to understand what the other guy wants.”

From my cooperating teacher when I was a young student teacher:  “You are entering the noblest profession in the history of the world.  Never give your second best.”

From one of my early students: “You need to understand that I don’t learn the way you teach.”

From one of my Superintendents:  “This is a people business.  At the end of the day, how have you made it better for the people you serve?”

From one of my colleagues: “If you stop learning you’re probably dead.  And if you’re not dead, you probably should be.”

Whether you realize it or not, you give advice each day.  Your students and the people you work with are molded by the advice you give.  I always wonder what they will remember.  This year, I have heard a coach give advice to a young athlete just after a crushing defeat.  I listened to an assistant principal advise a troubled girl about the potential road ahead.  I smiled at an elementary teacher who advised a boy in her class how to handle rejection.  I admired an administrator who encouraged a teacher to follow her leadership instincts.

Sometimes it takes root.  Sometimes it doesn’t.  But, please remember that we are one of the only professions where a proper word, given through the proper caring relationship, can change a life.

Rejoice about what you do each day.  Take the time off and time with family and friends to consider the good advice you have received and that you owe to the next generation.  Celebrate that you can make a difference with a word.

Do you have some advice that you'd like to share with a new teacher or new administrator? Write a comment for all members to read. It just might be a great gift for someone to receive!

Warm wishes for the best the season has to offer.

Michael Keany


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Comment by Christine V. Cralidis on January 5, 2011 at 2:19pm

Over the years as a teacher and principal, the best gift I have given my staff and students is not to give advice, but to give "gentle reminders".  Advice always left me feeling lectured as I did as a child, and I vowed not to continue the pattern as an adult.  A "reminder" of a task, meeting, behaviorial  pattern in need of improvement etc. is a way for me to demonstrate leadship and mentoring.  Leadership comes in many shapes, forms, and styles. So does advice.....





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