trust and sparkles


by Adam

Recently, I was taken by John’s writing about trust. He goes beyond a simple description and admiration of being able to find trust, faith, dependability in someone or something, and suggests that these features may in fact be those that allow success in an educational arena. From his own experiences, there’s a case to be made that a teacher can be innovative when he trusts in the leadership of his principal; a teacher’s instruction can be reformed if she trusts in the example of a peer; and I suppose even students will endeavor to try out something new and even uncomfortable if they have a certain trust in the good intentions and integrity of their teacher.

I didn’t immediately buy into the idea until he related it to backpacking. When on the trail we can enjoy ourselves because we trust that companions will do their own part to make sure we return to our families safely. Given that premise, I could see the many other applications of the idea, including maybe even my own classrooms for preservice teachers. If these up-and-coming leaders learn to trust that I have their best interests at heart and maybe some record of not completely failing them in the past, they seem to be willing to follow my lead into the unfamiliar and even unsteady. If we know we won’t fall over on our bicycles because of a guiding hand behind the seat, we’ll be willing to take the risk of getting on the improbable two-wheeled machine in the first place. My first experience rock climbing was only enjoyable because I had a large amount of faith in my guide and his ropes. I suppose a lot of teaching and mentoring is much like this. We’ll step out on a ledge if we know there’s a net or, even better, someone there to prevent any disastrous misstep.

This all makes sense, until I think of my friend John on the trail:


I love this image, and I’m proud that I was able to take it. But the true secret of my photographic genius is that I was in the right place at the right time behind our campsite in the Kolob Canyons of Zion National Park; and I simply saw John approaching this backlit, upward bound position a few seconds before. I barely had time to pull out the camera and point. I didn’t look, didn’t sight, didn’t check light settings — I just hoped that I was getting a light reading off the sky and had things more or less in focus. And what I got was a great image, sun at his heels, climbing a mountain. This is pretty much my complete, enduring image of Dr. Settlage. This is an image of someone I would follow up a mountain, literal or metaphorical. In truth, it’s only partially because I trust that he knows where he’s going and what the route will look like. It has more to do with the light at his heels and the emboldened look in his eye. It reminded me of the “sparkles.”

Our friend Heidi Carlone first told me about the sparkles. As she was talking about her data and the group’s method of coding it, there was something that they didn’t know how to name, but knew it was important. As Heidi related it to me:

“Sparkles”… named for what’s come to be a very important code in our data analysis — “the glittery sweet spot” scientific performances.

I’m not sure if I’m ready to tell John or anyone else outside of my immediate family that they have a “glittery sweet spot.” I’m not sure how that will be interpreted. And yet, there’s something that goes beyond my trust or faith in someone or something, as important as this may be. If I’m going to follow you, I need more than a belief in your ability to provide for my safety. I have to be excited by the prospect of following you. It’s not exactly what Heidi had in mind when she has been coding for “sparkles,” but it’s a similarly intangible thing. Call it sparkles, the light at someone’s heels, a certain enthusiasm/energy/inspiration. Whatever it is, it’s important.

As we’re going through the first piles of Crossroads proposals (due this weekend!), I’m reminded of this inspiration. Already I’m reading about new endeavors that I want to be a part of. In part, this is because the ideas are well thought out and developed. They’re produced by some friends and scholars that I have reason to believe in. Most important, though, is the fact that they’re inspiring. They are attempting to ascend those steep slopes, and in spite of the climb it’s clear that there’s a sparkle. It’s a delight to see and get to be a part of this kind of work.

2 thoughts on “trust and sparkles

  1. John

    Steve Earle writes about “sparkle and shine” in ways resonating with your essay:

    my baby sparkle and shine
    and everyone knows she’s fine
    she blesses all that she sees
    a toss of her hair and a kiss in the breeze
    but she don’t love no one but me
    and i can’t believe she’s mine.

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