Hun students building a fire

Often when my own kids were faced with the anxiety of embarking on a new experience involving unfamiliar people, I often reminded them to be sure to “gather the firewood”. The metaphor traces back to when I was young and going to summer camp in the woods of Maine. During camp, we would often go out on canoeing and backpacking trips, and upon reaching camp were assigned a variety of chores. Some were directed to the high profile tasks of setting up tents, or helping prepare a meal, while others were relegated to gathering wood for the fire. Because setting up tents and cooking were group activities, and gathering firewood was essentially an individual one, most preferred the former to the latter. However, when evening came around, and the leaders reflected on the day, they always remembered to acknowledge the firewood gatherers, pointing out how their work, while unexciting on the surface, was especially valuable to the group as it made cooking and staying warm in the evening possible. The wood gatherers in performing their humble task had provided fuel not only to the fire, but to the success and happiness of the group.

Now, truth be told, at the time, no one really liked gathering wood, but as the years passed, I came to admire the metaphorical wood gatherers in life, and always encouraged my kids to follow their lead. In finding your way into a new experience or group of people, do those little things that fuel and sustain the group even if they appear unexciting or make you feel “less than”. Those efforts breed humility and earn respect, and those are the foundations for successful relationships and experiences.

As I consider the life we live at school, I often wonder where we can create opportunities for our kids to gather wood, and I wonder if we remember to acknowledge them as often as we should. In sports, we talk of the “grinders” –– those players who contribute through consistent effort, by doing the little things that contribute to a successful play. They don’t show up in the box scores, but good coaches know they are integral to the team’s success, and remember to point them out.

But what about in the classroom, what does gathering wood look like there? Is it the member of the project group who agrees to taking on the less exciting or glamorous part of the presentation? Is it the student who during a high level Harkness discussion, has the confidence and humility to ask the simple question that is secretly on the minds of all of her classmates? Maybe it is as simple as sharing a textbook, or a pencil with a student who has forgotten theirs. What are the little things that fuel a successful class, and do we remember to acknowledge those who perform them?

Not everyone can be the MVP, the star, the outgoing one, but some of us will always gather the wood that provides the fuel, and that simple act of humble service is essential to the sustainability of the whole group.

When you aren’t sure what to do… "gather the firewood”.

Balancing the Books is a blog written by Associate Head of School Steve Bristol. In this blog, he'll share his insights into the independent school world and the admission process.

Mr. Bristol joined The Hun School community in 2010, after working as a consultant for Independent Schools for several years. Before that, he served as an English teacher, coach, dorm head, and administrator. A boarding school graduate himself, Mr. Bristol attended Westminster School in Simsbury, CT. He holds a B.A. from Hamilton College and a M.S.Ed in School Leadership from the University of Pennsylvania.