There are a few books that have greatly influenced how I view my students over the last couple of years. They include Jessica Lahey’s Gift of Failure, and Susan Cain ‘s QUIET: The Power of Introverts In a World That Can’t Stop Talking. I recently ran across the name of Wilson Bentley, also known as The Snowflake Man and was intrigued by his passion for photographing snowflakes. Born in 1865, Bentley developed an insatiable curiosity for the snowflakes that fell every winter in his home state of Vermont. Bentley’s life is the subject of a 1999 Caldecott Award winning book called Snowflake Bentley. According to the Official Snowflake Bentley web site , he is credited with the discovery that “no two snowflakes are alike.”
“Under the microscope, I found that snowflakes were miracles of beauty; and it seemed a shame that this beauty should not be seen and appreciated by others. Every crystal was a masterpiece of design and no one design was ever repeated. When a snowflake melted, that design was forever lost. Just that much beauty was gone, without leaving any record behind.”
Now, I don’t claim to know a lot about snowflakes, having spent most of my life in the warmer climates of Florida and Texas, but as an educator, I was captivated by a couple of comments contained in the quote above from Bentley’s writing.
First of all, Bentley wrote, “Every crystal was a masterpiece of design and no one design was ever repeated.” Sounds a little like Bentley has been to my classroom. I teach ninth graders at Arlington Collegiate High School, in Arlington, Texas, and I can assure you that everyone of my students is unique. Most of them are the most important human beings in the lives of their parents, and they are fearfully and wonderfully made to achieve something important in their lives. This is my 12th year of teaching in my school district, and during that time I have had the privilege to teach students and their siblings again and again. I have taught all four children from one family. In each of those cases, while there may be subtle physical similarities, no two students are same — even when they come from the same genetic pool.
The other statement above that resonated with me was, “When a snowflake melted, that design was forever lost. Just that much beauty was gone, without leaving any record behind.” Each of my students represents something that only comes along once in a lifetime. It’s so easy for some students to pass through our hallways, coming and going, leaving little more than a counselor’s data file behind to mark their existence. Bentley seemed determined to preserve the beauty of each individual snowflake he photographed (capturing more than 5,000 images on equipment that would pale against today’s digital tools). I’m certain that I can no more “save” every student who comes my way than Bentley could photograph every snowflake that fell within his reach. I can, however, make a difference where I can before my students “melt” and move on with their lives.
So what does this mean for me as an educator?
- It is the reason that I differentiate, individualize and personalize as much as I can when planning my lesson strategies.
- It is why personal student conferences are so important to assessment.
- It is why I love my district’s choice of learning management system for it’s feedback functionality that enables me to communicate so easily with my students.
I do have snowflake students in my classroom, and chances are, you do, as well. Our challenge is to appreciate them and mark their presence and existence in a way that ensures that they do not juts melt and move on with “no record left behind.”