In the early 1990s, Brian Andreas, an American artist began collecting stories. He innovatively used the Internet of that time and collected thousands of stories from around the world. These stories eventually grew into colorful, hand-lettered prints—the foundation for StoryPeople.
One of Andreas’ prints is called Deep Roots. The story says this: When I die, she said, I’m coming back as a tree with deep roots and I’ll wave my leaves at the children every morning on their way to school and whisper tree songs at night in their dreams. Trees with deep roots know about the things children need.
Last weekend, I went to Arizona State University’s 42nd Annual Language and Literacy Conference. I had reservations about going because while it sounded interesting, I wasn’t sure how applicable the ideas would be to my classroom, I had to pay for the conference out of pocket, and it was on a Friday night! Leaving the conference, I was blown away.
The theme for the conference was 21st Century Literacies: Honoring What We Know, Envisioning Where We Can Go. The visual they chose was a picture of an enormous tree with deep roots. The keynote speakers went on to explain how the roots represent what we know and our roots need to be deep. As schools, we need to be secure in our vision and mission. We need to have high standards and a deep understanding of our community and students.
The rest of the tree is all the places our students are headed. Yet, even if a tree has high branches and lofty goals, if it does not develop deep roots, a wind of new standards and a breeze of new research will topple it.
This got me thinking about my own beliefs about teaching. The keynote speakers talked about how a school should represent a healthy, deeply rooted tree, and I completely agree. However, I feel as educators, we also need to consider Andreas’ Deep Roots and think about the fact that each of us should also be a tree with deep roots, who knows about the things children need. This certainly doesn’t mean we’re so set in our ways that we can’t adapt, but it does mean we have a foundation to support where we and our students are headed.
While my students are only in elementary school, the decisions I make on a daily basis affect their lives in ways I can never imagine. And I wonder if sometimes I get so caught up in them learning dialogue conventions, multiplication facts, and certain phonograms that I’m missing the big picture. Where do I, where does the school, where do their parents, where do my students envision themselves going? How deep, in fact, are their roots?
As you can tell, this conference has got my brain going a hundred miles an hour and I hope you’ll take some time to consider these same questions and even share what you come up with!