There is more to the title of this chapter than meets the eye. We all get advice, whether or not we want it. Likewise, we give advice whether or not people want it. Everyone shares information and offers thoughts about what to do and certainly what not to do. A good friend once told me, “Advice is worth about what it costs. Nothing!” (I thought that was good advice.)
Advice never really rings true until a set of circumstances occurs that proves the reality of the advice, e.g., “Don’t put your hand in the fire; it will burn.” (Oh, sure. Then we put our hand in the fire, and guess what? It burns.) Immediately we are painfully reminded of the advice we should have heeded. However, we are often given bogus advice. “Run, run, the sky is falling.” We immediately cover our heads with our burnt hand only to quickly realize we have been fooled and are now the butt of the joke.
For most of us, advice needs to stand the test of time. If it continues to be accurate time and time again, we begin to rely on it, use it in our favor, and even share it with our family and friends. Solid advice will offer benefits that bring better conditions to life and can help us make decisions for our future.
The best advice I ever received came from my grandfather. Grandfathers usually give very good advice, because they have tried it out for several decades. Their counsel comes from years of research and development, and if they don’t know by now, who does? Among the many pearls of wisdom Grandpa passed my way, this one ranked right at the top of his “Clues for a Better Life” list: we become like the people we are around.
He was adamant about this and constantly would point out different people’s behavior to confirm his theory. He never believed that water seeks its own level, but that we could determine our level of proficiency by choosing our environment and our associates. His many lectures, though gentle in nature, were frequent reminders of how important it was to carefully choose “the best people possible” to be around. That advice served as the key factor in many of my decisions. It was and still is good, solid advice.
There are so many occasions when a conscious choice of what we are going to do can positively impact our future and the welfare of our students, and much of this depends on the people we are around, not to mention the people we bring around.
For example, if you had an unlimited budget, wouldn’t you invite the finest experts in your field to work with your students? Of course you would. You would also create an environment that would expose them to high-quality role models.
However, few people have access to that kind of extra revenue, so a more realistic option is to explore the use of audio and video tapes featuring the experts; or when any influential personalities get within driving distance, you put the students in a van or bus and the mountain is taken to Mohammed. We know the harvest of such ventures will be bountiful and positive. It rarely (if ever) fails. Grandfather was right!
We all have had the experience of working with an extraordinary teacher, and when we are in the presence of such a person we reach beyond our known limits and discover we can perform at a higher level. In truth, the newfound talents and abilities were always within us, but the master teacher triggers something that catapults us (the student / learner) to the next level. The mentor not only serves as a role model, but also imparts valuable knowledge that unlocks more of our human potential.
The obvious question is: could we have done it on our own? The answer is yes, but we must then ask, would we have done it on our own? According to Grandpa’s advice, the due credit must be assigned to the personal teacher we were around.
One of the greatest contributions we can offer our students is to expose them to excellence in every facet of our academic world. Read the finest literature, train their ears to recognize magnificent musical tone, or watch a video explaining basic scientific principles. Search every catalog you can get your hands on and look for the latest video series by the leading authorities, and then make it a homework assignment to view them, study them, and learn from “the best of the best.”
Invite credible clinicians to come and spend time with your students so they can witness firsthand the value of personal commitment and self-discipline. Take them to hear good music in a concert hall. (It is not the same as when it is played through the speaker system in the rehearsal room or through a set of headphones. Give them the authentic experience, the real thing!) Take them on a field trip to a science or art museum, go on a nature hike, or visit a lab. And, above all, when your students have the chance to be in an environment where there are a multitude of fantastic teachers who represent today’s most respected professionals, do everything within your power to get them involved so they will start to become like the people they are around.
In a world where everyone you meet has a piece of advice, it is always exciting to discover bona fide wisdom that will never let you down. The fire will burn, the sky is not falling, and we do become like the people we are around.
Be around the best!