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Better Than You Found It

As I read through the book Teaching AI: Exploring New Frontiers for Learning by Michelle Zimmerman, I ran across a rather interesting idea. She talks about visiting the Ritsumeikan Primary School in the Kita ward of Kyoto, Japan. She describes glistening hardwood floors in a well organized school setting. Toward the end of her writings about Ritsumeikan, she describes how the students end the day by happily cleaning their learning environment, including those glistening hardwood floors.

In the many years I spent as the Assistant Director of a competitive marching band, this idea resonates with a philosophy we ingrained in the students. Every time we went somewhere, every time we rehearsed, every time we left the bandroom, every competition, every bus trip, every time we reminded the students to always leave a place better than you found it.

The looks our students got when helping the host school clean the stands after a band competition was sheer bafflement. Our students would ask the local band booster parents for trash bags, and would collect trash, tie off the bags, and add them to the piles to be taken off cheerfully, and with a smile. This is a culture that was built, not one that pre-existed. This is a culture that was created. This is a culture that spread.

One Monday afternoon, the high school band office received a phone call from a director at a school we had visited a few weeks before. The director wanted to let us know our students had made a positive impact on his students. He told us that after they visited another school for a band competition, they dismissed as usual after the awards ceremony, but the students didn't leave the stands. Instead, his student leadership team approached him and asked if they could delay loading the busses to help clean the stands. Naturally, the director allowed his students to delay departure to help the host band clean the stands.

This tradition continues in the band program I spent so many years with. They continue to cheerfully help out, no matter where they are, no matter how long it will take to get home. The students may be exhausted from the day, elated from winning best in class... or not. No matter what, they always have the time to help out and leave a place better than they found it.

Each day, every human makes an impact on the things and people with which we interact. Foster in yourself and your students a desire to leave every place better than you found it. The world thanks you.


  1. Awesome blog!! One to live by---personally and professionally!! Thank you so much for sharing!!

    1. Band with you actually ingrained that philosophy in me. It's second nature, now, to leave things better than when I got there. Sometimes to the point that I have to remind myself there are people whose job depends on me not doing so much. Haha!


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