Footprints in the Soft Earth: Teachable Moments for Teachers
One perspective on the importance and critical role of teachers is that they create imprints on yet-to-be hardened minds and hearts; they are able to impact these with facts, figures, lessons, and ideas. But perhaps even more importantly, they pass along the spirit of education as they exude a love of learning and growing. What they transmit through these imprints can have long-lasting emotional, physical, spiritual, and mental effects on young minds. Teaching with spirit then is to impart the reflective thinking, sensational feeling, and ever-present awe about what surrounds us.
Another perspective is that the act of creating of a footprint in a patch of soft earth is itself a teachable moment, for both students and the teachers who guide them. As we think about how to teach, this simple exercise helps pull together the notion that lessons can be connected and relevant, and ultimately elevate discovery that should be the basis of education:
A footprint is a scientific fact. The forces of gravity and mass push down to create the imprint. There is no force coming from below. It is a natural reaction to an action. It is measureable and detectable through empirical tools. The reality that surrounds us works on principles, whether they've been discovered yet or not.
A footprint is a marker on the earth of history and geography. It gives longitudinal and latitudinal directions of where you stand on this planet, where present location is acknowledged. We live with connections to the past as others have made their footprints at the same spot. The Iroquois Nation stood here where you are now.
A footprint is a reflection of how to observe and use language to communicate this. We realize that something is there, existing that may not have before the step. There are billions of happenings to ponder and reflect on through our senses. We open our heart and our mind to witness these fully, we ask why, how, and what. Poetry, prose, and storytelling then are expressions of this awe and a way to share the observations and reflections of what is before us.
A footprint is an acknowledgement of the Self. That is my footprint, connected to my body, my presence. My action led to it being created. I am a person, distinct and unique. My purpose is significant, my being is real. I exist, and I am.
A footprint is a realization of the power of impact. Soil was moved. An anthill may have been crushed or a patch of grass dislocated, or the print becomes a source of water to puddle for birds. My action created a reaction and I am responsible for the consequences, both positive and negative. The concept of caretaker of the earth is even more real when the footprint made makes a change in what existed. Choosing a carbon footprint that alleviates pressures on the earth then is understood as a conscious effort, a true representation of a higher purpose to be mindful.
In the end, it comes together in a teachable moment from a Quranic verse about walking the earth with humility and grace. We are connected to our Self, to our Creator, and to our fellow creation in a conscientious and concerted way, through time and space. We walk the earth making footprints, but keep these to a gentleness to minimize negative impact, knowing, too, that our walking is necessary and the footprints our contribution to the world. And further, we gain strength in this type of walking and connecting that gives us courage to respond positively and compassionately to those who harass or give us grief, intentionally or not.
As teachers for every age, in any context, the notion of footprints provides tools and stories to revive the spirit of learning and to give young minds reasons to explore, discover, and inhale their world so they can exhale out their love. And for teachers, it gives a chance to rediscover the meaning and significance of imprinting.
And the servants of the Most Merciful are those who walk on the earth in humility, and when the ignorant harass or disturb them, they say, "Peace!" (25:63)
A Teacher's Prayer—based on the supplication of Moses (as) 20:25
Oh Lord, expand and broaden my chest so I may breathe in deeply Your blessings and remember them as I work with these children in my care.
Open and soften my heart to learn as I teach, grow as I nurture, and feel as I touch in some way those I am given to guide.
Straighten my spine so I may act with your strengthening Grace and have the courage to listen and respond to difficult but important questions from these young wards of mine.
Lord, make easy my task as I realize how soft are the young minds before me, how many ways I may affect their hearts. Give me the fortitude and humility to act responsibly and thoughtfully. Help me recognize how to teach beneficial knowledge in the most useful, kind, and compassionate manner.
Loosen the knot from my tongue so I may convey clearly lessons of life and impart the love of learning to those in my care so that these who I watch grow for a time become compassionate, competent, and considerate beings in this great and vast world.
Afeefa Syeed is the co-founder of Al Fatih Academy, a cultural anthropologist working in international development and the mother of three boys. Afeefa can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.