It’s Not About the Shoes…

Recently I had a conversation with a high school teacher. We were talking about being relational with our learners. We were dissecting the notion that no matter the age group of the learner, the importance of connecting and establishing a relationship, in order to be relevant to them–is crucial.

She shared a stark example of how out of touch teachers can be. On a particular day, the school had their scheduled fire drill practice. This day was the morning after a heavy rain. The clouds were still low in the sky and there was a light drizzle in the air. (You might be asking why anyone would schedule a fire drill on this day, but alas…that’s a different conversation!)

As the fire alarms sounded, the kids were shuffled out of their various classrooms into the hallway arteries. Some of the nearest exits were down some stairs and there was an evident bottle necking followed by a complete traffic jam.

These kids were being herded out into large puddles of mud, water, residue–and they didn’t want their white Adidas, their Jordans…their shoes…to get muddy. While this particular teacher took notice and tried to usher them along with compassion in her voice and a, “We will clean them up, don’t worry…” another teacher repetitively shouted orders and said, “Keep moving, hurry up…do not worry about your shoes!”

I thought about this.

Is it really about the shoes?


It’s about a sense of ownership, a sense of status, a sense of belonging, a sense of ¬†P R I D E. And this teacher just took all of that away from these kids. This same teacher while prompting the kids back in the building would not allow her students to go clean their shoes, while my friend said she got stacks of paper towels and wet them and they had a shoe cleaning station in her classroom.

Those kids would not have learned anything that morning for the preoccupation with muddy shoes. For some of those children? Those shoes are a special present. For some, they are an indication of really hard work. For others, they represent sacrifice. For some, it’s all of those things. But for all, they are so much more than just shoes.

We have to look beyond contexts like this to understand our learners and to connect with our learners. I guarantee the amount of respect that my friend earned that day by hosting a shoe cleaning station and actually rolling up her sleeves and helping get the mud off of the shoes went so much further than just that moment.

What are your learners’ muddy shoe moments?

For mine? At the moment? It’s cutting in line. It drives me crazy when my Littles start complaining, “He cutted…” “I was here first…” Then I asked one recently, “Does it really matter if you are first in line or second in line? I mean, there are 23 of us. We are all going to get to our destination within about 23 seconds of each other.”

And this is what he said, “Well. It’s not really about being first. I was ready. When you said line up, I was ready. I walked to my spot. She ran.”

Ah. So it’s not about being first. Just like it’s not about the shoes. The way kids express themselves make us think¬†it’s about the shoes or the place in line.

It’s typically more than that. They just don’t know how to say it.

It’s not about the shoes. It’s not about cutting in line. We can trick ourselves into saying things like, “Well it teaches resilience, it teaches not to let little things matter…” but, really? These are not little things to our learners. They are often big things when you look beyond the obvious.

So this week? Take a look at the muddy shoe moments your kids might be experiencing and lean in a little bit. Break down those “little moments” and recognize the magnitude of those things in your learners’ lives and how we can embrace them and learn from them ourselves.


Author: Dr. Valerie King

Quirky thinker. Joyful teacher. Perpetual learner. For the Kids.

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