Denny Smith
Leadership and Development Trainer

A little girl asked, “Mommy, why do you always cut off the ends of the ham?” The mother answered, “Well, I’ve always done it that way. That’s what my mother taught me.” So the girl went to her grandmother and queried, “Grandma, how come you always cut off the ends of the ham before you bake it?’ “I’ve always done it that way,” grandmother replied. “My mother taught me to do it that way.” So the little girl quizzed her great grandmother. “Why did you always cut off the ends of the ham?” Great grandmother smiled and said, “My roaster was too short.”

The moral of the story is pretty simple. We don’t have to do things a certain way just because that’s the way we’ve always done them. We can change the way we do things in education, and the results may astonish us. You don’t have to change for change sake, but if your roaster is too short, you either have to cut off the ends of the ham or buy a new roaster.

“White out” was the best thing since sliced bread when it first came upon the scene. We still use it occasionally, but the innovative thinkers of the world have made its regular use a thing of the past. Not too many years ago our backs ached as we lugged heavy bags through the airport. Then some creative engineer came up with the marvelous idea of putting wheels on our suit cases and we wondered why it took so long to think of that. We went one better and realized that four wheels would make life even easier. Discovering and implementing new ways of doing things propelled us from the horse and buggy to our modern day motor vehicles, which will probably someday be obsolete.

A recent Facebook post showed pictures of a rotary dial phone from the 60s next to one of an I Phone, a 1962 car next to one of today’s automobiles and a manual typewriter from that era next to an iPad. What massive change has taken place in just 50 years. Then it pictured a classroom from the 60’s to a classroom of today. Except for maybe a Smart Board instead of a chalk board, not much had changed.

Think of the rapid change in even the past 10 years, and realize that the old saying, “We ain’t seen nothing yet,” reminds us to fasten our seat belts and get ready for an exciting ride.

One of the things we could and maybe should consider is a different way to educate and connect with students who don’t function well in the traditional school setting. This would start with the paradigm that the students who aren’t inclined to succeed in mainstream academia are not inferior when it comes to intelligence. Your auto mechanic is brilliant. Your electrician is tremendously knowledgeable. Some of the smartest and most creative people on your staff are your custodians — they can fix anything.

America is crying for educated and competent welders and builders and factory workers. Factory workers of today don’t simply turn a wrench for eight hours, but skillfully program robots to do the job. They’re brilliant.

We’re not going to turn our educational structure around in one short article, but I invite leaders to take the bull by the horns and become truly creative and innovative in revamping our educational structure. I am convinced it will improve the performance of students at all levels, it will alleviate some of the discipline problems we face today and it will stimulate growth in our nation’s economy.

We cited creativity and innovation as key components of change. There is a third: courage. It will not be an easy sell and it will take strong leadership and significant funding, but the results may astound us.

Denny Smith is a former teacher and coach, a motivational speaker, and author committed to making our schools and communities safe and welcoming for all people. More information is available at or by email at

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