The Most Important Part of a Tree

tree with roots

Two educators went to see a wise old man and seek his wisdom. Along the way, they were arguing about what good teaching entails.

“Good teaching is all about planning and diligently doing everything that needs to be done – lesson plans, grading, calling parents – that’s what makes a difference,” said the first.

“Nonsense! Good teaching means good classroom management, questioning techniques, and formative assessment,” retorted the second. “Nothing matters more than what happens when students are in the room.”

They continued their argument as their journey progressed. When they reached the wise old man, they presented their sides of the argument and asked “Sir, which is the more important part of teaching? What happens behind the scenes, or what happens face-to-face with students?”

The old man looked at them, then looked down at his feet for a moment, saying nothing.

The educators waited impatiently, each eager to hear the wise old man take their side.

He finally raised his head and pointed to a nearby tree, a giant, broad-crowned old oak.

“I ask you the same of this tree,” he said slowly. “Which is the more important part – the roots, or the branches?”

The educators looked at each other and swallowed hard. “Thank you,” they managed to mumble, and shuffled back down the path.

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We have entered an age in which unprecedented attention is being devoted to the quality of instruction in our classrooms. But we must take a comprehensive view of instruction, looking not only at what happens when students are present, but at every aspect of professional practice – including the in-the-moment interactions with students as well as the behind-the-scenes planning that goes into each lesson.

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About Justin Baeder

Justin Baeder helps school administrators increase their productivity through the High-Performance Instructional Leadership Network. Learn More »

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