What’s in Your Box?

By Deborah Rickey, Ph.D.
Associate Dean, College of Education

box full of stuff

It was the end of a school year and I was walking down the hallway of our local high school. The usual scene was there: lockers half open and an assortment of pens, half-eaten pencils, papers and other discarded school supplies.

As I walked around looking in the different doors and wishing my friends a good summer, I saw a lone cardboard box outside the door of a teacher who I knew to be retiring that year. The box was open, flaps out, filled to the brim with books, papers, notes and other things.

As I got closer, what I saw was a gold mine—a veritable treasure chest for another English teacher. Books, resources, lesson plans, ideas for projects, posters and so many other items another English teacher might want. On the top was a small piece of paper with the word written across in pencil: “Free.”

Free. Here were the thoughts and ideas from a 30-year veteran teacher, one who had been highly successful and sought after by students and parents. Her items were being given away. Free to anyone who might stumble across the pile and take time to look at it. Free—at least until the janitors came through this hallway to begin their summer cleaning.

Two different thoughts came to my mind. First, how wonderful it was that so many of her ideas and work were available. Second, how sad it was that they had been reduced to a box outside a door.

Analyzing Your Own Teaching

Apparently that was the norm in this school when a person was leaving: They put a box of “giveaways” outside their door and anyone could take them, at least until the summer cleaning began.

It made me wonder: How many other great opportunities to learn from one another are missed or passed up for a box quietly sitting outside a door? Shouldn’t those 30 years of teaching be worth something? Shouldn’t some information or some of those lessons be passed along or shared? What if, as colleagues of those retiring, we refused to let them go without at least trying to get the contents of their “box” in other ways? What if we made time for something as simple as a conversation or another type of forum? Wouldn’t it be great to have a retiree share their wealth of knowledge or their lessons learned over their tenure at a professional learning community?

On my drive home that day, another thought occurred to me: What do I want to be in my box as I retire? How would I want my box to reflect my years in education, my teaching and my students? Would my lesson plans, papers, books and half-used pencils really be the most valuable things I could pass on? What did I want to be in my box that would be a true reflection of me and the teacher I hoped I was? How did I want to be remembered by my students and colleagues?

Leaving a Legacy

I spent the next few days really thinking and considering that box and began to form my own list of what I hoped my box might contain. Here is what I came up with:

  • I don’t just say what I believe, but that I do what I believe
  • I have a teacher’s heart with my father’s eyes
  • I love my children and family and how I have treated people
  • I love questions and am willing to discuss anything
  • I have been viewed as a transformational leader
  • I have demonstrated that being significant in people’s lives is more important than being successful

What I realized is that these things were much more important to me than lesson plans and papers. I became an educator to make a difference in students’ lives and that was what I hoped my box would reflect.

So, what do you want to be in your box? Whatever your answer, start now to make sure those are the important things you work on each year and that they become the driving force behind your teaching. It is never too early to start filling your box!

More About Deborah: 

Dr. Deborah Rickey is currently serving as the associate dean in the College of Education at Grand Canyon University. As the Assistant Dean for Unit Effectiveness, Dr. Rickey is responsible for ensuring the college has all the necessary processes in place to help each student develop into an exceptional teacher. Dr. Rickey received her Ph.D. in education from Capella University, her master’s degree from Portland State University and her bachelor’s degree from George Fox College. During her tenure in education, she has been a classroom teacher, a high school principal, a university faculty member and supervisor, and director of graduate programs in education. Dr. Rickey’s research interests include educational leadership, learning theories, professional development, critical thinking and the use of action research in schools and classrooms. She has worked with numerous school districts and leadership on school improvement initiatives and teacher professional development. Recently, she co-authored a book, “The Relentless Pursuit of Excellence,” with long-time educator Dr. Richard Sagor.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.