One of Aesop’s Fables, “The Oak and the Reed,” teaches that it is better to bend than to break. In this fable, the flexible reed survives because he can bend with the wind, while the mighty oak cannot adapt and is destroyed. Variants of this fable exist in early Greek and Latin, Judeo-Christian sacred texts, ancient Chinese stories, Chaucer’s early works, as well as French, Italian, and German tales. These have given rise to common sayings like, “A reed before the wind lives on, while mighty oaks do fall” and “A tree that is unbending is easily broken.”

The value of flexibility has been heralded by cultures around the globe since the beginning of recorded time. There are few of us who can say we have never had to “roll with the punches” that life deals out. I can honestly say that I would never survive as a teacher or a parent without the ability to honestly reassess and adapt to the situations I find myself in every day, and this takes mental and emotional flexibility.

Particularly when one considers that my 8th graders today will graduate in 2020 and will probably still be working in 2060, the importance of developing the skill of flexibility becomes even clearer. Who knows what challenges our children today will face in their lifetimes? When I was in 8th grade 20+ years ago, I didn’t have a cell phone, iPads were science fiction, and we thought scanning bubble sheets were fancy.

I would never have believed that I would be teaching, not so many years later, in a school where every child held a powerful personal computing device in his or her hands, where research was done at the touch of a button, and instantly contacting someone anywhere in the world was a click or two away.

While I certainly don’t pretend to know the ways in which our world and the lives of my students will change in the coming years, I do know that being able to adapt effectively in the face of change is a life skill that never becomes obsolete.

-R. Guest-Scott

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Global Youth Service Day 2016