Switch your thumbs presentation at Liberty Middle School

Posted: November 28, 2016

I hope you all had a fantastic Thanksgiving.  This week’s HOPE/JOY project comes courtesy of Stephen Baranowski.  Thanks Stephen!

Liberty and Skyridge Middle School staffs recently had the opportunity to spend some time with John Norlin who is an educator turned “Director of the Whole Child” from the Sumner School District.  One of the first activities John shared with the group had to do with this idea of “switching our thumbs.”

As teachers we know that doing is one of the best ways to understand, so join in, and bear with this:

  • Step One: Shake your hands—think “spirit fingers”
  • Step Two: Clap your hands together
  • Step Three: Rub them together like you’re trying to warm them up
  • Step Four: Fold your hands together, fingers interlocking
  • Step Five: Look down at your hands, and take inventory

Quickly run through these steps a second time. 

As you look down the after the second time, you’ve probably noticed a few things.  Your hands, and specifically your thumbs, likely ended up in exactly the same place both times.  Some of you have your left thumb over your right (yay lefties!), some of you have your right thumb over your left (I guess that’s okay too), and some of you may even have your thumbs side by side (a little weird, but let’s move on).  Now run through those steps one final time, but this time force yourself to switch your thumbs, and as you do that, lock into the feeling that you experience. 

If you are like our middle school staffs, that feeling was of discomfort; phrased most accurately as “EW!” 

Change is uncomfortable, undesired, and we often have similar stances toward change as our students do.  Change also tests our perseverance and determination, and it is something that our students need to know how to grapple with. The first time you switch your thumbs it is uncomfortable, but each and every time you do it that feeling fades and sense of normalcy replaces it.

John’s final message around this topic left an impact: We need to ask the question that’s not being asked.  He talked of a speaker out of California who remarked that he had asked an audience of 6,000 at a student leadership conference in California, “How many of you have had a parent or guardian in the last month ask you the question ‘What did you do for others today?’”  Zero students raised their hands.  A month later the same speaker came to Washington State and asked approximately 1,500 students at a conference the same question and only two raised their hands.  

We need to switch our thumbs and begin asking each other and our students the question that’s not being asked: “What did you do for others today?”

I can only imagine the hope and joy that we will find in those answers.

If you’d like to learn a little bit more about John, here are links to his website, the switching your thumbs activity as it pertains to leadership from his curriculum, and also a video explaining the question that’s not being asked.