It’s funny how the world works sometimes. You have an intention, you make something to follow through on that intention, and sometimes you even achieve what you intended to do.
But occasionally, you put something out there into the world and somebody else grabs it, and they do something with it that you didn’t intend for them to do at all. And even more rarely, if you’re really lucky, that thing you made is able to make a real and profound impact in the world in ways in which you never imagined.
But enough hyperbole. About 15 years ago, I made a video series called Trombone Player Wanted. Maybe you’ve seen it. I made it for managers to play for their employees, so they could chat about strengths and how to leverage them. And I think it turned out great – it did exactly what I intended it to do.
But then one day, I got a call from a middle school teacher on Vancouver Island named Donnie Fitzpatrick, who asked if he could play the first 15-minute video in his class of 11-year-olds. Even though I thought it odd, I agreed, and I didn’t hear from Donny again for almost a year.
When he called back a year later, he told me that he took that short video and used it as the core of a year-long curriculum, and he invited me up to see it in action. In his classroom, Donnie was surrounded, floor-to-ceiling, with brown boxes. And the boxes on the floor started out very plain, but the higher they climbed the more ornate and colorful they got. Now as a researcher and professional, I only had one question:
“What’s with the boxes, Donnie?”
And Donnie went on to tell me that at the start of the year, each student got a humble, brown box; their Voice Box. They also started with one assignment; to go home with a flip cam (this was before cell phones, when flip cams were still a thing), and film themselves answering one simple question: “When was the last time a day flew by?”
It’s a question that only the student could answer. And it allowed the students, for the first time, to be the experts of their own lives.
Too often, school is simply pumping information into students and then testing them on how well they can repeat it back to the teachers. Donnie asked the kids to look inside of themselves and use school to draw out the strengths that are there already, in them – instead of expecting their report cards to reflect if they were “smart” or not.
In Donnie’s class, these kids would bring their videos in the next day at talk about them. They would dig deeper and deeper into what particular activities make them feel strong. And as students’ walls dropped, as they found their voices, their boxes became more colorful. More unique. More beautiful.
5,000 students have gone through Donnie’s program. But honestly, it doesn’t take a school program to help a child see themselves, their strengths, their voice. All you need to do is ask a simple question: When was the last time a day flew by? And honor their answer.
Please. Start now.