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What Matters Most

I remember thinking what could I possibly do to bring this man joy in his last few weeks. My father was in the end stages of prostate cancer and we all knew that his body could not hold out much longer. His soul yes. That he was able to pass on to each one of us that knew him well. Those that called him Dad, Husband, Son or friend.

But I knew that the next time he left his bed would be the last time. And there was nothing I could do that would change this fact. At 56 he had lived a full life and he had an abundance of wonderful memories. But I hated the fact that he was confined to this bed.

And so I had an idea. If my Dad could no longer go outside to experience the world, then I would bring the world to him. I found a small box and went outside to fill it with things that my dad was no longer able to fully experience. This didn’t take long and in a few short minutes I was able to collect some leaves, grass, sticks and a handful of a green soil like substance called Har-Tru. Nothing fancy, but enough.

When I returned I was eager, to one by one, have my dad touch, feel and smell each of the items that I had gathered. And while I have no way of knowing just exactly what the experience meant to my dad, I do believe that it brought him joy.

Joy because he had lived a life full of experiences. The sight of the pine needles may have reminded him of the Thanksgiving Day football games we played in the backyard. Our field was no more than 50 yards in length and a couple of pine trees marked our end zones.

The smell of grass could’ve brought back memories of the many soccer games he coached that my brother and I played in. Watching my dad coach a soccer game was something to behold. He would kick, run, jump and twist as if he was in the game himself.

And sticks, oh the sticks. My father was always of the belief that he could start and keep a fire going on nothing but kindling. We knew otherwise, but it didn’t discourage him from trying.

Finally, there was the Har-Tru. This a green soil like substance that surfaced the tennis court we had in our backyard. My father had worked hard his whole life in order to have the money to have his very own tennis court. He spent many hours battling, sweating and laughing on this sandy green surface.

As I look back on that day that took place over 15 years ago I can’t help but wonder. Are we creating rich experiences for our students each and every day? Experiences that they might possibly remember for years to come. Taken a step further, are we teaching them the value of experiences and moments that will forever shape their lives? Or are we placing too much emphasis on numbers and letters?

I know that in many schools students are being afforded many rich experiences and they are well aware of their intrinsic value. I know this because of what members of my amazing PLN share each and every week. Tony Sinanis, Brad Gustafson, Ben Gilpin, Todd Nesloney and Adam Welcome are just a few of the many that I know make it a daily priority to share the many wonderful experiences they are providing for their students.

My father attended the University of Maryland for his undergraduate degree and for his medical degree. I am quite certain that he excelled in school. No doubt his test scores were high and his letter grades tended to be found towards the front of the alphabet. And I am sure he was proud of his accomplishments.

But when I went to fill that box 16 years ago it never once crossed my mind to look for a transcript or a diploma. No, I wanted to fill it with memories. And pieces of paper weren’t just weren’t going to do the trick. I think I filled it with just the right stuff.

Here’s to helping our students make memories and experiences worth cherishing. Because I believe they truly are what matter most.


I am quite certain that if you look carefully enough you can find pine needles, grass, kindling and Har-Tru in this old photo. Oh, and the goofball in the blue robe? That’s my dad!

9 comments on “What Matters Most

  1. @8amber8 says:

    Powerful stuff, Jon…and what memories for you to hand down as well…

  2. dashthebook says:

    What a legacy your dad left! And what a tradition of love you carry on!

  3. dfgately says:

    Great reflection on a special man… thanks for sharing Jon!

  4. susansverdi says:

    “If my Dad could no longer go outside to experience the world, then I would bring the world to him. ” I just love that you did this for your dad, Jon! I share your hope that all of our students are receiving rich experiences in school, and that someone is helping them to see the value and significance in them. These experiences shape our lives. It sounds as if your dad lived a life of incredible experiences!

  5. jmablog13 says:

    Wow, a moving post, which gave me ideas for sharing with my sister who is mostly homebound due to her MS condition. Cognitively she is excellent, but movement-wise limited, and sure she would appreciate having the world outside brought inside.

  6. Drew Frank says:

    Thank you for the moving post that resonated so deeply with me. I lost my father when I was only 12 years old, and this has greatly impacted my own thoughts of being a parent, spouse, and educator. I completely agree with the importance of creating memories and experience for which my sons, wife, and students will cherish, and I so appreciate this and all your wonderful post about parenting and life.

  7. Joy Wright says:

    Jon, you’ve truly highlighted what matters most in this post. We have a responsibility to pass that on to our own children and our students.

  8. Jon,

    Another powerful post. Yes, we need our students to learn every day, but most importantly, we need them to have experiences that help them grow…making memories and experiences to cherish!

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