“One more time. . .here’s the scenario. . .it’s Friday afternoon and you’re excited to go meet the van because you know it time for the weekend and the fun we are going to have at home. Now, pop that lock, dude!”
Spin. . .spin. . .spin. . .
Yes. . .yes. . .yes. . .
“Okay, dude. Reset the lock. Let Daddy show you how to do it again. If you think about it, you can almost feel the locker doing what you want it to do. We have time today to do this. I want you to get this today. Okay? I want us both to know on Monday that you did this.”
Noah was learning how to open his first locker with a built-in combination lock. I could sense that he was reaching frustration level with the lock, especially in a building that was still battling the three-digit temperatures we have had in southern Indiana for the past couple of months.
And since Noah might not appreciate me sharing too much of his personal life with my reading audience, I will shift this back to me.
I’ve never been able to open a combination lock.
Until yesterday. Demonstrating how to open a combination lock.
In fact, my wife, Kristie, actually smiled as she gave me the combination and instructions for opening the locker. She told me that she had a combination locker every year when she was in school from the 6th grade until graduation. She was surprised that I had never had a locker with a combination.
I lied. I had one for a brief year in 7th grade. Before we moved to Boyne City, Michigan.
I never used that locker one time in that year. I carried everything.
I was embarrassed to share with ANYONE that I could not open that locker. I couldn’t get the wheel to spin the way I needed it to in order to open that locker. I had watched others, casually spinning the lock to eventual success, but I was just turning numbers without any kind of success. After a while, it didn’t even make sense to me to try to go through the motions of going to my locker after school, pretending to turn the wheel but never opening the door. But a part of my school day was dedicated to going to a locker that was mine, or at least was assigned to me.
And this is not to malign the spirit of those no longer with us. I loved my step-in mother, but she was very young when she made a commitment to my father and to me to be my mother and care-giver. This is merely to offer some insight into why we were very careful with Noah yesterday as we navigated that notorious combination locker.
I’ve never had great confidence. Lifting and Reading. These are the two areas I can point to with a high level of confidence. I am confident that in time, with consistent training, I can lift things others might only dream about doing. This is how you train to bench 335 pounds even if you only do that one time. And reading? I’ve been doing it since the age of four. And I KNOW I am good at it.
But as a child, I would get frustrated with what others might see as fairly simple tasks. And when I would meet frustration level, so would my mother. Now, I don’t want to sugar-coat or affirm this kind of approach with children. I want to be fair, but I want to be resolved that no child should be called “idiot” or “stupid” or in any way, shape, or form be made to feel like either.
And so, I fumble quite a bit. Even as an adult when faced with a new task. And I finally figured it out. It has to do with delivery. School photographers would often get frustrated with me when I couldn’t follow their verbal prompts. Eventually, they would come from behind the camera to the carpeted box and take my chin and put it where they wanted it. When they would walk back to the camera, sighing and shaking their heads, their body language communicated what I had already felt.
And then it hit me. It took one undergraduate course in education to open my own combination lock.
I’m a kinesthetic learner. I learn by modeling and physical positioning.
Steps. Turn to the right. Turn to the Left. Turn to the Right again.
You know, I had a pretty successful turn in recruit training marching with 85 other guys following instructions that were nothing more than “1,2,3,4″ and “Left, Right, Left.” Now some of the instructions got a little more nuanced, like when you want to take the platoon around a corner, but in time I got these too. Because when we learned these skills, the drill instructors would teach this in small groups of four, allowing each person in the group to take the back of the formation and the lead of the formation.
Our classroom was an asphalt slab we called “the grinder.” The sun would shine off of this asphalt and cause tan lines where our sailor hats would sit. These visible tan lines, when the hat was removed, were called “grinder reminders.”
In order for me to navigate any new task, I need to trust the mentor and try the movements myself. And where do I see this? Well, look at my two interests: lifting and reading. I learned to lift by watching others, their approach, their form. The way they breathed as they pushed.
I sensed all of this was true with Noah as we tried to get that locker to pop open. So we modeled, and we mentored. And we encouraged. When the locker didn’t open, we reset the lock and begun again.
Eventually, a young man walked up with key around his neck. He said to us, most earnestly, “I couldn’t get my locker open, so they just gave me a key.”
I could immediately sense that this appealed to Noah. The idea of having a key and not having to contend with this lock for one minute.
I thanked the young man and he went off down the hall.
I turned to look at my son and I told him, “If everything we were to do for the rest of the day or for the rest of your life depended upon your getting this locker open, then I am willing to stay right here with you until you get this, dude. Now, pop that lock.”
Right. Left. Right.
And I felt all of the frustration and self-deprecation rush out of my son.
Replaced by a sense of success.
And when he turned to me with that smile of his, I told him, “Noah. You are the key to this lock. And you are the key to other things that come to you locked. Forever. You got this one. Unlock the others when they come to you with their tricky combinations and sticky turns. They WILL pop. In time, they WILL pop.”
Let’s wrap this up for a post.
Think about something you cannot do that you have never shared with another person.
For me, it was opening a combination lock. Pretty simple, huh?
I’ll bet you think that’s a pretty simple thing to do. Opening a combination lock. You’ve probably done it a million times in a million settings.
School will begin for many of us in the next two weeks.
There’s someone in that room that cannot do the one thing we have done a million times. In a million different settings. We’ve found the combination. It’s relatively easy for us. To pop open a book, pop into the story, and pop out with a clear sense of the conflict and the resolution.
I want to challenge my readers to think about that student this year who struggles with reading. I’ll have them in the 11th grade classes I’ll teach. They’ll bring their book. But the opening of it and drawing from its contents could be an empty gesture.
If we don’t mentor. If we don’t model. If we don’t demonstrate the moves a reader makes.
And for all of the young men who might bring you a basal. . .or a program. . .YOU are the key to your students’ reading and their reading lives. You have a full ring of keys at your disposal, each specifically designed to open the hearts and minds of your students.
They’re called books.
Turn to the Right:
Provide and encourage opportunities for independent book selection.
Turn to the Left:
Provide opportunities for productive talk about the books students are reading. You can only do this when you read the books they read.
Turn to the Right:
Celebrate achievements and milestones in reading as the school year progresses. No matter how simple or small they may seem.
You may have found as I have. . .
There is nothing more simple and satisfying as the internal tumblings that lead to the opening of a lock.