Spirit Whisperers

Spirit Whisperers

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"Finally, a voice that is willing to celebrate the human side of teaching. This book gives hope that we can begin to move beyond our preoccupation with test scores, artificial standards, and the rating, ranking and comparing of our unique children to the reasons that people become teachers."

--Steve Barclay, Vice-President, Performance Learning Systems, Emerson, NJ

"With his concept of the Spirit Whisperers, Chick Moorman gives us a way to remember that in this time of high stakes testing, national standards and accountability in schools, those of us who can connect with the human side of learning, give students what they need the most."

--Kenneth R. Fresston, Superintendent,
The Public Schools of Easton, Redding and Region No. 9, Monroe, CT


The following scenario illustrates the essence of a Spirit Whisperer. The day it occurred was not among my favorites. It involved attending the funeral and reception for Bill, a former colleague and friend who had died unexpectedly in what seemed like the prime of his life. I wanted to be there, and I didn't want to be there. My desire was to say goodbye to Bill one final time and be supportive of his family and other colleagues, but my attendance felt more like an obligation than an uplifting way to spend an afternoon.

I dressed slowly, thinking of this fifteen-year teaching veteran. He had taught math in the high school and coached the boy's basketball team. He had served on the negotiating committee and took his professional practice seriously.

As I drove from the funeral to the reception, I noticed I was in a slight depression. My head was down as I walked up the sidewalk to the hall the family had rented for the event. That decision turned out to be a wise one. An inordinate number of people showed up -- more than would normally be expected at an event of this nature. Friends, relatives, colleagues, and students attended to pay their last respects. Many of Bill's current students were present. So were former students, representing this man's entire teaching career.

As I moved into the crowd, I acknowledge acquaintances politely, but I didn't feel like talking. Food was in abundance, but I didn't feel like eating. I found a chair in the corner and slumped into it. From that perch I watched and listened, and I confirmed what I already suspected. Bill had been a Spirit Whisperer.

From my spot in the corner I began to eavesdrop. I sat and listened as many of Bill's current and former students discussed the impact he had and was still having on their lives. The comments I was hearing moved me emotionally. They also moved me physically, and I began to walk around the room to gain a wider perspective and to grasp more clearly the flavor of the conversations. Not trusting my memory, and knowing I was hearing something important, I recorded what I overheard on the only recording material I could find -- napkins.

What I heard was indeed impressive. What I didn't hear was equally impressive. I heard no one say, "He was a good math teacher. He taught me a lot of math." I did hear, "He was a good man. He taught me to believe in myself."

Not one former student who came to honor my friend that day said, "He helped me learn about ratio and isosceles triangles." Some did say, "He taught me I could do anything I set my mind on."

A nineteen-year-old college student remarked, "He saw in me something I didn't see in myself at the time. He helped me look at that and acknowledge it."

No one said, "Boy, I sure learned a lot of chapter terms from that guy." No one said, "Man, could he ever cover content!" But I heard a recent college graduate remark, "He helped me learn to look within for my own answers. Remember how he used to say, 'The important answers aren't in the book. They are within you.'" One young woman, a few years out of school, remarked, "What I learned from him was that all conditions are temporary. How they change depends on me."

Nobody said, "He taught me how to sink free throws and play defense." What I did hear was, "He taught me that ethics are more important than rules. What I learned from him is that integrity is a choice I make. He was a wonderful coach."

Not one athlete commented on the number of games they had won. And most of them had won a lot of games. But one former basketball player remarked, "He taught me to take pride in wearing the uniform. I think he'd like to know I still show that same pride today with my business suit."

My friend was truly a Spirit Whisperer. The evidence is in the legacy he left in the hearts and minds of his former students. He touched their spirit and helped them to reach in and touch it as well.

Don't misinterpret what I'm saying here. It's not that Spirit Whisperers don't care about math, history, art, technology, music, language arts, literature, spelling, and music. They do! And they do a good job of teaching the subjects of their choice. It's just that they don't see the delivery of content as their main objective.

Spirit Whisperers do not lose sight of the fact that they are really teaching students to swim. They see math, history, and science as merely the water they are splashing around in. Science teachers let students splash around in science. Literature teacher structure their lessons so their students splash around in literature. Music teachers allow students to get wet with music. It is during the splashing around in the waters of science, math, and music that Spirit Whisperers teach their students to swim.